This week’s guest is Jeffrey Caldwell. Jeffrey grew up in Lancaster county, PA in a liberal denomination set in a conservative area. As a child, church was “okay,” filled with the usual things—bible crafts in Sunday school and singing in the choir. His family was “quasi-religious,” so no one was ever pressured to believe anything.
Jeffrey doubted whether Christianity was real throughout middle school. Neither his parents nor his siblings took it very seriously, so he left church in high school but was still searching for meaning.
Music, books and movies filled the space that religion often does. Eventually, his interest expanded to include philosophy, politics, social justice, all influenced by the “oldies” his dad played in the car.
“I was fascinated by this idea of just ordinary, everyday people banding together to solve whatever problems they were facing…”
In his twenties, Jeffrey struggled with mental health issues and after a surprise encounter with a church youth group, he knew he was missing community.
“I recognized instantly that that’s what I was looking for in my life, some place where I felt like I belonged, some place where I felt like people valued me for who I was. But at the same time, I realized that I wasn’t a christian.”
He didn’t fit in with the traditional religions, so he tried the UU church. Then he got involved in progressive politics and social justice, and eventually went to seminary and became a chaplain.
“Learning to be a chaplain was learning how to sit with people who are in pain and distress and not be overwhelmed by their pain and distress.”
Now, Jeffrey has a thriving online and in-person community, Connections Humanist Community. Each week, people share stories and conversations. The members belong to a community where they are valued and heard. Jeffrey is living out what it means to be a “graceful atheist.”
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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats