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Kittredge: Defining Faith

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I have long maintained that the excellent quality of Vermont’s public schools is a result of the Vietnam War. In the late 1960s and early 1970s idealism among young adults was rampant. Spurred on by what many believed was an ill-conceived war; people protested what was seen as the establishment’s unjust and immoral engagement in Vietnam.
 

Protests extended beyond the war and many young men and women rebelled and decided not to follow in their parents’ footsteps. They wouldn’t be doctors, lawyers, bankers or business folk. Idealistic, energetic and full of enthusiasm many moved to Vermont to become teachers. They were principled pioneers heading into the wilderness. Vermont’s demographic changed significantly in the 1970s; many of us fled cities and went back to a land we had never known, growing all our food, harvesting, butchering, canning, freezing and pickling our way to independence. In our independence and high moral fiber, we acquired a true Vermont spirit and were disinclined to jump on any particular bandwagon, preferring a reticent skepticism. Many also let go their parents’ habit of attending church.

It’s not surprising to me that a recent Gallup poll listed Vermont as the least religious state in the nation. The children of those who came to Vermont in the ‘70s are, for the most part, not churchgoers. But they were raised by thoughtful and sincere parents. My experience is that they, like many Vermonters are true seekers. Some are inclined to call themselves spiritual but not religious. Many engage in practices of one kind or another like yoga and meditation; some even go to church.

According to the poll, people are listed as “very religious” if they say religion is an important part of their daily lives and attend religious services every week or almost every week. I would agree that the percentage of Vermonters who attend worship services every week is small. But I maintain that the people of our state are, nevertheless, faithful, whether that faith is articulated or aligned with a particular tradition – or not.
 
When I meet with couples to plan for their wedding services, I tell them it’s important that we find some spiritual meeting ground. I don’t require that they be Christian, that they have been baptized, or that they attend church regularly. What I do ask is that they are able to affirm that they believe there’s more going on in this world than they understand. Never has a couple denied this. Wonder and awe are the seeds of faith and gratitude soon follows. But it’s hard to say thank you to nothing and often a more directed focus is born. It’s part of being a person of faith, questioning and wondering, serving and reflecting.

I believe there is in Vermont a rising swell of hunger for meaning, hunger for purpose, a yearning for connection to what Paul Tillich called the “ground of being.”  Many here may not be religious by Gallup standards but in my experience Vermonters are a deeply faithful lot.