After Allen Bertsche, raised Lutheran, and Laurie Bertsche, raised as a United Methodist, married in 1999, the couple decided they should try to find a religious community they would feel comfortable in.
"We started with Methodist churches, and then a few Lutheran churches. None of them felt like a good fit for us," Allen Bertsche said.
The couple finally explored an online test on faith to discover they had much in common. Both had beliefs close to Quakers, or to Unitarian Universalism. In the end, they found a home at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad-Cities, Davenport.
Bertsche spoke about his faith from his office at Augustana College, Rock Island, where he runs the Study Abroad program.
His desk is situated between two reproduction paintings: "Madrid," by El Greco, a painting of a man who looks pious and proper; and "The Drowning Dog" by Goya.
Those two remind Bertsche how to work with students in the program; he needs to be a face of calm, managing problems and issues, like the man painted by El Greco, and he should respond to those who need help, like the dog in the work by Goya.
Q: Tell me about yourself?
The 50-year-old was born and raised on Long Island, New York. He moved to the Midwest to attend Indiana University, Bloomington.
Indiana offered Bertsche, who is bilingual and the grandson of Spanish immigrants, 110 languages and a strong overseas study program. He earned his advanced degree at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
He moved to the Quad-Cities in 1996 to teach Spanish at Augustana, and subsequently got the job in the college's Study Abroad program. He also met and married his wife.
He is now chairman of the board at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad-Cities, 3707 Eastern Ave., Davenport.
Q: Where you raised in the faith?
No, both Allen and Laura were raised in a mainline religion but began to question the faiths. Specifically, while Bertsche believes the Bible contains much insight and truth, he does not believe it is the only source of truth.
He has traveled the world and has come to respect other faiths, he said.
One thing about the Unitarian Universalism, most people in the congregation are not born into the faith, he said. "Often members purposely looked for a change from what they were raised in," he said.
Q: What drew you to Unitarian Universalism?
The Bertsches decided to check out the Davenport congregation, but it took them a few months to feel comfortable. "There is so much variation from week-to-week and month-to-month, it takes a while to get a sense of what is at the core of this group," he said.
To help, they took "Introduction to Unitarian Universalist" classes from the minister, and they enjoyed "get-to-know-you" activities the congregation offers. They officially joined in 2004.
Not long after that, Allen Bertsche got involved with the religious services team, which is tasked with doing the service when the minister is out of town. As an educator, Bertsche is comfortable speaking in public, and he enjoys filling in for sermons.
This meant he explores a topic he is interested in, and prepares a sermon on it. "I like doing the exploring part, and I liked getting feedback from others," he said.
In addition, there are adult continuing education classes, such as on the intersections between world religions. Bertsche put one together himself, on how art is an expression of faith.
What he also likes is the congregation's emphasis on social justice issues. He and Laurie got involved with working on the Quad-City Pride Festival, and with individuals in the LGBTQ population.
Q: How did your family react to your faith?
There was some initial confusion in Bertsche's family. His father was told by a Lutheran minister that Unitarian Universalism was for pagans and witches (not solely) and his sister thought it was a form of Judaism (no).
There are many faiths involved in Unitarian Universalism. "We don't tell you what your beliefs should be," he said. "We don't have a Creed, and that's big."
In the end, Bertsche's father was simply glad he was attending church regularly, and Laurie Bertsche's United Methodist family was supportive from the start.
Q: What else should we know about your faith?
"It's all about asking questions, and the journey," Bertsche said.
The Davenport congregation has a strong youth education program, and a growing part of it is young families.
Unitarian Universalism, across the country, tends to include more highly educated and slightly more affluent individuals than others, he said. It includes teachers, scientists, folks in the arts.
"It's never a problem to ask questions. One believes in the inherent worth and dignity in any person. That's respecting everyone, regardless of who they are, and where they come from," Bertsche said.
Unitarian Universalist congregations tend to be located in college towns, and Bertsche has visited others, in Iowa City, Madison and Oak Park, Illinois, which was designed by a member, famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
It's hard to get into a Unitarian Universalist congregation without soon hearing about the prestigious members of the faith, such as presidents, authors and noted scientists, he said.
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad-Cities is online: uucqc.org
There is also a Facebook page, and the minister, Jay Wolin, is active on Facebook. There is an Instagram account, and the faith is on YouTube, where services are streamed.