Last Sunday’s “Question and Answer” service was wonderful. At least I enjoyed it…as I do each year. The unscripted, more informal quality speaks to many of us, but the questions you submit are its great strength.
I responded to questions on theology, social justice, church finance, the culture of white supremacy and the erasing of racism. There was also one question about our worship at First Unitarian and why it is so similar to traditional, Christian, Protestant worship in form. Let me say a few more words about that one.
In their book, Worship that Works, UU ministers Wayne Arnason and Kathleen Rolenz write: “…the worship experience is the most important way that a church tells the story of lives transformed by participation…and sends its members forth to tell the world that story.”
There are many definitions of worship. Some of you will have heard a typical definition that worship is the “shaping of worth.” That definition is linguistically derived.
Worship, in a liberal religious community, has many purposes. “Within our tradition,” Arnason and Rolenz continue, “we are able to say ‘Worship means praising, confessing and discerning [the Holy].’ We are able to say ‘Worship is a private transformation done in the context of ceremony and ritual.’ We are able to say ‘Worship is when we hold up things of worth and value. It is our link to the past and a gateway to the future.’ We are able to say ‘…we have an embodied experience of being in worship together, and that is what is most important.’”
The diversity of what worship means for us is both its promise and its problem. Because all of these understandings of worship have integrity for us. Perhaps what they have in common is an honoring of the mystery and the miracle of life and the faith that our greatest hopes can be made visible and manifest in our lives.
When I answered the question about the Protestant form of our worship last Sunday, I spoke of the roots of both the Unitarians and Universalists in the Christian tradition. I described how we have removed the requirement to believe in a certain way from our liturgy…no creedal statements to affirm. And I spoke about the power of familiarity and comfort to ease our struggles and courage to confront our challenges.
What I did not speak to was the role of innovation, of changes and the new in our liturgy and worship. Even at First Unitarian.
Let me simply list the elements of our worship in the sanctuary that are new in the seven years since I was called to this pulpit:
Ringing the Bell
Our Chalice Lighting
The weekly Testimony
“Signing” Spirit of Life
We also sing a broader range of hymns and hear a broader range of readings…thanks to the screens in the sanctuary.
I could also mention our experiments with on-line worship (Sunday Soul) three years ago. Or our trial of worship in Eliot Chapel with a video sermon the year after I arrived.
We keep experimenting to help that transformation of our lives happen for more of us, more often when we gather in worship.
As we begin the new church year this Sunday, you will notice a few more enhancements to our worship. We will begin the service with a “Gathering Hymn” following the prelude. And early, during the Welcome, after we ask visitors to stand, we will be invited to turn and actually greet our neighbors. Our mission is to be a welcoming community and both of these changes will, we hope, help our steady stream of visitors feel more welcome.
Last Sunday, I did not get to answer all your questions. I never do. But all of your questions are recorded and shared with all of our ministers and program leaders. Those questions inform our preaching and teaching throughout the year.
See you in church!