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UU Worship

UU Worship

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Published by Mike Mallory
Critique of the tradition worship form in Unitarain Universalist congregations
Critique of the tradition worship form in Unitarain Universalist congregations

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Published by: Mike Mallory on Aug 31, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Imagining a Unitarian Universalist Worship Service
 The modern Unitarian Universalistworship serviceis a form, which has evolved slowlyand only moderately from the protestant services conducted in New England circa 1750.The present form may not be fulfilling the potential for either impact or meaning. Thisessay questions the goals we are attempting to achieve in a worship service and theway we go about it. It is important to remember that natural selection does notnecessarily produce the best form, only a form that has, thenceforth, survived. Giventhat Unitarian Universalist membership is notkeeping pacewith population our survival,at least as an influential movement may, in fact, be at stake.In preparation for the exercise of examining the worship service form with aBeginner’sMindI invite the reader to let go of the reality of our customary practices aroundworship. As a kind of thought experiment, forget what we do on Sunday morning.Picture emptiness in your congregation’s calendar on Sunday. Let us pretend that noactivities are generally scheduled for that day. Imagine you are approached by someleaders who suggest that it would good for congregational life, if some kind of plenarygathering were scheduled for each Sunday morning. Having done the difficult policypart of this, the leaders leave the implementation up to you. You have been asked toimagine the best possible form for this weekly gathering. What do you design? An initial question in the design phase of a Sunday morning congregational meetingmight be, “For what purpose would we gather?” Let me provide some availableresponses to that question. 
Seven Possible Purposes
 Intellectual StimulationSpiritual GroundingA Sense of CommunityRitualDevotionLeadership in Justice MakingEntertainment I am mindful of claims that “worship” invites us into “worth-ship” and that aworship service is properly a celebration of our highest aspirations and meanings.Worship, it is said, is the opportunity to name the worthiest aspects in our lives. But,this claim fails to shed much light on the appropriate object of worship and fails toanswer the question of “how” we worship. Of course I do acknowledge that there is afuzzy relationship between the “What” and “How” of worship. For instance, if ritual is thereason for worship, then the form of worship will naturally be ritualistic.1
During a recent assessment in my congregation, members were asked to nametheir motivation for attending. The two primary answers that emerged were: (1)Intellectual / Spiritual Stimulation, and (2) a sense of Community. I suspect that theanswers coming out of other congregations are similar. The first three of my SevenPossible Purposes come out of this assessment.Returning to the hypothetical task of imagining the Sunday morning experience, Iwould suggest that for each of my possible purposes we look at models and effectivestrategies. In the following chart, I try to list some of the effective ways the particular purpose has been achieved. I do not hold that my Seven Possible Purposes constitutean exclusive list of reasons to gather and this same analysis may be used with other possible purposes.
 Seven Possible PurposesModels
Intellectual StimulationCollege Courses / SeminarsJournalismBriefing or ReportsDocumentariesDebatesSpiritual Stimulation or GroundingMeditation RetreatSpiritual DirectionSun CeremonyA Sense of CommunityBarn RaisingWeddingsRitualCatholic MassChanging of the Guard at the Tomb of theUnknown Soldier Chalice lightingFuneralDevotionPilgrimageCloistered LifeLeadership in JusticeMakingHabitat for Humanity (work parties)Political RallySit-Ins and Teach-InsEntertainmentTheateDanceSongStarting with this, albeit arbitrary, list of purposes it is reasonable to strategize themost effective way to achieve the purpose. The following chart lists some of themethods that have been used to achieve the stated purposes. Some, but not all of themethods are suggested by traditional models above.2
Seven Possible PurposesStrategies
Intellectual StimulationReading listsPower Point PresentationsHandoutsDiscussion GroupsSpiritual Stimulation or GroundingMeditationSpiritual LessonsJournalingYogaA Sense of CommunitySharing Joys and SorrowsCommunal MealsSmall Group EncountersRitualCelebration of TransitionsAcknowledging Seasonal or Cyclical EventsChalice LightingDevotionPrayeChantSilenceLeadership in JusticeMakingJustice NetworkingTestimonies from the DisenfranchisedPolitical AnnouncementsEntertainmentPulpit PlaysInterpretive ReadingsMusicMovement There are barriers or obstacles that commonly prevent the development of thestrategies designed to accomplish the stated purposes. Looking at these obstacleshelps to define the perceived limits of effectiveness. 
Seven Possible PurposesObstacles
Intellectual StimulationInformation is endless. The focus may bewide or narrow. It is one thing to listen to anoverview or short perspective on a subject; butit is more demanding to work in a scholarlyway, drilling down into a subject with thepurpose of thoroughly understanding a givenprocess. Intellectual progress is limited by thewillingness and perhaps the ability of theparishioners to participate in the struggle for 3

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