Reflections 10/7/12

A Culture of Worship

In September, I gave a sermon about creating a culture for worship. In that sermon, I said, "Remember, we are a covenantal religion. We are about promises and relationships and agreements rather than beliefs and creeds and rules. We are about being responsible for and accountable to ourselves, one another, our congregation, and our larger Unitarian Universalist tradition.

So, we do not need rules and regulations for worship so much as we need to discern how to weave this mutual accountability and responsibility into a culture of worship....I believe the first essential practice for worship is hospitality. Hospitality is more than being welcoming and saying how glad we are that you are joining us today. It is making our service as accessible as possible for all who need or want to share in our Unitarian Universalist worship. I believe this is how we give shape in worship to our first principle of affirming and honoring the inherent worth and dignity of every person, of acknowledging that every person is a beloved child of the spirit of life, God or the universe, and that somehow all of us in all of our various shapes, forms and ways of being in the world, are a reflection of the divine or the sacred.

The second practice: paying attention to the sacred nature of this time and space. This is part of hospitality for sure, but it goes a little deeper. What do I mean by paying attention? Being engaged and aware of what is happening in worship or, if it is not your thing, intentionally giving space for those who need it. Remembering that we are all responsible for creating and nurturing this sacred time and space for each other, as well as for what we name as sacred and holy."

The Worship Committee and I then held listening circles after the morning service and during the evening service to help us listen to each other about what we might need to promise each other in worship. The circles were small, but those who participated said some beautiful, beautiful things. I began by asking, "Why do we worship?" Responses included, "Gratitude and to give back," "Opening myself to a greater self-understanding," "To increase awareness of the common good and to live that way," "A powerful place to be together alone,", "a reminder that we swim in mystery, something we can easily forget." Comments about what we need to offer one another to create a culture for worship included, "To be cognizant and courteous of others," "to respect each other's spiritual practices," "to create room for respectful demonstrations of 'the Spirit' or spiritual emotions," and "sharing and honoring each other's stories."

These are not easy things to offer each other, as simple and nice as they are. We may have different ideas of what "cognizant and courteous" or "respectful demonstrations" look like. We may have different levels of comfort in sharing and listening to one another's stories. And only a few people attended these listening circles. So, I hope that this conversation will be ongoing. In the meantime, may we help each other make our worship together accessible, meaningful, hospitable, and sacred.

In faith,

Reflections 9/2/2012

Welcome Back!

I am looking forward to seeing everyone at our opening Sunday this week. As always, the familiar and the new will greet us and we will see new faces and miss others who have moved on. Dolores Heredia-Wood joins us as our Director of Religious Education. Russ Menk, last year's ministerial intern, has returned to California to complete his studies. Some folks have moved away, and new folks joined us over the summer. Our seniors are off to work or college, but are always welcome back, now as young adults. The most obvious change can be seen in our vestry and kitchen, where the walls have been repainted, the floors redone, and new counters put in. Many thanks to Johan MacKenzie who coordinated and oversaw the renovations, with much help from Ron Cook. Many thanks also to Paul Windt, Fran Guerard, Marisha Rowse, Carlene Merrill, Jeanne Thompson, Joan Coyne and Joan Keane from First Parish, and Table of Plenty's Jim Comeau, Mike Kendrick, Maureen McKeon, Mary Moriarity, Joe Hehn, and TOP guest, Skip, and Open Door Nursery director, Jan Domey, who washed and put away many, many, many dishes. I apologize if I left anyone out. Please know that I appreciate all that everyone did to get the vestry and kitchen ready for the fall.

In keeping with tradition, we will open our regular church year with our Water Communion service. I invite you to bring water from home, or to use the water provided at the service to pour into our common bowl. With this ritual, we mark the beginning of a new year in our religious community.

In his book, From Beginning to End, Unitarian Universalist minister Robert Fulghum writes: "The Propositions: To be human is to be religious. To be religious is to be mindful. To be mindful is to pay attention. To pay attention is to sanctify existence. Rituals are one way in which attention is paid. Rituals arise from the stages and ages of life. Rituals transform the ordinary into the holy...Rituals create sacred time. Sacred time is the dwelling place of the Eternal" (p. 20). The ritual of the Water Communion does ask us to pay attention, to listen to each other pour into a bowl what is precious to us about our religious community, about our Unitarian Universalist faith and tradition, about what has happened to us over the summer, about our hopes and dreams for the coming year. Water has long been the ritual symbol of new life, of purity, of blessing, of change, of divine or sacred presence. When we take this unique symbol of life and bless it with our stories, our prayers, and our listening, we transform the ordinary into the holy, we create together sacred time that invites the Eternal or what we hold as having ultimate meaning to be present within us, between us and beyond us.

Rituals can become empty or meaningless, done just for the sake of "but we have always done it this way," if we are not mindful of their purpose or sacred nature. If we are not mindful of this particular ritual, it can become a "what I did on my summer vacation" recitation. (In fact, several Unitarian Universalist congregations stopped holding water communions because the sharing of exotic vacation spots seemed elitist to many.) For this reason, I always offer a question or thought for you to reflect upon for the Water Communion. This helps focus our words and makes room for everyone to participate. The Water Communion is a ritual of reunion: of coming back together and claiming that this is a sacred thing. An African Proverb say, "Return to old watering holes for more than water—friends and dreams are there to meet you." So, as you pour your water into the bowl, what friends or dreams are there to meet you? What more than water brings you to or back to this place, and makes it sacred for you?
See you on Sunday!
In faith, Ellen

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824