The worship life of a congregation reflects the values and beliefs of its people. My most positive worship experiences have been in collaboration. With collaboration you have the spark of building on one another's ideas and the investment of a group of people in excellence. Worship should not always be the voice of just one person coming from the pulpit. Worship services can be be creatively engaged with many talents and voices within a community.
Worship is comprised of many elements. The liturgy is important in that it paces the energy of the service and provides a smooth framework for a meaningful experience. Music in worship can add or calm energy. Music is a unique, powerful language to express sentiment and meaning. Diverse sources of wisdom and readings are important, as they reflect the breadth and wealth of traditions and sources from which Unitarian Universalism draws inspiration. Honoring the traditions of a congregation are important as they mark special times and holidays that are dear to its people. Worship also requires taking some risks, trying out new ideas and speaking on controversial topics. Worship doesn't always have to be in the sanctuary, it can be blessing the animals outside or even outreach worship in a public park. The freedom of the pulpit is important for the prophetic voice of Unitarian Universalism to cry out against oppression and injustice.
I am excited about dynamic intragenerational worship. In my home congregation, Unitarian Universalist Metro Atlanta North, I created and directed an intergenerational play that represented multi-faith traditions, a broad age span of actors, and the story focused on peoples of different traditions, cultures, and backgrounds standing together against oppression and injustice. The Sunday morning audience was called to interact with boos and hisses, during the interactive representation of Esther's story. The sanctuary chair layout was in the round, and different- aged participants fufilled the traditional roles of collecting the offering, the chalice lighting, and introducing Joys and Concerns. It was a huge hit, because everyone was involved, engaged, and honored. My goals in worship are to employ all the senses through music, poetry, or drama – finding new ways to express and deepen the worship experience. Dynamic worship does not need to be at the cost of losing treasured ritual or tradition, rather it should enrich and embue these components with fresh energy.
Pastoral Care is an essential element of living out the mission of care and support within the congregation. I believe strongly in having a support system for all ages. This can be accomplished through Care Rings, and even the assistance of Lay Ministers in a larger congregation. Small group ministries can also fill essential roles in supporting needs.
During my Internship, I created a Men's Grief Support group and also larger Grief Support group. Honoring the rites of passage in our lives, both positive and painful, is a vital function of a supportive faith community. As an Intern Minister and as a lay person I have had strong involvement in pastoral care support. Pastoral care calls for personal contact and follow up with persons in need, creating a support system within the congregation, and preaching on pastoral topics. Small groups can be created to meet immediate needs within the congregation, such as grief and loss. Lifespan religious education can also educate and support all ages through the experiences we all encounter in different stages of life.
Celebration and Rites of Passage
Marking events in the life of a person and the life of the congregation are crucial. A wedding is the joining of souls into a new journey. A memorial might mark the celebration of a life well-lived or the immense grief at a life cut short. There are the rights of passage for Coming of Age youth and those bridging towards college. There are child dedications, where a congregation enfolds a child in the support of a liberal, supportive faith community.
There are also congregational celebrations for holidays such as Yule, May Day, or the success of a pledge drive! There are anniversaries of achievements, dedications of a building, or the ordination of a minister. Celebration as a community brings us closer by honoring important times in the life of those we care about. It is a joyful recognition of the covenant and relationship that we all participate in as a congregational community!
Lifespan Religious Education
Religious Education is important for all ages. As seekers and searchers, Unitarian Universalists are inquisitive about religion, ethics, morality, and history. That spirit of questioning can lead to deep insights and personal growth when nurtured and supported. In teaching Neighboring Faiths this year at UUCA, I have seen that parents are as excited as children to visit a Buddhist temple or Jewish Synagogue. All ages are hungry for innovative educational programs that engage the senses, mind, and heart.
I believe in strong support for the Director of Religious Education. The DRE is a partner in the ministry of the congregation. Collaboration leads to positive leadership, focused planning, and supportive modeling in staff relationships. Integrating the vision of religious education with themes in worship and the life of the congregation can also create a fantastic synergy.