Showing posts from July, 2006

A Livelier and More Exciting Worship Service

Doug Mudar, in his comment on the previous post, says "Actually, I wouldn't mind having a "livelier and more exciting" adult worship service."

A sentiment shared by almost everyone I know, including most ministers. I would even argue that our liturgical history in Unitarian Universalism for the last few decades has been shaped by this underlying dynamic: how to make worship more exciting and livelier? I think that there are two two circumstances that shaped this dynamic:

1. The authority of the minister over worship, a situation which places the minister in the position of having to balance and resolve all of the contradictory and competing worship desires of the congregation. It causes all of the liturgical conflicts within the church appear to conflicts with the minister. Almost everyone who is not a minister thinks that the First Parish Church of East Overshoe would have a much more exciting and livelier worship service were it not for old Rev. Fuddy Dud…

Ministry to Children in a Worship Centered Church

Thanks to everyone who has contributed in some way to this discussion about worship in liberal religion.

If we think of our common religious lives as being grounded, first and foremost, in the experience of worshipping together, how does that change how we think about ministry to children and youth? You can tell that I have a definite opinion by the fact that I even pose the question as "ministry to children and youth" and not as "religious education."

I don't like imaging the process of religious growth as "education". I don't like it as a way to think about it for children, and expanding it to Lifespan Religious Education only makes me more uncomfortable, and not less. O God, a school from which I can never, ever, graduate !

While I think that passing along some information is a necessary part of working with children and youth, it is hardly the most important part.

We need to give our children opportunities to worship.

I don't mean making the…

Mission and Worship

We have been discussing the relationship between worship and mission, especially in UU churches.

My cynical perception for years has been that the default theory of UUism is that what matters most is social justice mission work of the church. (Deeds not creeds). The UU congregation is a community defined by an unexamined "like-minded-ness." The community tries to recruit more people to join it, and the worship service is a show that the community puts on to attract new people. Unfortunately, most people don't particularly like the show. And those that do, a bunch like the show so much that they don't want to do anything but be consumers of it. Some people become invested in the community that they really take on the tasks of institutional maintenance. And finally, there is a small group, the cream of the crop, that tries to be disciples of the underlying values and do the mission work out in the community. These are the blessed ones and they are truly wonderfu…

Why What Happens In Worship Matters

In the previous post, I noted that thinking about the worship experience as preparing us "to go out in the world and face another week" suggests that worship is a refuge from the world where we rest and recharge, but where nothing actually happens.

The division between the world out there where things really happen and the world of worship where we think about, reflect on, pray about, preach about the real world is so built into liberal religion as to be a part of the air we breathe.

Our colleague, the Rev. M. Jean Heriot has a wonderful book, "Blessed Assurance" which is her study of an evangelical Southern Baptist community in the South, with whom she spent many months.

She argues that for those folks, what happened in church was not a world apart from the real world, but, in some ways, perhaps the realest and most important part of life. After all, the individual soul was brought into a contemplation of ultimate reality and asked to make a decision about the direc…

A growing liturgical tradition

UUA President William Sinkford addresses the question of worship here in a recent entry to the UU world online. He points out several elements of the worship that seem to becoming more common in UU worship. He probably knows because I doubt that there is anyone who attends more UU worship services in different settings every year than him. Wouldn't it be great to get his absolutely candid evaluation of every UU service he attends all year long, with pictures, quotes and audio recordings? I mean with all the loving and generous brutality of Peacebang discussing inappropriate footware. I earnestly suggest that President Sinkford blog his worship experiences of his final year in office; it would be as great a gift as any inspirational words he might compose for those occasions. But I digress.....

Rev. Sinkford sees as our hopeful signs: more singing, more chalice lightings, and
Sermons about real-life issues are becoming more common, appealing not just to our minds but also cal…

Not Just Money

My back of the envelope name for the Foundation that Clyde at A People So Bold calls the "Foundation for Unitarian Universalist Growth" is the "Institute for Progressive Enterpreneurial Ministry." Obviously a better name is needed. Perhaps we could call it "You Know, Like Robert Duvall in the Apostle."

There are things that could be done right now: Making an inventory of progressive church planters and plants active now, surveying the literature of recent experience, researching, enabling training, identifying planters, building networks of planters into learning communities, developing and clarifying a visionary core group.

A Foundation

Clyde, over at A People So Bold calls for the formation of a foundation dedicated to Unitarian Universalist Growth, as a way to support UU evangelism.

He says:

Personally, I think that what we need is a foundation dedicated to Unitarian Universalist growth. This foundation would have a Board of Trustees devoted to the mission of stimulating church planting specialists, and local efforts to create new congregations, and community ministries that involve outreach (mission) informed by Unitarian Universalist values. The Board would not be elected by Districts or the General Assembly and the Executive Director would not be involved with a risk adverse association of congregations led by ministers competing for scare resources.

What would it take for such a foundation to be successful? Aside from money. How would it avoid optimistically funding disfunction? How would it be clearly accountable to Unitarian Universalism broadly, without being sectarian and narrow?

Pet Peeve of today

I live in what is called 'an urban village', meaning that the population is pretty dense, there are lots of little stores, and pedestrians, bike-riders and motorists have to keep an eye for each other.
I walk a lot.
This is what irks me.
I am walking along and need to cross the street. I stand on the curb (kerb?) and wait for the traffic to break, so I can walk across the street. Note that I am standing ON the curb, not in the street, not in the crosswalk, not in any danger whatsoever. Standing ON the curb waiting for my turn to cross the street.
Invariably, somebody, usually a middle-aged woman in a Volvo or a Subaru and looking in need of one of Peacebang's makeovers, screeches to a stop and fixes me with the self-satisfied grin of Bono handing out granola bars in Somalia. And she waits for me to cross the street in front of her.
Of course, traffic is piling up behind her, because to all other motorists, she has just stopped for no reason whatsoever. After all, I a…

Growth Strategies

From everything I was able to glean at GA, one can safely say that the UUA does not have a growth strategy. When asked that question directly, President Sinkford said that we are in "an experimental period." We should have lots of experiments. We do, of course, since many of our congregations are trying to grow. We don't have the management processes in place to learn from those experiments very well, but they are out there.

There is a large-scale church start being planned in Philadelphia.

Peter Morales talks about growth through better growth and member retention in the already existing congregations.

And then there is small-scale church-planting, which I would define as minister-initiated, congregational formation. Some would call it "entepreneurial ministry", or even "apostolic ministry." This is largely unexplored territory for the Unitarian Universalist Association which tends to work with the idea that church planting starts with a congrega…
So, a physician says to her patient, "I want you to cut out coffee and caffeine."
The patient replies, "I don't know, I drink about two pots of coffee everyday."
The doc: "Doesn't that keep you awake?"
"Well, it helps -- a little."

"It's Not What You Make, but What You Leave"

"It's not what you make, but what you leave" is a saying among pool players. Where do you leave the table when you finally miss? What have you left the other player to work with? Hopefully, you've left a a table that doesn't allow much of a run.

We who do parish work might want to think about what we are going to be leave behind and compare it to what we were given when we were first installed. I am talking about the worship tradition of the congregation.
Are you going to leave it in better shape than when you first showed up?

Some signs of the kind of worship tradition that you would want to leave behind, some of the ways that it had improved under your guidance:
1. worship is more predictable in all the good ways, but still people get up and come to church on Sunday just to see what's going to happen.
2. the congregation has a common language to talk about life, words, phrases and concepts that are the common currency of the worship service. People refer t…


Doesn't it seem important that we should look very carefully at what is going on in Mexico right now? Doesn't it seem likely that someday, we here in the United States might want to go about the process of contesting an election that seems to have been conducted unfairly and perhaps stolen? Don't you wish that we had been a bit more educated about how people around the world had challanged a flawed election back in November 2000?

Texts, Ministers and Authority

A colleague wonders about how preachers choose readings for worship. By what authority? And how does a preacher choose a text for a reading that is "inserted into the liturgy as a replacement for scripture." Who can decide what other text has the authority of scripture?

Liberal religion has a different conception of the authority than his question seems to assume. Traditionally, the purpose of worship was to present the scripture which was the source of authority. The synagogue cycle of readings, and then the lectionary of the Christian churches were all designed to teach the scripture to the people over the long course of multiple years. The preaching was to help people learn the scripture by applying it to contemporary situations and explaining its application and relevance. Scripture was the source of the authority.

Our religious tradition places the individual as the highest authority, but in the context of the covenanted community and in relationship to the minister…

Readings for Church

A colleague asks how much ministers should edit readings for us in church. To which I reply: I edit extensively -- cleaning up language for gender, clutter, obtuseness, archaic-ness. I take out lines of a poem, combining poems by the same author etc. We are making liturgy, not literature. The purpose of the reading is to pierce the hearts of the listeners in the moment; the arrow we shoot must be sleek and smooth.

Even the most plodding, sing-song, overwritten 19th century poem, bearing its heavy burden of classical allusions contains some thrilling lines that would make a great reading if they were set free. I admit to making a pretty good one page modern poem from Emerson's Threnody, the l-o-n-g poem he wrote on the death of his son. Of course, I edit and revise the Word of God as represented by Moses, David, Jesus and Paul. Everybody does that. But Emerson? That takes nerve, I admit, but not as much as editing Mary Oliver, and I have done that as well.

We do not quote …

The Lively Tradition

OK, enough already.
People have been after me to resume blogging for months now, ever since I let Prophet Motive die from neglect. I have opinions about anything that anyone asks me about, but I don't get up in the morning filled with subjects that I am burning to talk about. Choosing sermon topics is not my idea of fun.
I chose the name the Lively Tradition obviously from name of the hymnal: Singing the Living Traditon. I would like to go from merely "living" to "lively". I also think tradition matters, but not as much as we think.