Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Frank Schulman's Worship Manual

I should tell you first of all that Frank Schulman was my minister growing up. He followed my father into the pulpit of the First Unitarian Church of Youngstown, Ohio, a pulpit which became suddenly vacant as my father lasted only a year there. After a few years of wandering in the wilderness in the general vicinity of the Warren Ohio fellowship, my family joined the church in Youngstown and stayed there for 20 plus years. In a further odd circumstance, one can say that I now occupy a ministerial position that Frank Schulman occupied before he went to Youngstown.

The UUA has posthumously published a worship manual by Frank, and it may be connected to the extremely generous bequest he made to our movement after his death. So, I turn to the manual and I am completely predisposed to like it. And there is a lot of good stuff there.

But mostly, it is a picture into the mindset of a whole group of ministers who took a sceptical position, and who served as a loyal traditionalist opposition to the emergence of Unitarian Universalism in the post-merger period. Their personal theologies ranged from the broadly theistic to overtly Christian; they were serious about worship and to the extent that Unitarian Universalism has a "high church" tradition, they kept it alive. They were serious about liturgy and they fought for the authority of the minister over the liturgy of the church. They were, and still are, willing to be seen as cantankerous, old curmudgeons clinging to dictatorial power, grouchily shooting down every new innovation in worship, from chalice lighting, to liturgical dance, to easily sung and remembered hymns. I once heard Frank Schulman scathingly deride hymns in which only one word was changed on each verse (usually love, peace, joy and then back to love). He said that they were really just "camp songs." His speech seemed well-rehearsed.

Almost every newer minister that I know who takes worship seriously has been influenced by one or more of these "old boys."

But as I read his book, which is filled with good insights and much practical wisdom, I realize that what I need right now is not there.

I find myself preaching to people that they need to come to church. They don't just need a religious community, but what they need is the regular experience of worship. They need to spend an honest hour in the presence of the ultimate questions and values in their lives. The ultimate question for me, right now, is how does our worship connect with the real spiritual struggle that is going on in the lives of the people who might come to church? How would you explain to an unchurched person why they need to take an hour out of their life to come to church? What are they going to get out of the experience? How will it change their lives, even a little? Not what are the advantages to joining our club? But, how could it help you if you were to come, even if only once, to the service at the First Parish of East Overshoe, this Sunday?

My off-the-cuff opinion is that while mainstream Unitarian Universalism has pursued a non-theological worship style that results in a Sunday morning Celebration of Community that is self-congratulatory and shallow, the traditionalist elements have retreated into a kind of liturgical formalism that aspires to be well-ordered mainline Protestantism out of 1955.

If you can help me figure out how that works, then I will have a basis to say whether it is a good idea to have 2 hymns or 3, or whether the choir should robe or not, or where to stand to make the benediction.

5 comments:

Christine Robinson said...

You say: My off-the-cuff opinion is that while mainstream Unitarian Universalism has pursued a non-theological worship style that results in a Sunday morning Celebration of Community that is self-congratulatory and shallow...

I'm not sure what you mean by non-theological.

I believe that our challenge in most UU churches is to find a worship style that is not mono-theological, so that people with different beliefs can worship together and most get their needs met (including their need not to proclaim what they don't believe and their need to hear what they do believe) at least some of the time. I would not characterize this as non-theological, but as diversely theological, and I believe that more moods than "celebration" can be created in that kind of setting. The mood of lamentation moving to determination is the one I'm working on at the moment...

PeaceBang said...

I think worship services that admit to no sacred reality beyond the congregation can be safely said to be non-theological in the strictest sense of the word.

Even moving from lamentation to determination, without a transcendent or holy referent, is non-theological. I could so much in a therapy session or AA meeting (actually, even in AA they pay consistent homsge to a Higher Power).

Unitarian Universalist worship, when determinedly non-theistic, is non-theological by definition.

To ask you a question, Christine, what is "monotheological??"
Sounds to me like a euphemism for "theology according to a defintition that the entire world respects but that we don't want to have to conform to, because we support a 'religion' that refuses to conform to the definition of religion respected all over the globe."

(for those who protest that Buddhism is an enormous and important exception to my definition of religion, no it isn't. It still requires obedience to a master and obedience to sacred precepts articulated by a Master.)

ProtectedPeace said...

Something that I have been noticing is the need to have some connection to the greater. Whether it is the greater in terms of a god, higher power, or the greater in terms of a relational community. People are looking for a way to connect in ways that secular groups do not or perhaps cannot offer them. I think Unitarian Universalists are beginning to see themselves as spiritual beings having a human experience and not human beings having a spiritual experience. At least that is how I am beginning to view worship, how do I as a spiritual being have an experience that affirms my spiritual self in this human experience? As a minister, I want to affirm the spiritual being that is present before me right where she is, right where he is, in this moment, in this experience called worship.

LT said...

Christine,
Looking back at what I wrote, I think that I used the word "non-theological" to mean "non-theistic" and without a developed sense of the ultimate, that which is beyond our control, and brings us to judgement.

Where my problem is that I am not satisfied with what I see as the prevailing trends of UU worship, nor am I satisfied with the traditionalist critique of it, which I think that Peacebang has articulated well here.

I think that it is true that most UU worship doesn't talk about God. And for some people that is an insurmmountable barrier. But there are a lot of churches that talk a lot about God all the time. And there are still lots of unchurched folks who are looking for experiences that will bring depth and dimension to their lives, who are looking for a spiritual practice. They should consider congregational worship as a spiritual practice, and we should be able to explain why and how it could be effective in their lives.

Right now I think that UU's are saying: If you want to transform your life, then you should join our religious community and eventually it may happen. What I would like to say is: If you want to transform your life, then you should participate in congregational worship, starting this week, because you might see the effects of it right now.

PeaceBang said...

My DRE and I are going on that very motto this year. We talked about it today. It's time to flip the focus and the expectation. Transformation begins in worship.