Finding Our Voice

Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout
The Minister of Music at the Ann Arbor UU Congregation, Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout, frequently talks about our congregation "finding our voice."

At first, I thought it was just the usual high-minded wordplay typical of those who get to include "minister" in their job description; you know, the sort of talk that invokes the seven seas, the five great lakes, the imperiled groundwater, amniotic fluid and a mother's tears at a water communion service.

But I am beginning to get it; maybe not the way he intends, but a way that makes sense to me.

The Ann Arbor congregation is a justice-oriented, activist congregation. And they have done a lot and do a lot for the great causes.

Or do they? Actually, most of what gets done gets done by some of the congregation, while the rest of the congregation supports them and encourages them, we presume. The congregation does its justice work while in its "ungathered" state.

The congregation in its "gathered" state, gathers for worship on Sunday morning. And then, it is mostly passive, or speaks only in ritual. The congregation says its ritual words, and then it listens to readings and sermons. And then, with the words of benediction in their ears, it ungathers.

Even when most congregations sing, they sing as in a ritual, the prescribed verses, in order, with somewhere around half of the people singing. The congregation is singing, but they have not  yet "found their voice."

But, there are moments when the congregation sings, not as in a ritual, but in the present moment. In those moments, our song leader, Dr. Rideout has led us beyond the box, and we are singing outside of it. We are repeating verses; we are singing without accompaniment, we are singing improvised verses, we are improvising rhythms with our clapping and improvising new harmonies and countermelodies.

We are doing the singing in the moment as a congregation, not as ritual. Ritual has led us beyond ritual. Whatever we are singing, we are now singing those words, and the meaning of those words, directly into the world. We are not singing Holly Near's song anymore, we are proclaiming ourselves, at that moment, in that place, as "an angry, gentle people, singing for our lives." We are not singing songs of some far-off, long-ago freedom movement, we are a freedom movement, one tiny and limited embodiment of that justice movement, but we are singing in our own voices.  We have found "our" voice.

Yes, we are proclaiming ourselves a movement in the safe space of our own sanctuary, but it is a step. If we sing like that on Sunday in church, could we sing like that in front of the courthouse?Suppose we were to gather our courage and sing our songs, in our newly-found collective voice in the public square? Suppose we invited all others to join us, and to find their voice in the chorus we are trying to call into being?

We are black and white, gay and straight, young and old, men and women (and all others)
 together and we are singing for our lives.

It may be that before we can write laws, we must make demands, and before we can make demands, we must make speeches, but before we can make speeches, we must sing who we are, and to do that, we must find our voices, and we will find them in song, singing together.


  1. While I LOVE the idea of gathering at the Capitol, singing our songs in our collective voice, I strongly reject the idea that our voice cannot be heard through ritual, but only outside of it. Often, it is the singing of words again and again that leads me to their deep meaning in the context of my life, much like watching a beloved movie or reading a favorite book again and again, catching new things each time. Connecting through ritual allows me to embody my body and free my mind, rather than using my mind to drive my body to do new and unfamiliar things, to overthink, to worry if I'm doing it right. And when I sing "We are building a new way," "We are Standing on the Side of Love," "One more step, we will take one more step," I am pouring my soul into those words in a way that I just can't do with something new and unfamiliar.


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