In late January I spent a week at an event called the “Center Institute for Excellence in Ministry” hosted by the Unitarian Universalist Ministerial Association (UUMA), to which I belong. The focus of the institute is just as its title says, “Excellence in Ministry,” and it goes about the work in unexpected ways. If there is something ministers do not typically get it is regular occasions to be in worship, to have other ministers hold onto us with their words, music, and liturgy, so we might be nourished in our religious lives. The week at the institute included, besides seminars and classes to learn and renew ministerial arts, a full worship and vespers every day to immerse oneself within. Being a retreat of ministers by ministers, our worship was full of exploration and revelation, and too many moments where a phrase or word made one pause in reflection, or tension, change, and renewal.
One of those phrases that held me was this: “worship and liturgy is not a “sit and soak” gathering.” I do not specifically remember what words came before or after except that it generated this phrase in my notebook as I reflected on the them:
Worship and liturgy is not a “sit and soak” gathering, but the work of the people to become and build what they wish for themselves and the world.
The work of the people to become.
This means you, and me (and other worship leaders) working on a Sunday morning to make something new… the work of the people to become. How does this happen in worship? Aren’t we just “sitting and soaking” in words and music?
Worship in UU is to raise up our highest ideals for examination and renewal – to bring the meanings of our Principles and Sources to our attention, and hold them up to our personal and public lives. It is a complex dance as well, because not all of us are in the same place at the same time. Among others, there are the social justice warriors who are carrying the fire of change in their heart, there are those hurt by life, by economics, by relationships, who needs to be held in community for strength and comfort, and those who look for communal inspiration for UUFF to be a place of change for themselves and the society around them.
Our Mission Statement holds all of this:
As a diverse, accepting faith community, we promote justice and service while seeking personal and spiritual growth.
At the Institute I witnessed worship that gathered us together as a people, raised us up in solidarity, called us into right relationship, and held us accountable for the ideals we hold. We sat and soaked, we stood and sang, we listened and thought, and most of all, we knew that we were Unitarian Universalists together on a mission to become something better, all the time, and drag the world along with us as we were able.
One of my goals this year is to open Sunday worship to this kind of experience, to hold onto each other as UUs, to highlight our mission of Service for Justice, and open space to find personal and spiritual growth. What I gained from the Institute is that Sunday is not about one person dragging everyone along, but about us working together towards a “hot tub of UU,” soaking in the shared energy, to accomplish a goal. Our Chalice Team’s planning, Choir Accompanist and Director’s holding of musical/emotional space, and our Welcome Team’s (greeter/ushers/service coordinators) ability to integrate everyone to UUFF on a Sunday morning are vital to the shared story and message of the service. Your understanding of who you are as a UU, what our mission is as a Fellowship is and sharing it as a congregation is the soak that makes a difference. The service is a catalyst, the invitation to jump into the water, but you my dear congregation, you are the water, the energy that makes the work towards change happen.
I, and others who minister to you on a Sunday, will invite you to the tub, will provide the bubbles, the jets of thought, music, and contemplation in worship. It is the work of the people to build community in worship, revitalize and energize each other with your presence, to go out into the world refreshed and renewed spiritually, ready to do the work and build what you dream of. Dreams of personal growth in a world that is about justice and peace, and worth and dignity.
Peace, Rev. Jim Parrish
PS: I share with you one of the songs we sang constantly at institute… that tied the week together. Enjoy.