Saturday, March 29, 2008

Worship Associates in our Pulpits

I went to a great seminar called "Welcoming Worship," facilitated by the Rev. Michael Tino, when I was at the Large Congregation Conference. Michael emphasized several great ways to make our worship services enjoyable for more people, especially more young people. He made the point that at every service, three to four voices ought to be heard, not just one because just one voice, no matter how wonderful, will not provide enough variety for the congregation. Tino recommends that a few Worship Associates speak in addition to the minister. According to Michael Tino, large congregations need to have lay members visible (in the pulpit). Worship Associates are folks with good public speaking skills who are chosen by the minister to assist with the announcements, readings, the chalice lighting or the benediction. I was proud to raise my hand when Michael asked how many of us have Worship Associates at our congregations. And I kept my hand up when Michael asked how many of us have WAs who are under 30(thanks, Abby!).

My church began the program just last fall, I think. I love it! Having confident, relaxed people in the pulpit helps the whole atmosphere at a worship service. A few years ago, the person finding lay members to do the announcements wanted to get a different member in the pulpit every time: someone who had never done it before. The idea was that seeing all these different people would help us get to know each other better. Well, it just didn't work. Almost every week, a nervous, anxious member flubbed up the announcements because s/he wasn't able to project warmth and welcome to everyone and would mess up pronunciation or speak in a monotone or ad-lib inappropriately. For a year at least, no one doing the announcements knew how to do it. I thought it made us look like a very large group of amateurs!

But, I couldn't really complain, because the people recruiting announcers had the attitude that the announcements did not need to be done smoothly; in fact, they thought it was kind of sweet when anyone fumbled and bumpled (makes us seem more human, they said).

Gee, I couldn't disagree more! I want a seamless, reverential delivery by someone who is relaxed, not self-conscious -- someone who is able to warmly and joyously welcome us all into sacred space. Because at every worship service, some folks are there for the first time and some folks are hurting and looking for solace or compassion.

There was a time that I was in the pulpit for what (to me) was an extended period: ten minutes. I admitted that I was nervous, so the minister helping reassured me immediately by saying that every UU comes to services wanting to engage with us -- no one is here because they have to come! Plus, he told me that our pulpit is shaped like a hug and would hug me while I spoke. My nervousness disappeared immediately!

Though I love Worship Associates, I prefer that the opening words be delivered by a minister -- because a minister will invariably use the proper cadence, emphasis and reverence. That great preaching style ministers learn that brings us into worship, into the sacred! I am disappointed when someone says the opening words in an everyday voice.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

What Is the Saving Message of your Congregation?

I'm back from the fabulous Large Congregation Conference. What an experience! So much to think about now that I'm home. What really caught my attention is the question both Rev. Bill Sinkord and Rev. Stephan Jonasson asked, "What is the saving message of your congregation?" Stephan made it clear that a "congregation without a saving message barely has an excuse to exist" -- I think those were his exact words.

A saving message is a vision of how a congregation will "save the world" -- because just being a home and community for congregation members is not enough. Unitarian Universalists "save" by making the world a better place. In doing so, we save ourselves as well. The thing is, each congregation needs to be able to articulate its saving message, its vision. Then each congregation member must be able to do the same. Stephan mentioned that we're having trouble with our elevator speeches, in that they only work if we are in an elevator on the ground floor of the Empire State Building when we begin to answer the question, "What is Unitarian Universalism?" and even then, when we get to the 50th floor, we have to keep hitting the stop button!

What we need is a saving message we can articulate passionately. According to Stephan Jonasson, when the senior ministers of twelve of our largest congregations came together last fall, they each gave what they see as their congregation's saving message. Most answered it along the lines of "Nurture your spirit; Help heal our world" -- a vision of both spiritual growth for us and a deep commitment to our wider world. The UUA's slogan is a saving message!

These senior ministers at large UU congregations answered a number of questions (in addition to explaining their saving message) when they got together. Apparently, these sessions were videotaped and will soon be available on CD. Yahoo! I see being able to ask this question and articulate an answer as a breakthrough for our liberal religious movement. Being able to ask the question shows that we have a language of reverence of our own, that we know the term "saving message" is large and inclusive, not narrow or fundamentalist in its meaning.

At the LCC, I connected with wonderful people: my friend CA, whom I met way back in a UU campus ministry group, AH (a fellow Ferry Beach camper), and Rev. Mark Ward, a former intern at my congregation (who preached the inspiring closing worship service while robed!). I met many thoughtful, committed, passionate Unitarian Universalists -- this is why I love conferences!!

Thanks to Alice, Karen, Tom and Harry for the great camaraderie in our mini-van.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Live from the Large Congregation Conference!

What a great day in Louisville! There are fifteen of us here at the Large Congregation Conference from FUS of Madison, plus folks from 48 other large UU congregations (over 300 people in all).

Our outstanding speaker, Susan Beaumont of the Alban Institute, gave the theme program: Using Power and Authority Effectively, Ethically and Spiritually. I had a delicious dinner of crab nachos and a margarita at Joe's Crab Shack, then did the Macarena with the wait staff (except I didn't stand on a chair). After that, my congregation's delegation met together to discuss what we learned today and to make sure we've got tomorrow's workshops covered.

Of course, now I am very tired and must go to bed....

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Five Things You Need To Be Happy

I just saw a posting by CK about asking college students: name five things you need to be happy. I jotted down my answers before reading the entire Arbitrary Marks post. You're welcome to grab a pen: What five things do you need to be happy?

Okay, maybe this shows a class difference: my number one is having my basic needs met for food, clothing and shelter. As a matter of fact, I first began to list each one separately, then realized the wisdom of lumping them together so that I would have room for:

2. Love/life partner
3. Family
4. Friends
5. Freedom

I was disappointed that I'd filled up all five so fast! I want a sixth one for fulfilling, meaningful work. And a seventh for world peace! Gee, could I give up having friends or a place to live in exchange for world peace? No, I could not.

The college students have a similar list, except they omitted basic needs, possibly under the assumption that they're a given.

CK wonders if this Love-family-friends trio is generational. CK, a "Gen-X-er, was thinking in pretty individual terms, about my own freedoms, ability to be compensated, pursue my dreams, etc."

None of us put down good health, I notice. Other than that, I imagine that my list (with basic needs first) would be more in keeping with what people around the globe would say. Or, perhaps answering a question about happiness would have no relevance to many people, beyond basic survival? I kind of doubt it, because humans seem to be made to love....Hmmmm.

Anyone else have a top five to share?

Tomorrow, I'm off to the Large Congregation Conference. I'll be picked up at the crack of dawn by a group of some of my favorite Unitarian Universalists (in a rented mini-van). Hooray!

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Reverend James Reeb

It's the anniversary of the March 10, 1965 murder of the Reverend James Reeb in Selma, Alabama. Unitarian Universalists in Madison know Reeb's story because one of our UU congregations is named after him. James Reeb opened in 1993. I was a charter member of JRUUC, but left in favor of the "huuge" society.

As of last week, I'm delighted to be the new office manager at James Reeb! I'm so happy to be working for a faith community -- I'd been saying for years that the next time I earned a paycheck, I wanted it to be in service to Unitarian Universalism. Hooray! To work part-time at one congregation, but still have a spiritual home in a different congregation feels wonderful.

Here's to answering a call,

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Singing "Doo Doo"

Katherine Von Till singing "Alto's Lament" always makes me laugh!

I joined the Meeting House Chorus at my UU Congregation to sing in the venerable alto section. It's the type of church chorus with no auditions, but lots of practices. We go over and over the material until we get it right, but the music director also teaches us to read music as we go along. So far, I've learned to recognize the bird's eye and tent icons and a few of the swoops, dots and accent marks. I'm exceptional at pp (sing very quietly) and the "Ha!" during the last chorus of "Turn the World Around" (1074 in our hymnal supplement). The x-on-a-stick means "happy shout." I nail it every time!

Anyway, I'm having loads of fun, except sometimes we altos sing "doo doo" for what seems like ten minutes straight. Easy to memorize, but hard on the lips! Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is difficult in that way.

Right now, we're learning "Seasons of Love" (525,600 minutes) from Rent. The song is all do do, do-do do for altos, but I like it because of the great rock beat. And we get to sing lo-ove....

Happy Ha! shout to all,

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Developing Home-based Rituals: Singing "Thump"

UU World features this insightful article: "Home grown Unitarian Universalism: Developing home-based community rituals that root UU adults and children" by William J. Doherty. Doherty explains:

My goals for the religious education or faith formation of Unitarian Universalist children are twofold: First, that they grow up spiritually alive, free, and engaged with the world; and, second, that they grow up as citizens in our living religious tradition. The first goal reflects our traditions of spiritual seeking, personal freedom of mind and conscience, and commitment to building a just and loving world. The blend of these elements is what makes us unique as Unitarian Universalists. My second goal refers to citizenship in our tradition, which means active involvement in building and maintaining local congregations and the Unitarian Universalist movement.

To achieve both goals for the religious formation of UU children, I believe the central venue for faith development is the home linked to an intentional UU community. The essential ingredient that makes this work is not what we spend most of our time on when we “do” conventional religious education: Sunday school classes, worship services, and youth activities. Instead, the key ingredient is the spiritual development of parents and other adults, and their grounding in both a local church community and the Unitarian Universalist tradition. Our children will not advance much beyond our adults, and if parents have allegiance only to a local congregation (and, even more limiting, to a particular favored minister) but not to the larger Unitarian Universalist movement, then why would we expect their children to join another UU church after they leave home and move away from their local community?

The UUs I know who grew up in homes with strong links to our religious movement demonstrate a high level of commitment to our faith and can lead the way for the rest of us, if we pay attention. Here are just a few of the home-grown UUs I know:

A young friend of mine, C, is a third generation UU. For our Coming of Age worship services, youth make collages about their lives. The vast majority of these collages feature only secular activities, but the one from C was different: hers was grounded in our free faith. C had a family photo from her dedication, another of a social justice project for children, her dancing during a winter Solstice service, and photos of the three churches she had attended (two UU and one UCC). I think there was a photo or two of her with a minister and maybe a church Easter egg hunt.

Another UU told us during Joys and Sorrows about singing hymns around the piano when he was a kid. His favorite: "For All the Saints" (103). His family called it "Thump" because of the loud chord that's played at the very beginning! He's very committed to UUism, even though his wife and child lost interest.

One of my very favorite people is a home-grown UU who sings in one of our choirs. He remained active through college and graduate school because of vibrant campus ministries. It was such a joy to see him get married in our Auditorium and have his baby dedicated a year later. His beautiful wife is UCC, so I'm hopeful that baby M will learn of both venerable traditions.

Lastly, I must mention Justine Urbikas, who is the UU Board trustee from the Central Midwest District. Ms. Urbikas is about 21 years old and a full-time student at DePaul University. She previously served the CMW district as Youth Trustee to the CMwD Board as well as serving on the UU Campus Ministry Advisory Committee. I had the pleasure of meeting Justine and her delightful parents (still members of the Unitarian Church of Evanston) before voting for her to be our UUA Trustee.

Here's to growing up in a liberal religious home,