Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Worship Service or UU Variety Show?

I recently attempted to describe my idea for a UU variety show, sort of a UU version of A Prairie Home Companion with musical acts, singers, skits, jokes and stories. And, we would sing a few of our favorite hymns ("Now Let Us Sing" and "Blue Boat Home," for example).

One person said that he didn't see how this would be any different than a regular worship service. Good God -- could some of our worship services be confused with variety shows? Say it isn't so!

The typical worship service at my congregation does contain a myriad of elements: music, poetry, stories, singing, a sermon, a meditation and (once a month) joys and sorrows. But to consider it akin to a variety show? I think the sacred is invoked throughout our worship services, throughout the time we come together to hold up what is worthy (worth-ship). A feeling of reverence and acceptance envelops us during worship. We're accepted as we are, into beloved community with fellow seekers. Aaaaah!

Elizabeth

1 comment:

patrickmurfin said...

My church, the Congregational Unitarian Church in Woodstock, Illinois has twice had long running, hugely popular annual “variety” shows, or if you prefer, musical reviews. “Paradise People” ran for 11 years in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. It grew so popular it had to be moved out of the Church and onto the stage of the historic Woodstock Opera House. The idea was revived again as “Dille’s Follies” (for the master of ceremonies, Larry Dille) for eight more years from the late 90’s through 2005. The shows died out each time not because they were unsuccessful, but because of eventual burn out of key people. I predict that in another year or so, folks will be ready to fire them up again/
There might not have been jugglers, magicians or animal acts—other than a walk on one year by the minister’s Boxer—but there was just about everything else. The casts were large full life span. One year there were 70 performers from six years old to past 70. There were children and full adult ensembles, women’s and men’s groups and soloists. There was always a live house band of 4 to 7 pieces, sets, lights, elaborate costumes with many changes, and choreography. Opening and closing numbers typically got everyone on stage—don’t ask me how—at once singing and dancing. It’s true our minister and some of the other men entertained mostly by clomping around like wounded buffalo, but they tried.
The quality of the shows was truly extraordinary. Not professional, perhaps, but on a par with the very best community theater. It helped a lot that local high schools have strong performance arts programs which trained many cast members and that there also is a very lively community theater tradition here where two, sometimes three companies produce several shows annually at the Opera House. So a lot of our people had either training or experience. And like most UU churches we uncovered a lot of talent, nurtured and encouraged it. Rehearsal began months before the show and intensified in the final weeks when all cast members were finally drawn together.
Dille’s Follies usually had five full performances Thursday through Sunday plus a Wednesday open dress rehearsal to which local students and senior on limited incomes, and clients at local social service agencies were invited. Most years our sanctuary seating—about 130-40 depending on how you packed the pews—was sold out almost every night. It was a real community highlight.
These events were great success. Not only did they raise a few thousand dollars for the church after paying their not insignificant expenses, but more important they were a bonding opportunity for the whole congregation. Even if you weren’t on stage you were likely recruited to be a stage hand, run lights, sew costumes, sell tickets, serve refreshments at intermission, or maybe just hang posters. Whole families worked together. Young and old who might never have really known one another became life long friends.
I miss those shows. So do others. One of these years someone is likely to jump up on a table and, like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland exclaim, “Hey guys! Let’s put on a show!”