Following is a series of newsletter columns written by Worship Committee members to talk about various aspects of worship.
When I began service on the Worship Committee many years ago, we concerned ourselves primarily with identifying speakers for Sundays when the ministers would be away. This continues to be an important task for the Worship Committee, and we try to keep ourselves informed of the talents and interests of the members of our congregation.
Under the leadership of our two most recent chairs—Valerie Ingram and now Doug Rubio—we are also considering what other aspects of worship should be our concern. In its December meeting, the Church Council approved a revised Worship Committee Charge and Procedures document to incorporate some of these additional responsibilities. We have spent considerable time discussing the relative importance of elements of the service—hymns, Joys and Concerns, period of silence, for example. We are contemplating how to make sermons more readily available to those who may have missed them, and we are also considering whether and how services may be recorded, so those who cannot attend may have more elements of the service than just the sermon. We have also ensured that there is better communication with the Music Committee, since many of our decisions and concerns overlap those of that important committee.The committee has set up a system that will ensure that pre-service setup (e.g., turning on the PA, filling the chalice with alcohol, etc.) is done for David, so he can devote that time to matters central to the ministry. We have been speaking with the Outreach Committee about making information about guest speakers available for placement in local papers. This outreach is especially important in making more people aware of our church.
January 2012In the Order of Service there are certain places where you will see an asterisk (*). It denotes a request from the minister (or lay leader) that the congregation remain standing. It probably seems understandable why we would stand while singing: we can more fully project our voices, creating a rich and satisfying group sound. But why, you may be wondering, are we being asked to stand during the Lighting of the Chalice, Benediction, and Extinguishing of the Chalice?
When David began shaping our services 17 months ago, he brought with him some specific ideas about when to stand during a church service. The Order of Service consistently includes the note * Indicates a time to stand, if able, and David usually reminds us when to stand. We still, however, have a bit of a some-people-up-some-people-down situation after the closing hymn and during the Benediction and the Extinguishing of the Chalice. It might help us remember to remain standing at the end of the service if we consider for a moment what it means to stand.
My initial thought about remaining standing is that it demonstrates a certain level of respect. One of my favorite literary references to standing as a representation of respect is when, in To Kill a Mockingbird, Reverend Sykes says to Scout, after her father has lost the trial, “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.” It takes more effort to stand than to sit so we are physically saying that something is enough worth our while to stand. Standing brings us to a more active rather than passive frame of being. And the word “stand” has some definitions that may also help us understand David’s request for standing. To “stand” is to have an active attitude about something, such as where we stand on a particular issue. To “stand” is to perform a particular service, such as standing guard over someone. And to “take a stand” is to publicly state a belief.
I invite us all to deepen everyone’s experience by considering the act of standing as part of our spiritual practice. We are making public our respect--for the meaning of the words being spoken, for the symbolism of the chalice and flame, and for the inherent worth and dignity of each other.
Retired UU Minister Richard Gilbert writes: “Listening . . . has a spiritual dimension. It suggests that I am not the center of the cosmos, but rather one source of words among others. It implies that I have no monopoly on wisdom – that true wisdom may be found in listening.”
For me and I suspect for others in the congregation, Sunday service is important, in part, because we know it is a time when we can sit quietly in our own self-contained spaces – just listening – and no one will wonder if something is the matter. It's a place where – away from the hustle and bustle of the multi-tasking world in which we live – we can find solitude and quiet among friends.
Sunday service – words, music, silence, physically active participation, stillness – is a time for us to connect with our deepest selves. Listening without speaking is a spiritual practice for me. Opportunities to sit in silence and just listen without needing to respond – too rare in my own daily life – are a major reason Sunday service is important to me. Along with the two minutes of silence that are a regular part of the service, these opportunities include the musical offerings of the Prelude, Offertory, Postlude, Adult Choir, and Handbell Choir. How fortunate we are as a congregation to have wonderful musicians who have taken the time to rehearse in order to create a space for us to deeply listen.
Music has the potential to be a point of focus for quieting the mind and bringing oneself into the present moment. The Postlude, in particular, can offer a means of closure and reflection on the service just completed. I invite us all to deepen everyone’s spiritual experience by expanding our practice of listening fully – in silence – to the Postlude and experiencing its beauty in its entirety before we extend friendship and conversation to those sitting near us.
Robin CollenNovember 2011
Our primary means of communication during our Sunday service is, of course, vocal communication. What we say is important for us to say and important for others to hear. So, if you find yourself speaking in front of the congregation, making an announcement, sharing a joy or concern, or telling a Story for All Ages, please use the microphone.
Using the microphone is an important way of getting one’s message to all corners of the Sanctuary. It is especially considerate for those who don’t hear as well as others. And, even though some of us can speak loudly, few of us are trained to speak to the back of the room distinctly and clearly.
Mark BerninghausenOctober 2011
Together we can make all of our services meaningful and uplifting for everyone.
Last month, Valerie Ingram gave a very nice overview of what is considered when putting together a worship service. I would like to focus this month on the principle of theme.
Regardless of how a particular service is structured, there must be a chosen theme that runs through it. This theme can be almost anything that expresses moral, ethical, spiritual, or sacred qualities. Sometimes a theme will strongly resonate with a particular person, sometimes not. Newcomers hoping to characterize the church based on one visit should know that, like exercise, benefit comes from repeated exposure.
Once a theme is selected, the order of service is tailored to support it. The sermon can be thought of as a kind of anchor to which are tied the hymns, readings, and special music. A successful worship service builds in intensity and brings everyone together until, as the Mohawk people say in the Thanksgiving Prayer: “Now our minds are one.”
The Worship Committee tries to make sure that related themes do not happen too close together by maintaining a schedule of services and separating related themes in time. The exception to this would be that occasionally, when it makes sense due to its complexity, a theme will be spread out into a series of two or three services. The Committee always welcomes your suggestions and ideas.
Jon MontanAugust 2011
While every one of us has experienced the Sunday morning worship service, not all of us have been “behind the scenes.” In fact, it may surprise some to learn how much preparation and thought go into each detail of the service and even, sometimes, the level of debate about what works best or which elements should be included and in what order. Should we stand or sit there? How long should the silence be? What’s the best way to handle Joys and Sorrows?
This is not about orthodoxy or “best practices,” but about creating a worshipful space and meaningful experience that works for this church community. It needs to flow. All the pieces need to fit; the music, readings, and children’s story all need to contribute to the overall theme. And it needs to take just about 60 minutes, not many less and certainly not many more!
While our services have a recognizable form and shape, each is different and, of course, not every service speaks as well to every individual. We hope you will be patient with the variety of themes, music, and other formats that find their way into our services because, even if you don’t care much for a particular service, it’ll be just what someone else needs.