Rev. Mark Ward: What Worship’s About

Last weekend I met with Worship Associates for the coming year for our annual training session. It’s a good time to review what we hope to achieve in worship here, what we understand as the role of Worship Associate, and to talk over some of the mechanics of how we make it happen. I am deeply grateful for those in our congregation who volunteer to serve in this role. They are a huge help to me and contribute a lot to what happens on Sundays. Look for the following people to be helping out in the upcoming year: Louise Anderson, Juliana Austin, Jane Bramham, James Cassara, Lisa Forehand, Jennifer Gorman, Nancy Heath, Isabel Horak, Charlie Marks, Stan Nachman and Sharon Van Dyke.

Especially since I’m making a few changes in how we regularly do things on Sunday, I thought it might also be a good time to share some of my thoughts on how I seek to frame worship here. Not every Sunday follows the same pattern, but there is a rhythm that we try to establish, and there is a goal we are seeking to achieve.

We begin with an important assumption that is central to our tradition, which is that religion for each person begins with individual experience. We each have foundational experiences that shape our deepest beliefs. One way to describe the feeling is as a sense of wonder, that we are deeply connected to each other and all things. Those are the experiences where we discover the centers of meaning in our lives. The point of religion, then, is to help us get clear on these discoveries and then help us draw them together into an ever-evolving fabric that gives our lives a sense of wholeness.

Another way that we describe this is the journey of faith. We are all born with faith, a feeling of that in which we can trust. This sense evolves over time in response to our experience. Liberal religion celebrates trusting that is life-giving and hope-filled. But it also provides space for us to reflect on and challenge trusting that results in ways of thinking and being that are unhealthy or destructive. In the end, the goal is to help us each discern that which we can trust so that we might live with compassion, integrity, service and joy.

So, our services begin with a Gathering time that starts with music and words that we hope will take you into a space where you are ready to engage with some of your deepest concerns. And we frame this within our Unitarian Universalist tradition with the lighting of our chalice and the singing of a hymn.

The biggest change to our Sunday worship is that every week we will begin with our entire community gathered in the Sanctuary. This change comes in part from the request of parents who wish they share the Sunday experience with their children more often. But since announcing the change, I’m finding that older members are happy about having the children present more often, too.

So, there will be a Time For All Ages every week where we’ll sing together and share stories and rituals. Then, the children and adults leaving with them will light a special chalice that they’ll carry on their way.

Once the children leave, the Worship Associate will open worship with a personal reflection on the topic of the day and invite the congregation into the practice of generosity with the announcement of the offering. We will continue to name community partners, who we hope you will make an effort to learn about and consider volunteering with. The Offering of the last Sunday of each month will go entirely to our community partner.

The middle of the service is largely unchanged: Spoken and Silent Meditation offer space to bring your true self present and open your heart to the work of growing faith; and the Musical Reflection, Readings and Sermon are constructed to invite each of us to the use all of our senses in wrestling with our own journeys of faith.

The other big change that you may have already noticed is that the section I had called Welcome has been moved from the beginning to the end of the service and been renamed Work of the Congregation. This is intended to remind us all that the work of our congregation extends beyond Sunday into the rest of our lives. This is where we welcome visitors and make important announcements.

I hope that you find our worship services meaningful and that they feed your spiritual hunger. Please send me any feedback you may have on our worship program at UUCA.

The service is intended to offer many different ways that you might be fed: perhaps the sermon or reading will do it, or if not, then perhaps the music, if not the music, perhaps the Time For All Ages, or perhaps the blessed opportunity for a few moments of gathered quiet in this community of your choosing.
Rev. Mark Ward, UUCA Lead Minister