Summer travel brings with it time to consider one’s work. The root of the word worship, weorþscipe, is worthiness – to give worth to something. Below are some somewhat random thoughts about worship.
Rick and I went to the 10:00 am Mass Grégorienne at Nôtre Dame in Paris this past July. We sang responses, psalms, and the ancient Mass movements with the small professional men’s choir, reading the musical neumes on the orders of service – by the Sanctus we were pretty good.
After months of working with UU ministers and worship leaders from Europe on the services for European Unitarians Together conference, it felt oddly right to participate in worship which was in the same cast as my childhood experiences in the Episcopal cathedral in Omaha. All the things that are foreign, indeed off-putting, to UUs – the incense, the constant ritual singing, the magnificent organ music, the same words, unchanged, which I knew well, even in a foreign language – all of these rooted me in the moment. And all of the elements of worship were there, the things we talk about so earnestly at conferences about music and worship planning: color, movement, words, music, transitions, flow. What was not there is the frantic desire to make each service “new” or designed for a different batch of people than the week before.
This is not to say that the content of the liturgy doesn’t change – the homily changes, the readings change, the colors and music reflect the liturgical seasons, but the core structure is just that – the core, center, heart. This kind of worship offers itself as a haven and a constancy in our lives. It does’t look to be everything at every moment for everyone; rather, the onus is on us to actively receive what is offered to us, to join it, in a spirit perhaps more humble than what we usually display. We are asked to participate in a mode of expression that is not just about our individual selves but is rather about a continuum, about the generations before us and the ones to follow.
Worship demands more of us than we want to admit. There are people who love one service at FUSN and the next week feel disaffected. That common syndrome is a sign that we have not held up as important that which is vitally important to the life of our congregation, which is: to be together, to be fully present and accountable to each other as a corporate body. When we come together, literally, on Sunday morning, into one room, to sit and stand and sing and speak together, to think, to listen, to meditate (and, later, to discuss together) – that means we have chosen to commit our selves to a common purpose. The purpose may be different from congregation to congregation, but whatever it is, it calls for (for lack of a better word) a buy-in from each of us, a promise that, in disagreement as well as passionate advocacy, we will stay together and hear each other, hear the music and the words that we hold in common. When we open our hearts and minds to the work of worship, we emerge renewed and refreshed, ready to engage in our work in the world.
Again, this is not an exhaustive discussion of what worship is or what it’s for, or even how we plan worship here at FUSN. We work to include important words and art and music from many sources, we want to engage our many generations, we want to offer a safe space for meditation and reflection and joyful community. I like what the blogger Stacey Gleddiesmith writes: “gathered worship forms our congregations: it forms our behaviour inside the church and outside…forms the way we think about the world; forms the way we think about ourselves.”
Looking forward to our new year together,
Anne Watson Born