CommonPlaces Breaking60 TravelingNotes UU Exploration Belief and Practice

On Adult Religious Activity

This was written on 5/18/90, just over a year after I had joined the UUFC and was subsequently published in its newsletter, The Fellowship. It reflects my then and continuing difficulty with the nature and content of corporate or communal worship in the UU fellowships and churchs which I have attended.

As I travel, I make a habit of trying to attend the local UU group's Sunday morning worship service: the variety is overwhelming! It is said that one must attend at least four successive Sundays to get an idea of a UU group; with the exception of the UUFC and the TPUUF, I have not had that luxury. Some Sunday services are transcendental in their beauty and their mood, without reference to their format or content. Others, I'd rather not say....

I especially find applause difficult: I think that when that happens, someone, on one side of the pulpit or the other, has made a mistake.

This letter began a correspondence and discussion within the UUFC, leading, in addition to an active continuing Sunday AM worship program, first to twice monthly Sunday evening Quaker-style meetings for silent worship and then, after a pause, to a program of fairly regular weekly Sunday evening alternate, somewhat more spiritual, worship services, and finally to a meditation service preceding the regular Sunday 10:45 am program.

We all still continue to wrestle with this problem.

I really enjoyed the UUFC adult religious education program this last year, both as a student and as a teacher. Beyond the excellence of individual meetings, the great value of the overall program that Marguerite Kirsch and her committee put together was its diversity: there was something in it for everybody. It was a welcome addition to the annual round of activities and I hope that its success can be repeated next year.


But we don't just come to the Fellowship for instruction and discussion, even through many of us are academics and intellectuals who instinctively look to teaching or learning as solutions to most problems.


Many say that what they value most about the Fellowship is fellowship. But fellowship, close enough and sufficient enough to serve in both sweet and bitter times, can only proceed from trust.


Trust is hard to establish. Bonds of kinship or of long acquaintance and friendship breed trust but they will not serve here as many of our fellows are recently arrived and the group continues to shift and change. I think that trust in this setting can proceed only from an additional adult religious activity: communal worship: a public, perhaps ceremonial, display of reverence and respect for the objects of our beliefs, for those things and concepts which we, in common, hold dear. Furthermore, I suggest that communal worship is that one activity which distinguishes a Church or Fellowship from any other human organization.


The form and content of communal worship are difficult subjects in a religious movement which is non-creedal and which emphasizes development of individual beliefs. However, I perceive that, in an effort to avoid offense, the Fellowship has moved to an unsatisfying middle way: in attempting to serve all, our worship serves few. With few exceptions, I found our Sunday worship services cool rather than warm in their affirmation, intellectual rather than reverent in tone. And this is not an issue of congregational leadership: I can distinguish no significant differences between the lay and professional led services.


At a recent meeting at the Fellowship House, I suggested that we might consider abolishing the Program Committee with its Subcommittee on Worship and replacing it with a Committee on Worship, including a Subcommittee on Invited Speakers. Although this remark was made somewhat in jest, it carries the weight of my concern: if we do not seek (and find) a common ground for worship, satisfying to a majority of our fellows, then our other activities seem pointless and there appears to be little reason for the Fellowship to continue.