Worship in UU Churches
Liturgy – The Work of the People
In a typical Unitarian Universalist worship service you are likely to experience a recognizable Protestant liturgy (liturgy means ‘the order of different elements – like singing hymns, a prayer, a sermon, etc.). We believe that worship is a public exploration of personal ideals. And being a public experience is important. Since we are all trying to grow in wisdom and compassion to help create betters lives and a better world, worship is something we need to do together. In fact, the Greek origin of the word ‘liturgy’ means ‘the work of the people.’
Unitarian Universalism is a very unique approach to religion today. It is non-doctrinal and non-creedal, which means that we don’t espouse all people accept one Truth or set of beliefs. Yet, we do ask that everyone work to clarify the truth of their experience and bring that into one conversation with all members. We believe in the free and responsible search for truth and meaning and that everyone has something to teach and something to learn. And we believe that compassionate teaching and learning is best done in a committed, loving community.
When you come into worship in a Unitarian Universalist church you will inevitably sit beside people who have very different histories, experiences and beliefs. You may sit next to a Christian, a Buddhist, an atheist, a Pagan, an agnostic or someone with Jewish roots. We don’t bother with the question of which one is the right perspective. We explore universally relevant questions of how to be more loving as people and more just as a society.
People sometimes ask if ‘you have to believe in God to be a Unitarian Universalist?’ One answer says, ‘No, but you do have to believe that you are not God.’ This is a humorous way of acknowledging that there are many perspectives and practices that help people in their important spiritual development – and each of them requires some curiosity, appreciation, acceptance of diversity and a little humility. This is quite different than worship that depends on guilt or shame to motivate people.
Theory of Worship
Worship is a process which intentionally tries to help stimulate people’s self awareness and self actualization. We want it to inspire and call forth connections to our deepest values. Since the hope is to help people ‘transform’ into their best selves – and – since we know this kind of transformation happens at very deep levels of character, it is important that worship be crafted to reach people beyond incidental, surface-level ideas.
There is a rhythm that is created in worship by weaving together music, words, silence, ritual, etc. It is intentional that we try to use rhythm and ritual to create a sense of familiarity. This helps to access some of our unconscious thought processes which are important when trying to have a deeper impact.
Purpose of Worship
Worship comes from the Old English word ‘weorthscipe’ which mean ‘worth’ + ‘shape.’ Worship helps people – individuals and community – to shape worth – take what is worthy and give it shape.
Ideally worship seeks to help clarify two things: an individual’s great ‘calling’ (understanding what unique difference they can make in the world) and the world’s great need. We want to help people grow in awareness, clarity, compassion and leadership. We want people to be the best human beings they can be – which means the best individual, the best parent or family member, the best spouse or partner, the best community member, the best carrier of goodwill into the world.