The image I found for this month’s theme of creativity shows a brick wall with graffiti proclaiming, “Together, We Create!” This is true in many aspects of our congregational life, perhaps nowhere more than in Sunday morning worship services. We create on Sunday mornings with our music and with the weaving of words. More, though, we create community and we create opportunities to find new ways to understand our world, our aspirations, our limitations, our callings, and so much more. Sunday morning services are meant to help us make meaning.
Our Sunday Services Committee has been exploring creativity in that context, to bring in more multi-sensory experience and to play with our expectations and yours. This is the context in which we recently held a feedback circle about worship.
We heard many things in that feedback circle, and I will report more of it in the blog on the website, but I want to focus in this column on reactions to changes in Joys and Concerns in our service. Both in that feedback circle and in other contexts, the Sunday Services Committee and I have been receiving both complaints and praise about moving to a system of written cards, rather than an open mic. Some people feel that hearing the person’s voice feels more interactive and they want to be able to speak through their own voice, not someone else’s. Others appreciate the organization that having cards offers, and believe that even shy people have a chance to share in this version of the rite.
We are not the first congregation to struggle around Joys and Concerns. It may be helpful to think in a broader way about the purpose of such sharing. Often, sharing of Joys and Concerns is seen as a small church practice that thickens bonds among the participants, though often to the exclusion of others. Visitors may get the impression that everyone knows everyone else and the particulars of their lives. They may feel left out, or they may be reluctant to be that close to people and feel threatened. I found particularly helpful these words from Wayne Arnason and Kathleen Rolenz, two long time UU ministers in their book Worship That Works: Theory and Practice for Unitarian Universalists:
Even in small congregations there is no way that all the pastoral issues and personal feelings of those present will be expressed through a Joys and Concerns ritual. It will always be a sampling from people who are the most motivated and expressive. The idea that it is a sampling makes it easier to understand the ritual as having a symbolic role in the liturgy, rather than a functional one. There are better ways for the congregation’s pastoral ministry leaders to hear about something going on in a member’s life than a public announcement in worship.
So, that raises another question. How do we learn about what care people need? And how do we extend it? In a small congregation, caring is organic and comes out of the group as people learn about one another’s joys and sorrows. As a congregation grows, much more of the care people receive comes from small groups they are part of. The small group setting allows more time to address issues and concerns and offers the opportunity of appropriate intimacy that is more than a false promise. At the same time, one of the functions the minister serves is to provide a different kind of pastoral care than friends are able to do; part of that is trying to keep an awareness of who might be falling through the cracks.
With more than hundred members, we have let go of the illusion that we are all close friends and that Joys and Concerns provides an adequate way to know what caring needs to happen in the congregation. If we reconceive of Joys and Concerns as a symbolic rite, what does that mean about how–and perhaps even if–we retain that in our Sunday morning services?
The conversation continues. Please share your perspective. The Sunday Services Committee (Katie Kingery-Page, Dick Beeman, Dave Lambert, Elke Lorenz, and Diane Barker) and I are listening.
In faith and freedom, Jonalu