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What are We Worshiping This Week?

“Do we have to call it worship?” a congregant asked me once. I have to admit to being a little bit caught off guard by the question. I am well accustomed to the strong feelings surrounding language choices in our Unitarian Universalist congregations: what is said and what is unsaid, what is called by which name and when and how and by whom. But calling what we get together to do on a Sunday morning worship – that’s something that’s so familiar to me now I think I had forgotten that it might rub some folks the wrong way.

What the question reminded me of, once I’d thought about it, was a disagreement I’d had with a friend from another religious tradition. She was a very wise woman, brilliant and kind, someone I deeply admire still. In response to an invitation to a Unitarian Universalist worship service she said that she would only come if we could tell her who was going to be worshiped at the service. She was an open-minded Roman Catholic, she explained; it didn’t have to be her deity of choice, but she needed to know who the object of worship was if she was going to show up. The other folks involved in the service and I stuttered and stammered. “Well, its not worship of anyone or anything in particular, its just…worship.” Our attempts at an explanation did not win her over.

Several years later now, I’ve had time to refine my explanation. There is a traditional understanding that worship is something you do for or to something, almost always someone, and then almost always some god. But my understanding of the action is bigger than that. I think that people can worship together and each be worshiping different things – we may travel on the path together even if we each have a different idea about what the destination is. Even more, I believe that there is a benefit and a power in the activity of worship, of setting aside time and energy to step outside of our immediate cares and context and try to see things in a larger, more expansive way. Worship is a vital word in my thea/ological vocabulary because it combines so many potent sentiments – celebration and lament, awe and fear and gratitude – into a single word, a word best employed as a verb.

(My guess is that you didn’t get much out of that last sentence because you were too busy scratching your head at your crazy minister and wondering what he could possibly be trying to say with the word ‘thea/ological’. Please ask me about it in person if you’d like, but very briefly: theology means the study of god, and in its Greek origins, it assumes that god is a dude – that’s what the ‘o’ in ‘theo’ indicates. Thealogy would be the equivalent, but with the assumption that god is a woman. Thea/ology is an attempt to talk about the subject of god and religion without assuming that god is either a man or a woman, leaving open some possibility for a god that is both, or neither.)

So no, we don’t have to call what we do on a Sunday morning worship, and you are each free to call it what you like. But I do think that what we do is worship, and I am very happy to call it by that name. We together to worship each Sunday in a practice of renewal and transformation, and for any of you interested in going deeper with this, there are several opportunities to get involved. Serving as an usher is a great way to support our Sunday morning worship life while meeting new folks. Being a chalice lighter gives you a way to share something precious to you (a poem or quotation) with the wider congregation. I am always thrilled to be approached by folks who have an idea for a worship service that they would like to hone into something powerful and meaningful, and for the truly inspired, there’s always the exciting prospect of joining the Music & Worship committee to have an ongoing role in the shape of our weekly practice. If you would like to know more about any of these opportunities, please contact me or a member of the Music & Worship committee. Together, let us keep expanding the circle, and reimagining what worship can be.

In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson

PS: In October, I spoke from the pulpit in support of the Occupy Wall Street (Boston, Salem, etc) movement. One element of this support is that I am among more than 100 Unitarian Universalist ministers in our area who have signed a letter to this effect. You can read it here.

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