From the Minister:
Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life has a scene in the posh boy’s school in which the chaplain leads a prayer in morning chapel:
Chaplain: Let us praise God. O Lord.... Ooh, You are so big.... So absolutely huge.
Gosh, we're all really impressed down here, I can tell You.
Forgive us, O Lord, for this, our dreadful toadying, and.... And barefaced flattery.
But You are so strong and, well, just so super.... Fantastic.
Needless to say, you won’t hear any prayers like this in Unitarian Universalist worship services – nor, to be clear, in any Anglican chapel services, either. The whole worship scene in the movie is a brilliant parody of the form of a certain kind of praying that seems – well, toadying, as the piece points out. As in so many other things, we Unitarian Universalists are quite clear what we do not do in our worship services, but we’re often less clear about what it is that we do – and why.
One way of understanding “worship” is to look at its origins and etymology; there we will find an older understanding – “worth-ship” – the valuing and holding up of things of worth, the things, values, principles that mean the most to us. It’s interesting to remember that “your worship” was in an earlier age a way of greeting certain revered human beings – nobles or, more likely, high officials in one of the church hierarchies. Obviously none of our ministers will ever be addressed as “Your Worship.”
My understanding of our Unitarian Universalist religion (or faith tradition, or shared path) is that we are joined together in a journey of life which we share with faithful people around the world in many different religious and non-religious traditions; that we are all working on how to live our lives in ways that are meaningful and productive; that we need company on this journey as we are born, as we grow, as we love and as we lose. All of these different paths have different ways of expressing what they believe and why, what matters and what doesn’t matter, and above all how we should then live. So we gather to worship and we say (as one of my favorite Calls to Worship puts it):
May we be reminded here of our highest aspirations,
And inspired to bring our gifts of love and service to the altar of humanity.
For me, “worship” is an expression of how we remind ourselves of what is most important when we gather each week. Ken Patton, one of our great humanist ministers expresses this idea of worship in these words from our hymnal:
Let us worship not in bowing down, not with closed eyes and stopped ears.
Let us worship with the opening of all the windows of our beings,
with the full outstretching of our spirits.
Let us worship and let us learn to love. (#437)
So that’s how I understand what we do in our “worship” services. Our theme for our services during October is “Worship” and we’ll be hearing other perspectives at each services – including a music/hymn sing service on October 26th – for which we need you to sign up with your favorite hymns during coffee hour for the next few weeks.