05 January 2006

Theology of Contemporary Unitarian Universalist Worship

On the Unitarian Universalist Association's Young Adult and Campus Ministry (YA/CM) web site, there's a portion of the web site dedicated to "contemporary worship." In this portion of the web site, Elisabeth Frauzel Bailey (2005 Meadville-Lombard graduate) has written a paper titled "Cresting From The Ocean: Creating Profound Worship."

Here's a summary of the paper from the YA/CM web site:

"In this paper, Elisabeth Bailey gives a theological basis to challenge what she calls 'minister-dominated, boring worship.' She then goes on (beginning on pager 9) to give some fairly concrete tips about how to design an embodied, spiritual, meaningful, community-centered worship experience. Elisabeth, our former Canada Regional Organizing Consultant, and a 2005 graduate of the Meadville-Lombard Theological School, calls on all of our congregations to make worship a community practice, and not something we endure to get to what really brings us together as a community.

One section from this paper captures the fundamental disconnect between children and youth in the RE wing and the adults in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings:

I believe that part of the answer to this question lies, ironically, in our noncreedalism. In a culture of religions that ostensibly define themselves by belief, UUs tend to cling a little obsessively to certain aspects of the religious tradition that ground them and help us be defined as the church. Famous historical figures such as the transcendentalists serve this purpose well—especially since a UU can say, “you know… Emerson and Thoreau,” and be generally understood. But I think that worship form also serves this legitimizing function. Because if on Sunday morning we have a prelude and a postlude and sing hymns and sit down facing a minister who’s behind a pulpit and might even have a robe on… well, that’s definitely a church, then! (The coffee afterwards helps, too.)

And yet this form clashes terribly with the beliefs that are represented in the pews. I know many adults who would be incensed to hear that their children’s RE classes were taught in a largely lecture style, yet will themselves sit in worship, reflecting individually on their spirituality while pretending that they are listening and/or know how to read music. In the meantime, a sacred opportunity for profound connection is lost.

To read this paper, you will need Adobe Acrobat or other PDF reader software.

Download Acrobat here.

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