I preached the UN Sunday service today. I offered to do it on purpose, as it is one of the few pieces of the UU liturgical calendar that I never (and I mean never) connected with, so I wanted to hear the kind of UU service that would inspire me.
We could have done a story for the “Story for all Ages” today, but instead, my friend Peter taught the congregation to sing our version of the doxology in four-part harmony. And it worked! It was really beautiful–at least from my vantage point behind the pulpit. I prayed aloud, even though we call it “spoken reflection” but I felt that I had answered a need that had been spoken by others, to include an element such as this. The sermon? It could have been tighter, could have been more book-y.
But, the experience I had hoped to craft for our members and that new family of visitors I didn’t know would be there was sabotaged by someone with an ax to grind and a microphone. You expreienced UU ministers and lay people, you know what I’m about to say, don’t you. Yep, we got hit by the Joys & Sorrows train.
Two weeks ago, when another member of our congregation (and not even what I would call a lay “leader” but just a member) was in the pulpit, a different congregant took the opportunity to use Joys & Sorrows to lambast the congregation, the minister, and maybe even the minister’s cat. This happened exactly one week after we, as a congregation, grappled with the death of one of our own. Mostly, we were still raw, and here we were, in our safe place, being taken to task in that way, making everything, much much much much much more grating.
So guess what? Today, while I’m in the pulpit, a different congregant does the same thing. It may have only been one minute, maybe only two, probably more like 4, but in any event it sucked the energy right out of the service.
I know, if I were asking for advice, y’all would tell me: drop the damn joys and sorrows part of the service. (There are other ways of doing it, I know, but this one, this one seems the most practical to me.) I’m not asking for advice, though. I’m just venting and feeling sorry for myself, but more than that, feeling sorry for those who came to worship today. Perhaps the opportunity was there. Perhaps the sermon that I spent most of yesterday crafting (because this is NOT my day job) did bubble back up.
Here’s what I wanted to do: I wanted to create an experience that would let people leave feeling informed and inspired. The music was great–we sang three hymns (though some in our church only want to sing two), as well as the doxology experiment (which rocked), and the choir sang “Woyaya” at my request (which TOTALLY rocked!).
- Music and readings selected to invoke mood conducive to worship? Check, check.
- Sermon crafted for same? check.
- Words written to introduce the Offering that inspired people to be generous? Check-ish (I don’t know how generous people were).
- Words written to introduce the Joys and Sorrows section explicitly stating what sort of joys should be shared and explicitly asking people to be mindful of time? Check and check.
- Angry people actually listening to those well-crafted words? Not so much.
If only I could control people as well as I control words.
No advice sought, honest to goodness. I really just needed to vent. Oh, I know, I’ll save it for Joys and Sorrows next Sunday—shouldn’t be a problem, it’s only Visitor’s Sunday. Check!