Synergy: Transformational Worship for All Ages
General Assembly 2009 Event 2042
Presenters: Scott McNeill, Simon Zemlin, Erik Kesting, India McKnight.
Speakers and celebrants of all ages came together in a salute to the rites of passage and phases of life within our religious tradition. The congregation was diverse across ages, from teen to elder, in a worship space which has become a testament to imagination. As one attendee put it, “if we can transform a convention hall into a revival [tent], surely we can transform our world.”
The evening's worship was led by a set of voices representing ages and stages in congregational and denominational life, and interposed words of challenge and advice with congregational singing. Simon Zemlin, from the Church of the Younger Fellowship, opened with a reading. Michael Kusz, as the voice of youth, challenged Unitarian Universalists to set aside bi-generational thinking of people as either children or adults and engage multigenerational awareness of all ages: children, youth, young adults, working adults, empty nesters, recent retirees and elders. Only then, he posited, can we fulfill the vision of a multigenerational community “where all generations can find their spiritual home under one roof—a community where all ages are intentionally included, and where multigenerational ministry isn’t just a second thought, it’s something we do.”
Natty Averett, the young adult voice, posed universal questions for us to answer. He asked our congregations to consider the many theological questions embedded in the meta-question "Why are we doing this?" He reminded us that compassion feeds both the capacity to engage with difficult questions and issues, and the desire to avoid potential conflicts. He held up a vision of a faith which has learned to build a house of welcome—for all.
The adult voice—Kathy Vaughn, who is retiring after 18 years of professional youth leadership in the Mountain Desert District—spoke of her witness to the transforming power of love and community, the value of equipping our children and youth for meaningful involvement in their faith. She doesn’t promise a quick or simple solution, for “Feeding our need takes time, care, and it does take LOVE.”
As the last voice—the elder voice—the Rev. Clark Olsen reflected on a lifetime of practice in the art of asking questions. Asking questions, cultivating curiosity, and listening deeply to the stories that emerge close the gaps between the generations and the ages. He assured the congregation that “It’s easy. Make a habit of it.”
After a quiet beginning, the congregation broke loose with clapping and dancing in the rows. The messages were interrupted by bouts of spontaneous applause as the congregation found resonance in the words they heard. The challenge of multigenerational community was lifted up and received with enthusiasm.
India McKnight, a Youth Ministry Program Associate with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), introduced the bridging ceremony in which youth members ‘bridge’ to young adulthood. She invited members of the congregation to gift the bridging youth with written offerings, which were collected to be shared with the youth. These included “a gift of belief in your own strength;” “a positive attitude, an easy comfortable manner with children and sweet dance moves;” “acceptance, love, understanding and patience;” “a listening ear;” and “the ability to be wrong.” A minister pledged to “commit to finding new and innovative ways to ...help you hear each other.” And this from a congregation’s board president: “I’ll invite you to my meetings and I’ll go to yours.”
16 young people crossed the stage—the bridge—in their journey to young adulthood. They were met by young adults who welcomed them into this new role in their religious lives, and recognized by the congregation with affirmation, applause and choruses of the Bridging Song, “Fill my heart, fill my heart.”
“It’s very important to me to walk out in front of a couple thousand people and say “I’m one of you,” Leo Rose, a bridging youth from Los Alamos, NM, responded when asked why he bridged. “As a leader often doing the welcoming, it’s great to be welcomed in myself,” Dani Everton, from New Bedford, MA, reflected.
In his charge to the newly bridged young adults, Erik Kesting, one of the contributing authors to Wrestling with Adulthood, reminded the group that religion is a sacred duty. “As you stand here tonight and claim your Unitarian Universalist identity, that identity calls back, urging you to help heal the world. Follow that urge. Help in your own way: ask a question, dream a dream, shake a hand, build a bridge, plant a tree! Whatever you do, let this community and all that Unitarian Universalism has given you guide you.”
After the service closed with a congregational singing of “Come and Go with me to that Land,” the bridging youth and friends of all ages retired to a post-worship gathering where one long time religious educator mused, “If we can hear this message, from this worship, from these speakers—oh, what a powerful thing to bring back to our congregations.”
Reported by Rebecca Kelley-Morgan; edited by Bill Lewis.