Handout 1: Tips for Making Communal Worship a Part of Your Spiritual Regimen
Try to get to worship services with the least amount of stress possible. If you’re always rushing out the door, fighting with family members and cursing the traffic as you try to get there “on time,” you might arrive in time, but it’s unlikely that you’ll be truly present.
Use the prelude. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote in his journal, “I prefer the silence before the service begins to any preaching.” It’s nice to catch up with friends, but that can be done outside the sanctuary or, better still, during coffee hour. Use the time in the sanctuary before the first words are spoken to center yourself, to let go of whatever you don’t need for the next hour, and to prepare yourself to truly participate in a celebration of life.
Don’t overanalyze. This can be hard for us Unitarian Universalists. Have you heard the joke that we’re such poor hymn singers because we’re always reading ahead to see if we agree with the words? Instead of analyzing and critiquing, open yourself up to simply experiencing the service.
Appreciate your fellow congregants. Take at least one moment each week to look around and remember that you’re all in this together. Each and every person in that sanctuary with you has his/her own joys and sorrows, celebrations and concerns, and is as wounded—and as wonderful—as you are. As Francis David said, “We need not think alike to love alike.”
Make an offering. The traditional language talks about the collection of “tithes and offerings,” which suggests that the collection plate is for more than your pledge envelope. Experiment with being even more generous, if you can afford to. Put in a dollar or two (or five!) not because you have to—because you’ve pledged—but simply because you want to, out of the largeness of your heart.
When something turns you off, say a silent “thank you.” Wouldn’t it be boring to simply hear your own views and see your own preferences week after week? It’s often in our encounters with the unexpected that the “magic” really happens. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this? How can this help me to expand?” Then really listen for answers.
Use the “coffee hour”—and not just for congregational business. We have the telephone, the Internet, and committee meetings for conducting business. Coffee hour is for engaging with other people. If the worship service included a sharing of joys and sorrows, at coffee hour talk with someone whose sharing touched you. Seek out someone you haven’t seen in a while or haven’t yet met. Talk about the service with people—ask them what they think and how it affected them.
Come back to the service between services. If you journal, make a practice of reflecting back on the service midweek. If you don’t journal, set aside some time to think about what you heard—and what you felt—and whether it’s had any impact on you in the days since.
Attend services as regularly as your circumstances allow. In Unitarian Universalism there is no threat of hell for people who miss worship, but there is the very real danger of disconnection. Regular weekly attendance at religious services has been shown to lower blood pressure, among a number of other health benefits. Perhaps more important, it has been shown to increase a person’s sense of connection to other individuals and to the congregation as a whole. And for any spiritual practice to provide the most benefit, it must be frequent, regular, and disciplined.