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Worship Theory

There is a truism in the design world, that "form follows function." Those of us who are involved in the design of the worship experience, then, ought to understand why we do what we do. Anyone can take a standard order of service template and fill the open slots with hymns and readings. Doing it well, though—making sure that the various elements of the service work together to weave an experience for the participants—is a little bit more difficult. And as for trying something new? For many reasons, an appreciation of worship theory can be a great help.

As you might expect, there is no one Unitarian Universalist (UU) worship theory, no "unified worship theory" to which all Unitarian Universalists ascribe. That doesn't mean that there haven't been attempts to describe the indescribable.

In 1921, for instance, the Unitarian Van Ogden Vogt described an "order of liturgy" which became the foundation for much of Unitarian worship. (And which is referred to by both of the following pieces.)

In 1983, the Commission on Common Worship of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) published a document called Leading Congregations in Worship.

And as recently as 2008, Skinner House Press published Worship That Works: Theory and Practice for Unitarian Universalists by Wayne Arnason and Kathleen Rolenz.

InterConnections, the UUA's newsletter for congregational leaders, has also published many articles about worship theory and practice.

Outside of the UU-universe, yet quite friendly to our perspective, Neopagan priest, author, and scholar Isaac Bonewits has described a common worship pattern consisting of five phases in Neopagan Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Rituals that Work.

Any and all of these approaches can help those who weave worship better understand what it is that they are doing and why it is that they are doing it—both crucial in understanding how to go about doing it well. There are many resources that can take you deeper in your understanding of the theory and practice of the worship arts. 

For more information contact worshipweb @

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Last updated on Wednesday, December 3, 2014.

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