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Setting and Mood

Appropriate Setting

The space for worship obviously influences what happens there. A discussion will be more successful where there are moveable seats or pews in the round than where all the seat are fixed and facing forward. A dark, closed-in space with diffused light stresses the inward, "vertical" dimension of religion, while a bright, light-filled space, stresses the outward, "horizontal," active aspects.

While setting can be limiting, stimulating and meaningful worship can sometimes occur in spite of the setting. At one denominational meeting, a dreary university classroom was transformed into a worshipful space by the intent and expectations of the people present, and by the eagerness with which they joined in the service.

The familiarity of a particular space, the feeling of belonging in a particular building, the awareness of being part of a worshipping community that extends into the past and will extend into the future, all probably have more effect upon worship than does a building that is especially beautiful or practical.

Audio-visual Enhancements

A few worship leaders make wide use of audio-visual materials to create mood and to illustrate themes. Sometimes slides and tapes form the central core of a service. In the hands of one skilled in their use, these materials can have stunning effects. But it must be asked whether these effects strengthen the common worship experience or are artistic pieces for individual contemplation only.


Von Ogden Vogt claimed that worship is an art and he used many artistic media and symbols in his services. Some Unitarian Universalists are bothered by anything that reminds them of the religions they have rejected. For some this has meant an aversion to all symbols—robes, candles, flowers, bread and wine. When the Puritans under Cromwell attempted to "purify" the Church of England of what they regarded as "popery," they smashed the stained glass, tore down the organs, and melted the crosses. There is still a strong Puritan influence in Unitarian Universalism. Yet our worship need not be devoid of all art and symbolism. Old forms can be perfectly appropriate vehicles of new messages if they speak to deep human needs, as many of them do. Special symbols, garments, art, or sacred spaces, need not be thought of as "conservative" or "traditional."

Next: What We Bring To Worship

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Last updated on Monday, April 11, 2011.

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