"GAdding About" Day 3

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Prepared for UUA.org by Doug Muder


I'm already falling way behind, both in doing things and (even more) in writing about them. I have no hope of catching up systematically, so I'll take a last-things-first strategy and tell you about the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF) worship service today.

Here's what I learned this afternoon: If you have a talented congregation, a great minister, and you do only one worship service a year, you can do it really, really well. Every piece of the CLF service sparkled.

For those of you who aren't already familiar with it, CLF is the Unitarian Universalist church you join if there is no UU church where you live. It uses mail, email, the Web, and anything else it can think of to keep geographically isolated UUs from feeling spiritually isolated. They have one big worship service at GA every year, followed by their annual business meeting.

I went to the service on a whim. I've never belonged to CLF and haven't been to one of their GA services before. Sometime in the distant past I heard a sermon by their minister, the Rev. Jane Rzepka. She's a very good speaker, and she was sharing the pulpit with the Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, the minister of the Fourth Universalist Society in New York. I hadn't seen her before, but I've read some of her stuff and been very impressed.

Both of them lived up to their reputations as two of the best preachers in the denomination. The service grew out of an informal theology conversation they had at GA last year. Rzepka is a humanist and McNatt a theist, but their two sermons had no resemblance to a theist/humanist debate about the existence of God or any other topic of disagreement. Instead, each celebrated UU theological diversity and inclusiveness from her own perspective.

As the "host" minister, Rzepka went first. I will not try to summarize her sermon, which should be available as streaming video soon. When she was done, I felt a little sorry for McNatt, since Rzepka had preached a sermon her guest surely couldn't match. And then McNatt topped her, and spontaneous cries of "Yeah!" and "Amen!" erupted from all over the room. Don't take my word—go watch it.

The streaming video, though, can't possibly do justice to the music. The hymns were all very singable and the congregation sang with more gusto than I'm used to hearing from UU's. Some hymns were traditional, but the closing hymn, "The Fire of Commitment" by Mary Katherine Morn and the Rev. Jason Shelton, had a Broadway sound reminiscent of Godspell.

Shelton was also involved in the musical highlight of the service: The choir sang two selections from Sources, a brand new cantata whose creation was sponsored by CLF. Described in the program as "a major work for chorus, piano, string orchestra, and percussion, which explores and celebrates the theological diversity at the heart of our religious identity," Sources has a piece corresponding to each of the six sources of Unitarian Universalism. The selections we heard celebrated the Humanist fifth source and the Judeo-Christian fourth source. Shelton composed the music, and the words were written by the Rev. Kendyl Gibbons.

The program promises that Sources will be performed in its entirety at the 2007 GA in Portland. I think I'll be there.