Midweek Events Connect Members With Fun, Worship
Getting members out at midweek for a "church night" is a tradition for many of our congregations. It's an important time to build those community connections in a more relaxed atmosphere than on Sunday morning.
Members of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church of Berkeley in Kensington, CA (555 members), gather every Thursday night. The evening starts at 5:30 p.m. with a half hour of social time, after which participants link hands in a circle and share announcements and sometimes joys and concerns. A meal follows, and then at 7:00 p.m. there's a half-hour worship service after which members split off to go to choir rehearsal, committee meetings, and the children's play areas. The service is led by ministers or lay people and includes a chalice lighting, readings, and a short homily. It ends with a closing circle.
The first Thursday of the month is "family night" when activities are geared for children and parents. On these nights the director of religious education or others lead classes such as "How to be a UU Parent" or on world religions.
Participation has been growing, says co-minister Barbara Hamilton-Holway. Attendance averages about fifty and jumps to sixty or seventy on family nights. Some come just for the worship service.
"We really enjoy it," says Hamilton-Holway. "People like the informal participatory worship service, and they get to know a smaller group of people than they can on Sunday morning. This is a way of keeping worship and community at the heart of the church."
The Tennessee Valley UU Church in Knoxville, TN (366), reserves Wednesday nights for activities. There's a lay-led vespers service at 6:00 p.m., followed by a meal at 6:30 p.m. At 7:30 p.m. there's choir rehearsal and adult programming. Once a month the meal is a birthday celebration.
"For me Wednesday night is as significant as Sunday morning," says member Doug Walter. "It's about building community and getting to know other members. I've gotten to know a number of the younger children through sharing a meal with them once a week."
The Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, CA (407), began a 45-minute vespers service in June as a way of offering a worship opportunity to religious education teachers who miss the Sunday service. It quickly appealed to a wider variety of folks, says member Carolyn Petry. The 6:00 p.m. service is lay led and based on themes such as Friendship, Water, Dream Catchers, and What is Religion? It includes singing, meditation, poems and other readings, and a time for personal sharing. There is organized child care.
Some of the services have been organized by Coming of Age mentor/youth teams. Attendance is between ten and twenty-four. "It provides a nice chance for small-group worship in a fairly large church community," says Petry. She adds there are often meetings after dinner, "although we all like having dinner together so much that it's hard to leave to be on time for meetings at 7:30 p.m." S everal members of another nearby UU congregation also attend.
The UU Congregation of the South Fork in Water Mill, NY (53), tried a church night, and although it was generally successful, the congregation dropped it this year, says co-president Sue Penny, when some committees decided to meet at other times and because it was a strain for children with homework.
It included a 6:00 p.m. pizza, pasta, and salad dinner with a brief intergenerational worship service at 6:45 p.m. The service included a chalice lighting, responsive reading, a kid-friendly activity such as forming the interdependent web of life out of string, and a reading. It ended in a "sing ring." At 7:15 p.m. committee meetings started and everyone was on their way home by 8:30 p.m.
When the program was canceled the adult religious education program picked up the meeting time, place, and catered meal for its film series.
Food can be the hardest part of such an event. The Berkeley church hires a caterer. The church guarantees the caterer fifty people a night and charges $7.50 per adult and $4 per teen. Children eat free. Because the dinner is catered, adults are free to attend the worship service without having to clean up after the meal. But other congregations do potlucks.
"We went round and round on potluck versus catered," says Petry, of Santa Barbara. "At first we had an agreement to keep the food simple, as in bread, fruit, and cheese, but of course with UUs that didn't last past the first week. The idea of charging for the meal was off-putting to some. My thoughts are that a catered meal is something we'll do in the future."
Volunteers purchase and pick up the food for the Wednesday evening suppers at High Street UU Church in Macon, GA (124). Asking working people to bring a potluck each week would be too much, says Dick Creswell, member of the board of trustees.
He added that when the event began three years ago "I was one of the naysayers thinking people wouldn't come, and it would lose money. Both worries were misplaced."
He says about a fifth of the congregation attends each week. The meal is brought in by volunteers from a local restaurant. Sometimes it's Chinese, sometimes Greek, southern home cooking, Thai, or Mexican.
Each adult is asked to put $6 in a collection basket. Those who expect to come to the meal are asked to call the church office by Tuesday night so the appropriate amount of food can be ordered. Tea and lemonade are made onsite. The contributions usually slightly exceed costs.
"The drain on volunteers isn't too great," says Creswell. "The rest of us pitch in to clean up after the event. It's quick, simple, easy, and nobody seems to have gotten burned out or felt put upon after three years."
Wednesday evenings at High Street have included adult religious education classes, choir practice, committee meetings, and board meetings. Most people come straight from work, Creswell said. About 6:35 p.m. the minister or a lay leader will give a reading, ask for announcements, joys and concerns, and the group sings a song or two.
"It's a wonderful way for newcomers and new members to get to know members of the congregation," says Creswell. "As for the rest of us, it helps us stay connected, provides another opportunity for news to get around, and really helps our community.