Midweek Events Create Strong Connections
Creating a night at midweek for friends and members to come out for a "church night" is a tradition for many of our congregations. It's an important time to build relationships in a more relaxed setting than on Sunday morning. And it provides a worship opportunity for those who have difficulty attending on Sunday.
The Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara in California (505 members) began a 45-minute weekly vespers service in 2000 as a way of offering a worship opportunity to religious education teachers who miss the Sunday service. It quickly attracted a wider variety of folks and grew into a two-hour event. There's a potluck and check-in from six to seven followed by a worship service from seven to eight. About a dozen attend regularly, with two dozen on special occasions.
"It gives people some meditative and community time in the middle of the week," says Lucinda Eileen, one of the service leaders. "It's created some really strong relationships among those who attend." She says topics encourage people to explore and develop their spirituality. "When we did an evaluation of the program last spring, people felt it was very valuable." Eileen says it takes three to four hours to develop each service, and they have created a simple template so anyone could do it. She adds that these services also give lay leaders a place to further develop their talents.
The Unitarian Universalist (UU) Society of Black Hawk County in Cedar Falls, IA (127), started a "First Fridays" program last year when it became apparent there were not enough opportunities for children and adults to spend time with each other. "We have a lot of families with young kids, and it seemed important to have events that they could attend together," says the Rev. Eva Cameron. She modeled First Fridays after a similar program she'd been a part of at First UU Church in Ann Arbor, Mich. She chose Friday because there was no homework or bedtime pressure for families.
The planning group chooses a theme for each of the 12 First Friday programs, focusing on a timely holy day or holiday from one of the world's religions. People bring food representative of the holiday or a country in the region where the holiday is celebrated. Whenever possible local residents who celebrate this holiday are invited to come and share information. Religious Educator Kathy Klink-Zeitz and lay volunteers find out what children of that faith would be doing for the holiday and plan similar activities.
"In the past year, we had some real fun with this," says Cameron. "We opened with Sukkot, and the Jewish members of the congregation had a lot of fun remembering their past experiences." The group built a sukkah in the back yard and shared challah bread under the stars. She says they talked about the ancient Jewish festival, about the values it expresses that UUs and Jews share, and that these shared values are why some Jews are UUs.
Other holidays explored on First Friday have included the Feast of Eid (Muslim), Santa Lucia Day (Christian), Kwaanza, the Feast of St. Brigid (Pagan), and Buddha's birthday. They have had visitors from the Indonesian Muslim community, who helped reenforce the idea that not all Muslims are Arabs, Cameron says. They have also had visitors from the Hindu community, along with an Indian family of UUs. "They were impressed that Iowans who had never been to India would even try to cook Indian food," says Cameron. "And they had fun telling us the stories of their tradition and what these stories meant to them."
She adds, "The best thing about these First Fridays is that we've managed to create a party-like atmosphere with fun and new food and special guests, along with an educational atmosphere, where people knew that they (and their kids) would come away a little changed. They turned out to be a fun thing to invite your neighbors to, if inviting them to a church service seemed too bold."