Celebration Worship Service
Celebration Worship Service

The fifth episode of the "A Religion for Our Time" video series explores the creation of an alternative worship service at the Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church (ORUUC) in Tennessee.

When several congregants at ORUUC realized two years ago that they yearned for a worship service with more music and interaction, they started working with the minister to create a "celebration service." They call it a work in progress.

Download Episode Five (MP4) (right-click to save the file).


(Background Music)

Rev. Peter Morales: One of the joys and challenges in a growing congregation is figuring out how to fit everyone in for Sunday worship. And sometimes that fit isn't just about space it's about different worship styles. The UU Church in Oak Ridge, TN, took a deep breath a couple of years ago and changed its second service.

Lori Hetes: We wanted to have something really different from our traditional service.

Rev. Jake Morill: People were interested in more engagement, participation, and more interactivity, different kinds of music.

Narrator: So a determined group in this congregation of about 240 members began the Celebration Service. It's planned every week by the Celebration Team and the minister with the same theme as the traditional service but the sermon shorten to a homily and there's lots and lots of music with the Celebration Band.

Dave Dunkirk: That's why I come to church. I come to church so I could have a place where I can sing.

Gina Grub: We select songs from more of a pop and folk genre and we take some traditional hymns and I call it contemporize them. But we just try to have high energy and really focus on getting the congregation moving, and involved, and clapping, and just really singing from the heart.

Narrator: Along with more music there's more participation like building the alter together.

Tandy Scheffler: It has sand in the little containers and a platter with a towel, a white towel on it. And in that space we create a sand mandala each week. It has candles to light, stones to pick up, and it's a suite in special times in the service. I think it says that service is about the group of people who are simple together; it's what they make it.

Lori Hetes: The hugs and the smiles and the generosity that people offer during the passing of the peace. It just feels stronger. I think again with the connection of music and the connection of the four directions, brings that together.

Invocation Leader: Please turn to face the door. Breathe in. Breathe out. Precious God....

Gina Grub: Everyone in the sanctuary is involved in the service. We are asking them to get into the singing. We have a closing circle.


Michelle Powell: When I'm holding hands with people in the circle, or when I am singing a song that I'm familiar with, or is new that has an energy, I feel a closeness to a spiritual self that I am just am not able to feel in a more traditional service.

Dave Dunkirk: There's so many churches, mega churches, fundamentalist churches with this great music that draws people in and if their message is not a positive message that Unitarian Universal has to offer, this service gives us a chance to have music that people can relate to, and the positive message. And I think it gives our denomination hope to spread our positive message to people who want to find it.


Narrator: Now while this story is partly about the more contemporary service itself, it's also about the process and the willingness of both ministers and members to try something new.

Michelle Powell: I talked to Jake and he was very willing to give this a try so we started a small group that has changed and built and become what it is now, which is ever changing.

Rev. Jake Morill: We are tinkering with it, we're trying it out, we're trying to figure out what works and sometimes that just means experimenting with something and I think that feeling of experiment pervades the whole endeavor.

Michelle Powell: Its okay to try things and to be open-minded to changes.

Rev. Jake Morill: We are trying to invite people who may not have known that they could clap and move at a UU Church to try just that and do it together; and so there's that feeling of we're all trying this together and who knows what will happen.

Narrator: And who knows what might happen if you tried something new in worship at your congregation. Stretching this way to embrace creativity and flexibility in the feeding of the spirit is certainly part of being the religion for our time.

For more information go to the UU Church in Oak Ridge website.


For more information contact worshipweb@uua.org.

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