Dirt Communion

Included here are only some elements of a worship service. Please feel free to write your own homily/reflection, or to add chalice lightings, hymns, special music, a time for all ages, and so forth, as is needed for your context.


  • In the weeks leading up to your dirt communion, let people know that on that Sunday they can bring a cupful of soil from their home—whatever "home" means to them—or, in the words of Joy's homily, "a little bit of the soil where you find your peace, find your power, find your joy." 
  • For the service, invert a large terracotta flower pot and saucer to make a chalice for worshipsee first photo. 
  • Following the service, use the gathered soil in the ways that you announced/are most meaningful to your congregation.

Two people adjust a large upside-down flowerpot being used as a chalice in a Unitarian Universalist worship service. The pot is on a low circular table, surrounded by votive candles. In the background we see the chancel, with a pianist and a bass player making music.

Call to Worship

Suggested: “The Seven of Pentacles” by Marge Piercy, available in her collection Circles on the Water.


The oldest stories tell us we came from the dust, and to dust we will return. But dirt? That’s different. Dust is fine, often even sterile. Dirt, on the other hand, is made up of messier stuff. Dirt is mostly bits of weathered rock, broken down to dust and clay and sand. But the most important part of dirt, and what keeps it from being just bits of clay and sand and dust, is life—and death. Organic matter from dead things like leaves and roots and bugs and, yes, larger animals too, make up the actual “good stuff” in dirt—nothing would grow in bits of sand and clay and dust, without organic matter from once living things. As they decay and break down, they release vital nutrients and make what we call soil.

And living creatures play another important role—animals like moles and earthworms move dirt around, putting air and more organic matter—the scientific name is [visibly consult index card, say “Let me make sure I pronounce this right…” ] oh yes, poop, into the dirt as they go about their business, tunneling, and growing under our feet.

And we sort of don’t like all this messiness. We can accept that we came from dust, and that we’ll go back to it. Ashes, and dust, and stone, those sound mythical, and Biblical, and storied. They sound symbolic. But dirt’s just… common. And all that messy stuff that makes dirt makes us a little uncomfortable.

Maybe that’s because it was drilled into us from the time we were babies not to get dirty—and certainly, don’t stay that way. Anyone get in trouble when you came in from playing with dirty hands and feet? Any kids here have parents that tell them to go out and get dirty? Or that “God made dirt, and dirt won’t hurt”? You? And parents, what does it mean if you show up with an unclean child? What will people think?

Dirt means more than just mud or dust. We say someone has a white collar job if they don’t get dirty while they work, and a brown collar job if they do. Guess which one gets paid more? We say “dirty diapers” and “soiled clothing” when we mean stuff is so yucky we don’t even want to go into all the details. If somebody has a dirty mouth, a dirty mind, or dirty hands, that means they’ve said something, thought something, or done something wrong. And if you have the dirt on someone that means you know what it was. If you dish the dirt on someone, that means you tell what you know, exposing them as unclean. Our words reflect a deep discomfort with dirt and soil.

We have some work to do around the moral value of dirt. Our shared hunter-gatherer ancestors might be rolling in their graves to hear how uncomfortable we are, but the Victorian part of our shared American culture is happy with our strange psychological resistance to dirt.

We need to get comfortable, as comfortable as a pig in mud, with dirt. You see, dirt needs us to get over this whole “obsession with clean” thing. Only a few feet of dirt on this whole earth. You don’t have to dig down far before you hit solid bedrock! And yet every terrestrial plant, from moss and ferns to potatoes and carrots, from dandelions and roses to kale and blackberries, to apple trees, to redwoods, all depend on it. It’s been called the ecstatic skin of earth, and yet we treat it like, well, dirt. We spray it with pesticides and we drench it with anti-bacterial chemicals that kill the parts of soil that make it alive. But that can all change. We just need a new story.

We know the old story about dirt. Not the one so far back that it said people came from it, or its cleaner first cousin, dust. But the one we’ve heard from the cradle on, about how dirt is bad. But what about the new stories? You see, scientists are still learning all the time, about the world around us. And they are learning that dirt is good for us. Not just while it grows our food or holds down our trees’ roots. But good for us like sunshine, like water, like vitamins.

How? It turns out that children who get dirtier have less allergies and less asthma as they grow. True story. You ever see a toddler eating dirt, when you put them down outside—do people still do that, put babies down on the ground? Anyway, It turns out that tiny bits of ancient dead creatures in soil create something called endotoxins that, when ingested, stimulate our immune system—you know it lives in our gut, where food goes, or dirt, if you eat it—in a way that our human blueprint seems programmed to expect. And who here loves gardening?—not the products from it, just the process of it. Raise your hands? And how many of you wear gloves when you do it? We are finding out now that exposure to dirt actually increases your serotonin levels, because dirt has something in it that is a natural anti-depressant. So dirt really can make us happier and healthier. It’s good for us, like church.

We have some very nice communions in this denomination. We don’t all truck with transubstantiation, where bread and wine are turned into the flesh and blood of Christ, but we can all agree that water communion and flower communion and bread communion are just so nice. Aren’t they so nice? Everybody comes together and brings something to share, and feels so religious. And they are beautiful, and lovely, and meaningful in our faith. But I think it’s time we that lead the way, as the heretics we Unitarian Universalists are known to be, in creating a dirt communion.

We know dirt happens. We know that dirt is what happens when you live a life joyfully, voraciously, authentically. When you are too busy cooking food, and loving people, and dancing, and making things, to keep every corner spotless every moment of the day. We knock it off our shoes, we wash it off our faces, we sweep it off the floors, but it’s a part of us, and it should be. It’s too powerful a thing to forget and dismiss. Dirt is foundational. The readier we are to put down roots, and to grow, and bloom, and go to seed, the more we need dirt. We are a faith that says “come, come, whoever you are.” Bring your imperfection. Bring your truest, most authentic self. Bring your dirt. We’ve all got it. It’s part of what makes us whole human beings.

Today many of you have brought a little bit of your dirt. A little bit of the soil where you find your peace, find your power, find your joy. Maybe from your garden, from your playground, from your favorite hiking trail. Maybe from the resting place of someone or something you loved. There’s power in all that. I want to invite you now to come down and share your dirt with this community of faith, and trust that we will do something miraculous and transformative with it. Please join us now in our very own dirt communion.

Dirt Communion
Several adults and a child stand in line in front of a low circular table with a purple tablecloth. The child has handed a small container to two attendants standing at the table. The person behind the child in line is smiling and also has a container in her hand.

[Take the top off the chalice, set aside, and flip the pot over to receive the dirt.]

[Have ushers or other helpers guide congregants to come forward, place their dirt into the communal flower pot, and return to their seats. Include music as people are sharing their dirt to add an aural element to the ritual.]

[After communion and folks are back in their seats, continue on to the blessing.]

Blessing of the Dirt

[If you have specific plans for the gathered dirt, like sprinkling some in a church garden or using some when planting a tree, you might mention these plans at this point in the service, before moving on to the blessing.]

A close-up view, from above, of a large flowerpot partially filled with dirt. The pot is on a small circular table with a purple floral tablecloth. The wood floor is visible in the background.

In the knowledge that we are all of us imperfect, but come together in communities of grace, we bless this dirt;

In the belief that we humans share an origin and a common destiny, we bless this dirt;

In a sustaining faith in human redemption and growth, we bless this dirt;

In the wisdom of science that tell us dirt is an important part of our own health and happiness, we bless this dirt;

In understanding that all living creatures are connected and have a right to healthy soil, we bless this dirt;

In hopes that we all continue to grow together, in mind, body, and spirit, we bless this dirt.