The Promise and the Practice: Ritual of Lamentation

What is The Promise and the Practice? It's a turning moment; a choice to listen deeply to the stories in our movement that have not been heard, and taken to heart, by all Unitarian Universalists.

It’s a lamenting of what our Unitarian Universalist tradition and congregations have lost by being unable – or unwilling – to center people of color (or even, at times, to merely include them).

The Promise and the Practice is a celebration of our shared commitment to live into a new chapter in the story of our UU faith.

A full set of worship & RE materials is available for your Promise & Practice Sunday!


This ritual is a beginning, a starting point, a first step taken towards each other. You will blend words, music, and movement while embracing the power of elements taken from the natural world.

Our ritual strives to create an opportunity for individuals, congregations and communities to Lament what we have lost, Petition for a way forward, look inward and Confess our hopes and fears, and then set Intentions which honor the past, but lean strongly into the future.

The pieces of this ritual can be structured, physically, in a number of ways: arranged in a circle, placed along a wall, or stationed in the corners of your worship space. The actions taken are deceptively simple — dropping salt into a bowl of water, writing on a 3x5 card, taking a stone from a beautiful basket, mixing black sand into white sand — but they are powerful.


The four stations are most effective in this order:

  1. Lament
  2. Petition
  3. Confess
  4. Set Our Intention

However, the stations can be approached in any order according to your congregation’s size, the space available, and physical arrangement of your sanctuary. If your group is big, following the four phases in order will disrupt its flow. Do not fret: beginning at Petition (asking for help) may be exactly where someone is. Ending with the Lamentation (laying down of their grief over what we have lost) could be precisely where their heart needs to be. Trust the container we have built. Magic will happen.

Ritual Guides

Post one person, a Ritual Guide, at each station to offer assistance or gently repeat directions. These Ritual Guides need to be chosen mindfully and cared for (perhaps with a Blessing and a bit of training ahead of time) because they’re being entrusted with powerful work on behalf of the community. If folks can, allow each of them to bring the items for their station. Have them practice what they’re doing ahead of time (before the service — or even better, on a different day). A Zoom call or meeting to discuss the process would be great.

Each should have a simple instruction sheet that:

  • names the ritual component
  • briefly explains the purpose of the table
  • describes the physical actions people will take at each table
  • invites people to embody this ritual by speaking aloud their contribution

“Seed” Participation

Before the service, describe the details of this ritual to a handful of people, in advance (perhaps the Worship Associates or the members of your Sunday Services Committee), Ask them to rise and help the ritual begin after it is introduced.

Traveling Station Trays

Assume that some people will not be able to move and maneuver from station to station, and plan to make trays with the ritual elements: small bowls of water and salt, index cards and pens, small bowls of sand, and a pinwheel.

Set the Tables with Care

In the center of each of the four tables, place a large white candle. The rest of the set-up is as follows:

  • Lament—black tablecloth, candle in the center, two bowls (large clear glass bowl of water, small deep bowl for salt) and a stick to mix the water gently after the salt has been dropped in
  • Petition—Set the Tables with Carelight blue cloth, candle in the center, and several pinwheels
  • Confession—Set the Tables with Carewhite tablecloth, candle in the center, an empty basket to collect cards, and two stacks of small cards (such as 3” x 5” index cards). On one set of cards, write “HOPES;” on the other, write “FEARS.”
  • Intentions—Set the Tables with Caretablecloth, candle in the center, a basket or bowl with stones; and two large, clear glass bowls. One bowl will contain white sand, and other other black sand. You’ll also need a stick to gently stir the black sand into the white sand.

Note: It’s okay if you don’t have the perfect bowl or the exact color of cloth. The important thing is to embrace the meaning and symbolism of the tables.

Musical Plans

This ritual is intended to be done without conversation or chatter; its meaning will be deepened with music. We recommend that this ritual be accompanied by a full choir, a soloist, or even recorded music. The point is to fill the air with the music of African Americans, and create a container to hold the ritual. Music will also dissuade general conversation. The murmuring voices of those speaking their Lamentation or stating their Intentions aloud is welcome. If needed the guides will speak gently to assist those using the stations.

Words to Begin the Ritual

Leader: Dear Ones, I invite you to enter a space of Lamentation and Intention. The tools we will use are simple. The results we hope for are not.

We grieve what has been done. We honor, and we lament. This is what is past.
The ways we preach other; how we confess our dreams and desires; and how we begin to forgive ourselves is the present. 
What we choose to do tomorrow, with Intention, is our future.
There are four tables here in this room. Each has a purpose.

One table is for lamentation, allowing you to create tears of healing by mixing a dash of salt into a bowl of water, while softly speaking aloud your sorrow for all that has been squandered and lost.

Another table provides a space to petition the universe, to ask for help as we move forward together, by blowing air gently into a pinwheel.

The third is a place to write down your hopes and fears — for the power of the written word cannot be denied.

The final table is a place to give voice to your intention. Say aloud something you will do to move our faith forward, then blend black sand into white, and mark your intention by taking a stone with you. Carry that stone as a reminder of your promise to take action.

Music will accompany you on this journey. As you are moved, and in any order, visit each table. Signal an assistant that you’d like the station to come to you. guide them to do this in order or as moved. Let us begin (sound a chime, then music starts).

Ending the Ritual

Sound chime. Music fades. Ritual Guides bring forward four items and place on altar table: bowl of ears; one pinwheel; the basket of cards; and the bowl of mixed sand.

Leader: Together we have shed tears and lamented the past (use a small cup to dip into the bowl of “tears” and then pour it back into the bowl 3 or 4 times).

We have petitioned the universe and asked for help (blow a pinwheel, let it stop turning, blow it again).

We have voiced and written down our hopes and fears (lift several cards and let them fall from your hand back into the bowl; do this two or three times).

And we have spoken aloud and promised our intentions by mixing black sand into white (lift the bowl of sand up to chest height, extend your arms, then lower it back to the table).

Our work is not done. So much more is required of us. The journey ahead is steep, and littered with crevasses and boulders. Painful missteps await. Know this: We will make mistakes as we move forward and seek to serve each other. We will hurt each other unintentionally with our words and deeds. We will shy await from the fiery truth needed to truly change. And, when embraced, the flames of change will scorch our hearts and singe our hands. It will not be easy. But, today we make a start, a beginning. We have set our intentions (hold up a stone) and promise to move forward, together. Blessed be, and Amen.