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Worship Leaders' Tool Kit
Worship Leaders' Tool Kit
Worship, WorshipWeb

Welcome to the notes and for "The Worship Leader's Tool Kit," workshop #207 for General Assembly 2018, led by Rev. Erika Hewitt, UUA Minister of Worship Arts.

Erika's Assumptions

  • Our learning together will entail risk and vulnerability
  • Participants are in different congregational roles, which can entail different levels of power
  • There's value in forms of expression beyond “The Word”
  • My perspective presents one way of making worship more meaningful and engaging (it’s not “the” way), gleaned through years of trial and the occasional embarrassing error
  • Use only that which serves you... but wonder whether discomfort can serve you
  • Translate my religious language as necessary. Our energy and power are drained when we insist that fellow UUs defend or explain language that expresses their theology, their truths, and/or their spirituality.

A Theology of Worship

Theology is, in part, how we "negotiate the hazards and graces of a vulnerable life in an ambiguous world." (Michael Hodges, in American Immanence)

It’s Sunday morning.
Who’s in the room and what are they bringing with them?

When Unitarian Universalists gather each Sunday, we build up the congregational body for its work in the world, even as we strengthen our relationships with each other, across our many differences and across the generations.

From an institutional standpoint, worship affirms the congregation’s power and vision.

For the individuals attending—each person carrying a unique set of questions, gladness, longings, and sadness—worship is a wellspring of hope, a container for grief, and a laboratory for meaning-making.

Worship Leaders' Responsibilities

  1. Create/brainstorm content that’s meaningful and inspiring

  2. Convey the message creatively, clearly, and responsibly

  3. Hold the space responsibly so that people can “go deep” with trust in you

When it comes to CONTENT, a "neat idea" isn't enough. Here are some generative questions to shape your process:

  • What makes your story, experience, or invitation a religious or spiritual one?

  • How does it engage the “big questions” that we as humans wrestle with?

  • How your message inform the way that you understand, engage, and strengthen your own relationship to That Which Is Larger Than Us?
  • What transformation (if any) is embedded in your story/experience/invitation, for you or for others?
  • How does your story/experience/invitation embody hope?
  • How does your message invite people into new engagement with others, with the world around them, and/or with That Which Is Larger Than Us?

When it comes to LITURGY—putting the pieces together in a creative, clear, and responsible way—allow your (collective) brainstorming to be abundant and free from the impulse to censor.

Worship planning entails editing. Begin with bounteous, out-of-the-box ideas—then sculpt and carve them down to leave a crisp, meaningful form.

Allow more space & silence than you think are necessary. Words are overwhelming; not everyone can make sense of the world quickly, and through the spoken word.

Two resources might be helpful:

  1. a worship planning worksheet by Rev. Erika Hewitt and educator Becky Brooks
  2. a image brainstorming worksheet, by Erika and Becky, to help you move from abstract concepts to the image and/or metaphor that provides points of entry for those who are worshiping.

Explore the importance of images & metaphors with this bonus reading.

When it comes to the worship leaders' ability to HOLD THE SPACE, begin with the role & responsibilities of worship leaders:

  • Worship is an emotionally-driven spiritual experience, not an intellectual exercise.
  • Responsible worship leaders use their authority in gentle ways, not in coercive or absentee ways.
  • Skilled worship leaders have a vision but aren’t attached to a particular response. The goal isn’t to make people “do things” or “feel” a certain way, but rather to create and hold a container where people feel interested and safe engaging what you’ve planned for them. (They may always opt out.)
  • Attuned worship leaders are alert to how energy moves and fluctuates in the group and in the space; they can respond to those shifts in reciprocal ways.
  • Respectful worship leaders avoid cultural appropriation, which may entail decentering whiteness.

Energy moves in us, between us, and around us. It’s as real as the flesh-and-blood people sitting in front of us: we’re energy beings (or, as writer Martha Beck puts it, “our bodies are electrical devices made of meat.").

This requires us, as worship leaders, to be in relationship with that energy as directly as we’re in relationship with the people singing, moving, and praying in our pews.

This bonus reading explores how to observe and be in relationship with energy during the silent meditation portion of a worship service.

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For more information contact worshipweb@uua.org.

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