I’m working with three members of my church to plan a worship service on the meaning of worship. We intend to explore what draws Unitarian Universalists to church for a communal hour on Sunday mornings.
When I was 8 or 9, my mother started taking me to church. Initially we attended a Methodist church, largely because of the children’s choir and Boy Scout troop. Around the time I started high school, we switched to the Baptist church, which my mother had attended before I was born. In these churches the meaning of worship was clear: we went to worship God, and when we prayed, we prayed to God.
One of the hallmarks of Unitarian Universalism is the right to fashion one’s own view of a deity, assuming such a concept is meaningful. Indeed, many in our pews consider themselves atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, etc. and find no relevance in the idea of a supernatural power. Some number of our parishoners arrived with what Rev. John Buehrens (UU minister and former UUA President) has termed the religious bends. The diving metaphor is apt, reflecting the need these souls feel to decompress from the guilt and damnation of their prior religious experiences.
Given this theological background and diversity, the term worship in a UU congregation is probably neutral, at best, and pejorative to some — which prompts the question whether a UU worship service is an oxymoron. Yet, ironically, Rev. Sue Phillips (UU minister and district executive) has described worship as the beating heart of every congregation.
Despite the common perception that worship requires a deity, the word stems from the Old English term weorthscippen, meaning “to ascribe worth to something.” That root provides the basis for answering the question what brings UUs together on Sunday morning? What is it that we find worthy?
In UU fashion, we each articulate a unique answer. I come to church seeking connection, a connection with transcendence, a transcendence that will allow me to be present before the mystery and meaning of life. My Sunday mornings are most always rewarded through words that bring insight and inspiration, music, and a nurturing community of fellow travelers.
I don’t go to church to worship the God of my upbringing. I do go to rekindle the sense of awe for the grand and creative forces that drive the universe and brought me life. I go for the insight and inspiration that will enable my journey to be worthy of the days I am given.