Friday, November 19, 2010


this is a follow-up written for my class in uu worship to my previous post about my impromptu dia de los muertos ceremony from late october. most people may find it uninteresting but it's a good example of the sort of self-contextualizing reflection you're expected to do in seminary, and as such is a peek into the mindset of a minister-in-training. the difference is that, as a uu, what would be for others a theological reflection becomes in our hands more a behind-the-scenes examination of intent in developing such a service.


Dakota UU Church in Burnsville, one of the two congregations where I’m interning, does not have an order of service. Actually, it does in the sense that it has a single order of service used for every service. The church is small—its membership is in the low 20s—and often relies on visiting speakers to provide nearly every element of a service. Any visiting speaker is automatically accorded authority by virtue of his having been asked to appear. There is a printed pamphlet available on entering although the members have its order memorized. It tells the history of the congregation, the composition of the church board and its current membership, has the congregation’s website URL, and includes a brief outline their worship services follow:

Chalice Lighting
Joys and Concerns
Extinguishing the Chalice

A given Sunday’s speaker can mix up the order, add to it or subtract from it as she wishes. Nothing in the service is written on stone. Even joys and concerns, both the life’s blood and bane of many congregations, is an optional element left to the caprices of today’s speaker. The hymns often depend on what Chuck, the congregation’s most musical member, feels like singing that day and whether he can find a CD with an accompanying instrumental: there is no organ or any other instrument kept in the building (although once a month there is a Saturday night drumming circle).

I’ve got a history with this congregation, having been a guest speaker when the congregation was larger, and now that I’m their minister on a once-a-month basis, I’m developing their service beyond the outline into a more experiential, less sermon-centered experience. For my October 31st service I prepared a combination extemporaneous lecture and ceremony-creation for which Bruce, the congregation’s chair, welcomed everyone and introduced me. Then I led an a capella version of McDade’s “Spirit of Life,” a reading from Singing the Living Tradition, my ceremony, an opportunity for reflections, a second singing of “Spirit of Life,” and a benediction. This is my outline:

Performed at Dakota UU, Burnsville, MN
October 31, 2010
• Music (“L’Autunno” by Vivaldi)
• Light herbs
• Introduction to Dia de los Muertos
o Halloween
o All Saint’s Day
o All Soul’s Day
o Samhain
o Yom Kippur
o Thanksgiving
• Introduction to altars
o Rich
o “I have no altars”
• Introduction to altar objects
o My mother
o My animals
o Who I was
• Poem (“My November Guest” by Frost)
• Guided meditation
• Shared smudging / “You are Loved”
• Responses/Sharing

In order of use, the resources were: a smudge stick and a bowl to collect ashes in; copies of Singing the Living Tradition; a CD of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons whose “L’Autunno” was played softly during the ceremony; various referential objects from my home that I placed on the worship table in a makeshift shrine; and the Collected Poems of Robert Frost.
I think one of the sources of tension involved in every service at DUUC is the uncertainty whether a given service will work or not, and I don’t think this willed blindness to a service’s workability is an unwelcome aspect for this congregation: I think the members have become so accustomed to the hit-or-miss-ness of guest speakers that they’re no longer anxious about an individual service. Indeed, I’ve often heard members joke that a successful service is one in which the guest shows up. In the case of my Dia de los Muertos ceremony, I wanted tension to build throughout the service to crest during Shared Smudging (which was exactly like my recent class water-sharing ritual except using ashes) and then allowed to remain level, dipping a little during shared reflections but remaining relatively high, so attendees left the service more invigorated than they’d entered.

The focus began outwardly, beginning with the welcome, and then gradually became more inward as the ceremony progressed, culminating in each congregant concentrating on himself during the guided meditation, accepting another person’s attention when receiving the smudged affirmation, and then refocusing his attention onto his neighbor while passing the bowl and affirmation. I wanted congregants to receive the affirmation as a declaration and to pass it as an invitation.

No comments:

Post a Comment