Worshiping as a guest

This past Sunday was part of a week of spring vacation.  For obvious reasons, I don’t often get to experience worship at other congregations.  Our family spent Sunday afternoon and evening in the cathedral of the southern Ohio forest looking for wildflowers, but in the morning I took Eve and Ila to worship at First Unitarian Universalist Church, just up High Street.  Here are some observations after being a guest at another church:

As soon as we parked I found myself looking around, seeing who else was walking toward the church entrance.  What kind of people would I be spending the next hour with?  The front door led into a hallway, and we needed to walk through the hall before getting to a foyer area.  I noticed not being greeted by anyone as soon as we walked in the door.  When we got to the foyer I spotted one of their pastors who I’ve gotten to know.  She greeted us warmly and answered every question we had about where the sanctuary was and what would be happening with child care.  There were some people eating in the kitchen area right by the foyer and I wondered what other activities had already been happening that day.  I noticed things on the walls as we walked toward the sanctuary, a first sign of what a church values.

We received a bulletin right outside the sanctuary door and the greeters offered kid packets to us.  We were early so had our pick of seats.  The worship participants and pastors were still doing some set up, testing microphones, being both serious and humorous together.

A temple bell was rung, which gently directed attention to the front and signified the start of the service.  A member of the Board of Trustees gave a welcome, followed by a word from one of the pastors.  The flame of a chalice was lit by a child, and she had a bit of trouble lighting it, but she figured it out and it was lovely to watch.  Her name, and parents’ names, were printed in that part of the bulletin.  There were three pastors sitting up on the platform the whole service.  I pondered how this felt different from a platform with no one but the active leader.

They had a children’s time story and I went forward with both girls.  After taking a seat I noticed that all the other kids remained standing the whole time.  The leader assured them it was OK to wiggle, which Ila soon did.  When the kids were dismissed I was grateful for the adults who volunteered their time to watch my children.  Eve’s age would normally be in the service, but it was a “Justice Sunday” and they had their own session, talking about gender and transgender and current cultural attitudes and related laws.

There was a time of extended silence after one of the songs, which I greatly appreciated.  There were two readings, one from Anne Lamott, one a rabbinic tale which was told from memory.

A guest speaker, a UU pastor, told a story about how a trip with her congregation’s youth to Transylvania, one of the places Unitarianism began, transformed the youth in understanding their faith.  It made me wonder if, every four years, we could take our youth on a learning trip to the early Anabaptist sites in Europe.  We could pull that off, right?

At a couple points in the service the microphone didn’t function properly.  You remember these kinds of things, for some reason.

I was conscious of how many times they said “Unitarian Universalist” throughout the service and wondered how many times, on average, we say “Mennonite.”

There was a blessing to end the service and everyone joined hands in a way that made it seem like that’s what they do every week.  The extinguishing of the chalice was part of the service, and a note in the bulletin said, “We extinguish this flame, but not the light of meaning, the warmth of community, or the fire of commitment.  These we carry in our hearts and out into all the world.”

A couple people smiled my way as I left the sanctuary.  I had a brief conversation in the foyer with someone I know through BREAD.  He mentioned how important the congregation is to him.  There was a stand selling fair trade coffee.  I went and found the girls and we headed out of the church to go get ready to drive toward the wildflowers, talking about transgender, why they didn’t read from the Bible, and what a nice day it was for a hike.  I did feel like I was carrying a flame in my heart throughout the day.


On a related note: May 29th we’ll be cancelling worship at CMC (as renovations are in full swing) and encourage everyone to worship at a congregation that is predominantly non-white.  We hope this contributes to our learning of Black Lives Matter and antiracism.  I hope we can tell stories about what we experience.  We’ll be providing a list of suggested places to worship that day.