Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The expression of joy

You may have read Sue Woolley's article in the Inquirer at the beginning of February about her visit to a Baptist church which led to her assertion that many Unitarian services lack joy. On our walk last weekend one of our community mentioned this and said, 'She should come to visit us'. The weekend before we had had visitors who remarked afterwards in an email to me, 'You've got an interesting, lively group at Newcastle, haven't you?' I responded, 'Yes we do lively rather well in Newcastle'.

I know that lively does not necessarily equate to joyous and I also know that we are not always lively and full of energy. However I would say that we tend to be more joyous than less most times that we meet or communicate. We don't raise our hands and shout 'hallelujah' but we often participate in services and we value emotion as a means of experiencing the divine - however we conceive of this.

I remember a discussion once in some Unitarian forum and the issue of clapping the organist was raised. One person said that it was inappropriate to do this. I said that it was not for any of us to say what happens in other people's communities - each community must decide for itself. We don't routinely clap our organist but if he delivers a particularly vigorous performance at the end of the service many of us are moved to show our appreciation and warmth towards him - he has after all been separated from us, sitting on the balcony throughout the service. This may not suit everyone but it suits us. We also sing happy birthday to people with birthdays coming up in the next week or two (we have two weeks between services). I like this but many would not.

One thing that I particularly value is how our community can go from joyous participation to quiet reflection in no more than a few seconds. It is as if we are attuned to the ebb and flow of the service and respect its rhythms and our part in making this 'heartbeat'. Silence is all the more noticeable after a period of boisterous communication.

Sue's article has reminded us that we should be mindful about how we are as communities. How do we know that we are being the best communities that we can be? Is laughter and active involvement of those sitting in the pews to be frowned on or welcomed? How do we balance the need for quiet and the need for words, music, singing and discussion? I suppose like many of us have already done, we look to other traditions and see what we can borrow and how we can shape that to suit ourselves.

We need to take a few more risks - perhaps? To try new ways of worship and to allow people to miss the mark. In a loving community which seeks to develop there must be courage and trust and the understanding that unless we try things we might not know what works and what doesn't. We must then be honest enough to say if something doesn't work for us. But also to have the commitment to others by appreciating that some approaches, which may not suit us, actually do suit others. We give a little and we take a little.

May we go forward with a little more adventure in our souls.

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