Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The nature of services when developing spiritual community

One thing that I have noticed at our Meeting House is that our services are moving away from 'services' and developing into conversations.  There is often no sermon.  The question, 'what does this all mean for our community?' is never far away.  The service then becomes an open conversation within the community about what is valued and our developing spirituality.

I am reminded of being on the Foundation Worship Studies course.  Two issues that I identified as being key - the first was the difference between leading worship in your own community and elsewhere.  The former should be part of the on-going conversation and development.  The tone will be very different.  Although each service has to be stand-alone so that newcomers, or those who have not been for some time, feel included.  The other issue was the need to look at the service as a whole.  Much of our worship training deconstructs the service so that we have sessions on hymns, readings, music, sermons, delivery and children's stories.  Whereas what I value most is a service which seamlessly includes all of these elements and is driven not be the individual elements but by the purpose of the leader and the theme that they have chosen.

It takes some confidence to move away from traditional ways of service delivery to one where the service leader tries to engage in a dynamic and responsive conversation during the service.  Whether this can be done with large congregations is not clear to me (linking back to my previous posting).  It is also not clear to me if the physical constraints of some of our worship spaces actually helps this.  We have pulpits which are many feet off the ground and pews which mean that we spend much of a service looking at someone else's back and others looking at ours.  Or in some instances actually staring straight at people.  In our own chapel whilst it is possible to move out of the pulpit it is difficult as the CD player and loop mic (mike) are in the pulpit.  We have a hand-held mic (mike) and need to explore how we can set up our sound system to be operated from elsewhere.

Our physical space should work with us as a community, not against us.  Funnily enough I may be having some of these conversations in ten days time on Heritage Open Days when history buffs will perhaps be promoting the preservation of physical space rather than the preservation of our culture, which should be dynamic and led by the needs of the faith community.  Which all leads me to reference comments that I have made on one of Adrian Worsfold's recent blog postings about whether we can agree about what ministry is about.

If we take the view that our task is to build spiritual community then there are consequences far and wide about our buildings, our services and activities, our training, the sorts of people who may be employed by communities, the support that is needed and the body of knowledge that we choose to write down and develop.  This seems to me to be a paradigm shift - or would be if it happened - for Unitarianism.

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