Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Anniversaries - daring to change

I am one of an army of bloggers for Heritage Open Days and a month or two back wrote a piece about Anniversaries.

Then on Facebook someone asked whether anniversary services should always stay the same. This was a good prompt for me to think beyond what I had written, to think about how we actually commemorate anniversaries, about how we respect tradition whilst being true to our ethos of dynamic and emerging understanding and spiritual practice.

I responded (with grammatical corrections) ...Congregations and communities change over time as new people come in, people leave and people themselves change. The world changes and we learn new ways of doing things. One of the issues with tradition for me is that we do it because we do it, because we've always done it like that not because it works for us.

I think the question is, why are we doing this? There is timing, structure, content and setting - all of which can be varied. To say that we can't improve on what we've done in the past is a bit defeatist. To say that we have this tradition and we're sticking to it can be excluding of those who are new or who don't particularly like what is being done.

We may repeat some content and use a similar structure but I think that the service leader needs to look at it with new eyes each year - even have a different service leader or have other people involved. I cannot imagine that anyone's understanding and approach to any event will stay the same year after year. 

We are not a faith tradition which uses liturgy or standard services throughout the year. Ours is a creative faith which invites service leaders to reflect on a subject, express what it means to them, ask the congregation to reflect on the subject, and draw some conclusions about what it may mean to our Unitarian communities. It seems to me that in our spiritual communities one of our tasks is to develop our traditions because we create our services from personal reflection and learning. People should feel comfortable to add, to tweak or to completely alter an anniversary service. 

We believe that ours is a living tradition. And anything that is living is dynamic and changes. Living also leads to death - the death of parts - for the benefit of the whole. This is not to say that we throw away our traditions but that we respect them by reflecting on their value and building on them so they become ever more meaningful and moving.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Ministering to the individual or to the whole congregation

There has been a comment on Facebook which includes the idea that when you lead a service you minister to the needs of the whole congregation and not the individuals within it. Which begs the question about what the needs of a congregation are, if they are not the sum total of the needs of the individuals?

I was thinking about situations where we have people attending who may be a little unkempt, perhaps with poor personal hygiene. Should we have words with people about the way that they dress or their washing routines? Should we stop them attending if they fail to change their ways? Or people with learning difficulties or mental health needs - should we insist on certain abilities before they can get involved in anything. Or parents with children who cry or are fractious - should we ask them to leave their child with a relative or friend before they come to the service? Would we feel comfortable with supporting our actions by saying, 'We are meeting the needs of the congregation and not this individual?'

In society at large, at least in the UK, there is a general acceptance that not everyone fits into one box, that we are becoming a more diverse society and that people with a range of needs should be enabled to participate in mainstream society rather than be kept somewhere out of sight and out of mind. Shouldn't we be championing this? Shouldn't we be saying to people, within our communities we attempt to include all those who want to be included - it is part of our mission? Shouldn't we be reflecting on times in our lives when we have had significant difficulties and we feared that people would reject us or reject our family? And those of us who have never been in this place, shouldn't we be counting our blessings?

So when asked to make a choice between something that suits the theoretical 'whole' congregation or to allow for the meeting of individual needs, what might congregations say? I want flawless delivery and a slick production, I want to be assured that the quality of what I get is top notch. Or, I am here to experience the love of the eternal spirit, to feel that all are welcome here and to be actively supporting the participation of all who want to be involved in leading worship.  

I am glad that I am a member of a community which would, with one voice, say the latter.