Today, I read an essay by Aurelia Isabel Henry Reinhardt entitled “Worship: Its Fundamental Place in Liberal Religion.” Reinhardt explores briefly the history of worship with an eye to what we have inherited; that we have always sought public religion to unify us “in the common search for the Ultimate Good” and that we aren’t creators of something new, but simply reinterpreters of something ancient, “in the light of eternal truth and new knowledge.”
Reinhardt diagnoses some of the problems facing congregations – particularly in our denomination: that of a lack of beauty and significance. “Inquring as to the reason for monotony and threatened vacuity,” she writes, “one learns that it is the result of an effort to give a minority of the congregation due right. Criticism has eliminated the thing critized, but the creative processes have brought into being nothing to take the place of the rejected.”
Strong words – words we need to hear. I know that some congregations are doing innovative things in worship, exploring ways to get out of the “two hymns and a lecture” pattern found on many Sunday mornings. Reinhardt’s words are vital reminders of what we’re facing as we enter the next fifty years of our denomination, as we look at the shifting demographics, as we continue to wrestle with making our socially-responsible outsides look like our Sunday morning insides.
Reinhardt is on topic – and she offers a great deal of hope. She reminds us that we inherit not just the idea of worship but thousands of years of prayers, songs, stories that can be used/reimagined for today. She reminds us that “worship is one of the sources out of which new creations in the art of living arise.” She reminds us that “a service of worship is a poem written by the lover of God, a song sung by the lover of God.”
Fresh, amazing thoughts for this religion of ours in this time and place.
Of course, it was written in 1936, for the Commission on Appraisal, in a AUA report called “Unitarians Face a New Age.”
So this new age we’re facing? It isn’t that far different from the new age our forbearers 75 year ago were facing. We have fixed some things, but we still have some of the same problems, the same concerns, the same pesky foibles.
Maybe… just maybe… we can do better this time around, so that the readers of essays in 2092 don’t identify so clearly. I know this is a huge part of my call; to Aurelia, I say “thank you for your eloquence” and “amen.”