Does Worship Matter?

At the end of the Friday morning worship at General Assembly, one of my fellow offsite delegates typed into the chat box, that was a moving service. Worship is my least favorite part of being a UU.

As someone whose probable program focus will be preaching and worship, I was floored. Isn’t that kinda the point of belonging to a congregation? If it’s for social or justice reasons, there are lots of other places to go, whereas a congregation puts all that together with a spiritual dimension.

As I contemplated this, I remembered a conversation I had with a member of another local congregation about the CRUUNY joint service. I was excited because we were going to have a lot of music – organ, choir, congregational singing, and even a multigen rock band. She sighed and said, I don’t think I’ll go then. I dislike music in a service. I’d rather just hear a sermon and some readings.

Again, I was floored. I was in the first class to pursue the Music Leadership Credentialling certification (which I dropped when a back injury kept me out of commission/having surgeries for 18 months). What’s the point of worship services if there isn’t music? If all you care about are the words, there are plenty of books and lectures.

And then I recalled a conversation in our Stewardship committee about Time, Talent, and Treasure. We all agreed that members should be willing to make an investment in all three, but what did Time mean, exactly? Was time the hours spent in Sunday services and at church-wide events? Or was it okay if someone didn’t come to church but attended a small group ministry once a month? Do we ask for a commitment to the one hour a week that everyone shares (as opposed to the many more hours we share in small groups, committees, task forces, etc.)? If you’re all about the small connections, then…what?

All of this leads me to a larger question, one I’m not sure I have the answer to yet, but one which I’m willing to entertain discussion on: does worship matter? Does it matter to a person’s spiritual development, to their connections, to their expression of compassion/acceptance/courage/love/trust/justice/service? Does going to a worship service (whether in person or online) make a difference?

My gut says it does. My gut says that without worship, we are nothing more than a social club with a service focus. Without worship, we forget how to enact the deeper parts of ourselves, which long remember the rituals of our ancient ancestors. Without worship, we become isolated, away from the interconnected web of which we are a part. Without worship, we lose touch with the sacred.

And more…without all the elements of worship – sights and sounds, touch and scents, words, music, movement, and silence – we are missing ways to access our own Divine spirit, as well as that which we define as Divine that is outside ourselves.

I think, too, worship matters for groups. For several years, I was what they call a solitary practitioner in the pagan tradition. I held rituals, by myself. I meditated, sang, danced, incanted, by myself. And half the time, I gave up before I had finished, because it felt empty or I felt silly. When I was in ritual with even one other person, suddenly there was meaning. A shared experience. A connection.

It’s this connection that then leads me on to act. just being with other people in scared space makes me want to be a better person, more engaged, more connected. They don’t tell me to, I feel it. I sing it. I smell it and touch it and taste it.

And…if we are to understand who we are and where we are going, it helps to share this experience time and time again, together, in worship, in community.

Worship matters.

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Learn more about my ministry at The Art of Meaning

Read my thoughts about congregational life at Hold My Chalice