17 November 2009

Talk To Me

Once again I am non plussed by something that just happened to come under my eye. As ever I find it in the NYTimes, which is the only thing I read reliably, and even that I do not read completely. Hardly enough to justify the trees killed for the cause.

Anyway, I found a cool piece from last Saturday, the regular time for the "On Religion" column to appear.

(Parenthetically, this is all the Times does about religion on a regular basis, contrasted with the weekly section nearly ten times as large published in my local newspaper. But the inverse proportion is also true. The Times has ten times more actual news, so it evens out I guess.)

This past Saturday, religion editor Samuel G. Freedman wrote about Shekinah Ministries in Queens NY. It is about a rising young pastor named Din Tolbert, but what struck me was the sort of congregation he serves and leads. Go and read it, and then come back and finish this post.

Yes, I mean that. Here's the link

Done? If not the rest of this post is useless, so go and read it. Really.

I'll wait.

hmmmm................. hmmmmm............ hmmmmm.................

Ok, are you ready?

How cool is this? An entire congregation under 25, and they do it all, and well. That's exciting, but what excited me was that their worship life is in their hands. They create the experience, shape it, lead it, do it, and the preacher is just that and only that.

They own their worship.

My generation, and those before me by several generations, partake of worship, but they rarely take part, and even more rarely take a part (though there is an equally long tradition of worshippers 'taking apart' worship services afterward.)

My tradition talks about democratic religion, but when it comes to worship we very much rely upon the experts (clergy, musicians, ushers, etc). Why this is true would take more than a simple blog post to examine. But part of me wonders whether it has to be this way, even whether it ought to be this way?

Ponder this, readers. Ask your friends to read the article and ask whether or not we in the liberal wing of the religious world should not learn from this radical experiment in spiritual trust, in faith not in technical expertise but in spiritual and moral honesty.

I know it makes me pause. Tell me how you feel. Really.


Robin Edgar said...

"How cool is this? An entire congregation under 25,"

But Fred lost of entire U*U congregations are under 25.

25 members that is. . . ;-)

How cool is that?

WFW said...

I suspect your typing is like mine and that you meant 'most' not 'lost.'

and not cool. that so many UU congregations are so small. to answer your question.

Elisa (Nudelman) Winter said...

Well, yes of course we should learn from this radical experiment in spiritual trust. That's what we do. But we think about it and then we don't move a muscle....

Why is it that so many of us (that's a BIG us) shy away from the kind of physical liveliness that more often than not characterizes African-American houses of worship?

Why do some of us find what we're looking for only in concert halls where we can move and sing and clap and jump up and express joy out loud? I just can't imagine this happening in any of the UU congregations of which I've been a part. Somehow it just not seemly, whatever that means.

I'm so tired of being thoughtful and ethical and occassionally righteous just doing what needs to be done, the collecting, the organizing, the phone calling, the sitting and talking. These are all worthy and necessary, of course. But these young people who "own their worship" can probably count on not being physically restrained in their worship. That's part of the ownership, I think. They are trusting their physical experience of worship and are permitted to express it. That motion carries them into trusting themselves to create, lead, shape their services.

I'd love this for myself, for my congregation, but I will not hold my breath, waiting.

WFW said...

Holding breath, great phrase. I wonder if that's what we are doing, meaning WE religious liberals.

What really got me was how the church structure just let the members, young in this case, create and lead their own congregation. The preacher is not the driving force but the centering force. Whatever the style that comes out, why can we clergy not trust the people, however they do it? And why can't the people trust the clergy to do whatever they do. That kind of faith, in other people as much as God, is what staggers me.

Faith is related to fidelity, trusting, being trustworthy. How odd that we free thinking people have so little faith in each other. Do you think we are terminally cynical? I hope not. I spent my life on a fool's errand if I did.

Rev. Dr. Daniel O'Connell said...

We have the senior high youth do most of the service (chalice lighting, offering words, readings, meditation or prayer, benediction), really everything except the sermon once per month.

It gets them and their friends in the service, it gets them thinking about the topic, it changes my sermon some, etcetera.

Mostly, they are not interested in doing the sermon themselves, and they like being part of the service but not more than about once a month, because their regular senior high youth group experience (which happens at the second service) is more of a covenant group format.

Still, it is a good start. And it may help them transition to "adult" church when they get older.

More significantly, it allows me to have individual relationships with them, to have me know them and them know me. And it provides a unique window into pastoral care into their families.

I also go to their meeting about once a month, and just sit in, and occasionally participate a little. This too helps.

Thanks for pointing out the article.

Robin Edgar said...

Actually I meant *lots*, *most* would not be truthful or accurate, but it looks like you caught my drift Fred and I thank you for your frank and honest answer.