- Multiple Voices: In worship, we perform our mission- the congregation we are becoming; and as we perform it, we make it true. As a result, it matters who stands in front of the congregation and how they interact. It matters that we offer a worship service with multiple voices, representing the diversity of the congregation in age, stage, economic and educational background, theological perspective, race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, etc. - and that we are allowing new voices to be a part of our worship regularly, always building a congregation that is for the future.
- Collaboration: I believe in a collaborative process in crafting worship. This often takes more time, but ultimately it makes for a richer worship experience, as well as deepened relationship amongst those who participated in creating the service. Through our work together, it's important to me that we return to our covenant as our means and end - so that how we treat one another and how we hold one another through the creative process is just as important as how our "work" turns out on a Sunday morning. This is not to say that I do not believe in excellence in worship. I am committed to offering an excellent, rich worship experience each and every Sunday. However, as a learning community, I believe most important is that we learn from our experiences and commit to growing with each effort.
- Integration of Elements: I believe that all elements in an order of service can work together in creating an overall experience, stimulating the different senses and relating with the different learning styles and vocabulary present in any given congregation. In other words, the opening music can relate with the reading which relates with the pastoral prayer which relates with the homily or sermon, etc. All of these elements can then approach the designated topic in complementary ways to help tease out the layers of meaning and possibility within the theme. I am not tied to a "sermon sandwich" mode of an order of service, and I enjoy experimenting with how things flow to best serve the intended message of the worship.
- On Being Human Together - The Live Experience of Creating Worship: In some of my earliest worship services, I had to think carefully about the differences between what I was doing then and what I did when I used to work in the theatre. One of the main ways that I came to think about worship differently than putting on a play performance, was that worship is an experience of creation that happens in relationship - the worship leaders (musicians, associates, minister, board member, etc.) are in relationship with the gathered congregation, and together, in the very moment that worship begins, a new thing is being created. That's the point. (Liturgy literally means "the work of the people.") In the theatre, the weight rests on the performers (and the various techies of course!). In worship, the responsibility of worship rests within and among the whole gathered community, of which the worship leaders are a part. The hope for that single hour is that together we can all offer one another a glimpse into our most authentic experience of being human - our most vulnerable and most courageous selves, our imperfections and our struggles, our greatest dreams and our biggest disappointments. This is why a sermon preached in one congregation on one Sunday can feel like an entirely different sermon (even if it's the same words!) preached the following Sunday in a different congregation. The gathered community is creating the worship together, and it is made holy by our mutual presence.
A while back, I was a part of a Unitarian Universalist Worship Committee where we spent a lot of time arguing about whether or not what we did on a Sunday morning was worship.
Worship implies a deity, one of our committee members insisted, worship means one above all, and I don’t believe in any of that anymore.
And though I knew what he meant, I thought to myself, How many miracles have you witnessed today? Too many to count. How many places where there may have been nothing, is there something, and is that something beautiful, joyous, beyond measure? How much is worthy of praise, and whatever could we do to earn such a possibility as this one life, and how many shouts of joy and thanks could we offer and still not express sufficient gratitude? I thought, we should worship more, not less.
Glory be: Friendships renewed! Praise be: Bodies renewed; Sing out for: New Homes and remodeling plans; Let us give thanks for: Wedding proposals and positive pregnancy tests; Let us worship: Growing life inside us all, good news of life’s re-creation, this new day…
Worship. Praise, give thanks. On Sunday morning, on every morning (if we’re lucky and willing). Praise beauty as it flourishes.
There are other words Unitarian Universalists use to describe what we’re up to on a Sunday morning – we say: services, meetings, gatherings – these words are all good. But there’s something about the word – Worship – that gets to more what I hope we’re up to, what I hope we are experiencing when we meet and gather together.
Worship – it’s not a time just for our brains (though bring those too) – that’s what “meeting” says to me, brain time. And it’s not a time that’s for work exactly – that’s what “service” says to me (though you should expect some heavy lifting).
Worship is a bigger word with bigger implications. It says, not only does this time matter, but matters in the biggest way. It’s not just a gathering about anything, about whatever curious thing we’ve decided to talk about on any given day. It’s what we care most about. What we want our lives most to be about.
Worship says, there’ll be singing, and there’ll be silence, there’ll be candles and there’ll be prayers.
And, worship says there’ll be preaching – not lectures or talks or even reflections – these are all words we use sometimes - but what I hope you expect when you come to Worship on Sundays, is preaching – preaching - rooted in a specific religious tradition, boldly proclaiming a particular religious vision. Preaching that seeks to comfort, and seeks to challenge, to let loose and to form. Preaching that holds out before the gathered people, not just who we are now, but who we are called to become, both as individuals and as a religious community. Preaching is vigorous, and often passionate, and it has everything to do with what matters Ultimately.
Which means that when the preaching is flowing – it’s coming from my deepest sense of self – and from someplace that has absolutely nothing to do with me.
And so, in our worship time, especially in the preaching time, I show up, all the way, with my whole heart, and also, I get out of the way, and welcome, Spirit.
Worship invites us all to show up that way - with our whole, most authentic selves, and invite in something beyond ourselves, bravely seeking wholeness in a too-often broken world. Worship says you’ll find here real people carrying their biggest dreams and biggest fears, their tears and their laughter, their darkest secrets and their deepest yearnings. Worship says – we might dance, we might sway our arms in the air, we might call out...We might do whatever we need to do to name and praise the surprising work of love in this world, the bright glory of life that just keeps on coming, lift our heads and our hearts and let them open to All this Beauty, offering itself to us as possibility, again, again, again.
It is important to me that the life of the congregation speaks to and transforms the community it is in, whether through direct service, public witness, prayer, or other social action. To do this, we must create and strengthen partnerships, and form alliances with those in the immediate community who share our commitment to building Beloved Community.
In this work, the church fosters relationships, keeps dialogue open, and finds and cultivates places of common ground and mutual growth. In my ministry, I seek to both create and maintain these relationships myself, and to help others in the congregation in establishing and building these relationships. I also believe strongly in our covenant across Unitarian Universalist congregations, and my ministry necessarily includes creating and/or strengthening these lateral relationships.
"None of us alone can save the world, but together, that is another possibility, waiting."
Rev. Gretchen Haley is a Unitarian Universalist minister, mom, partner and friend, trying her best to love this beautiful, broken world.