Wednesday, January 30, 2008

And the beat goes on...

over at the ministers' chat, with many chiming in about Tom Schade's post about worship and its meaning. It's a good conversation and very useful to our collegial and theological life.

I have had some more thoughts about it. I haven't yet offered my take on Tom's statement, needing time to consider it. I'm not a master of the quick response; I'll never be able to preach without a manuscript, I'm afraid---I need the time to make sure I know what I'm saying!

But some questions are rolling around in my head:

Is there a difference between the liturgy/worship experience that men plan and conduct and the liturgy/worship experience that women plan and conduct? Tom is speaking from his niche as a longtime male minister. How does his conviction of what is essential in worship compare/contrast with the conviction of a female minister? I would love to attend a service and see for myself what "church" feels like in Worcester. My experience is that worship planned and conducted by women is different from that conducted by men. What does this mean? Should it be this way? Are men being served well in congregations pastored by women? And are women being served well in congregations pastored by men? Does it matter what gender the minister is?

Is there a difference between the liturgy/worship experience in New England/East coast cities and the liturgy/worship experience in the Western U.S.? Tom is speaking from his niche as an urban New England minister. How does his understanding of who his congregation is compare/contrast with the understanding of a Western U.S. or Canadian minister? Does urban vs. rural have an impact on liturgy and worship?

Does this feel like an essay test? No, no, scratch that, it wasn't really one of the questions.

But these questions for me are important. I see glimmerings of what I do here on Whidbey and what I have experienced in other Western congregations, in what Tom espouses. I love church that is formal, structured, high quality. I also only find it in big urban churches. Is that bad? Should my little worship team strive for a big-city experience?

I keep coming back to the ancient idea of "where two or three are gathered together in the name of the holy" being a sacred time. It doesn't say anything about high quality or good speakers. It does imply that the whole point is to acknowledge and revere what is holy.

So it seems to me that, even when the music is stumbling and amateur, even when the speaker is verbose and dull, even when the order of service isn't printed on time, even when the ushers forget to follow the normal procedures of taking the offering, even when the worship leader leaves out some important liturgical piece, there is value in coming together in the name of the holy.

I think Tom and I agree on this point. He gets there in a more orderly fashion, perhaps, but I think we both get there.


Philocrites said...

It's worth noting that Tom has been serving for not quite a decade at a church where the senior minister, Barbara Merritt, has served since 1983. So the church's worship tradition can't really be attributed to a gendered style.

I wish more of this conversation were taking place where laypeople could engage with it. Thanks to you and James Ford for sharing parts of it with us!

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Philo, for your input. Actually, the Barbara Merritt piece of the puzzle just engenders (sorry) another question, because Barbara, as I understand it, came into ministry at a time when very few women were ministers in our association and those few women pretty much inherited and worked with a male-originated liturgy. Changing it to a female style would have been such a radical move that it might have been set aside in favor of other congregational priorities.

I'm just speculating. I have no solid evidence about this, just my own experience of worship in a variety of congregations. And they're only questions in my mind, not firm conclusions.

I remember, in the 80s, when my home congregation called a female minister who did apply a very female style of liturgy to worship which had formerly been very male-oriented. The move to dramatic rather than intellectual sermons as well as a definite feminist outlook on society was too much change too soon and she was negotiated out after a tumultuous few years.

Jeff said...

"So it seems to me that, even when the music is stumbling and amateur, even when the speaker is verbose and dull, even when the order of service isn't printed on time, even when the ushers forget to follow the normal procedures of taking the offering, even when the worship leader leaves out some important liturgical piece, there is value in coming together in the name of the holy."

Yes, but is there value enough to get laypeople out of bed and into church on a cold Sunday morning? In many cases, I think the answer has to be "no."

I think this is an important and interesting discussion, and I'm glad you and James (and Sean at ministrare) are giving us a peek at it. Let me echo Chris's lament that most of it is taking place where we can't see it.

By the way, as someone who has attended a good number of churches, with male, female, and both male and female ministers, I have not observed a significantly discernible overall worship service style related to gender. But my sample size may be nonetheless too small, or I may have missed something.

You're right on target with regional differences, however. I'll even get myself in hot water by saying that on the whole Northeastern congregations give better "church" on Sundays than other parts of the country, with the caveat that some of the most moving experiences of all I've had were in the Deep South. Just one UU's opinion. Surely it can't be influenced in any way by the fact that I grew up in New England. . .

h sofia said...

These are really good questions.

I'm inclined to think the "high church quality" is less determined by the sex of the minister, and more determined by the age of the congregation, and its location.

The church I attend is very large, located downtown, and was established in the 1890s. It is a "high church" with a very organized and predictable weekly service.

And it *looks* like a church - on the outside and the inside. The only thing missing is the crosses.

Two of the other churches I've been to in this area are far less formal (though medium sized) and were both founded in the 1950s. They call themselves "fellowships" and have more of a homemade feel.

There's another congregation in Seattle I like to go to - despite its urban location, it is a newer congregation (less than ten years, I believe), and it also feels homegrown.

My church is led by a female minister - though that has not always been the case. The other churches I speak of have mixed leadership - and one of them has a male minister, while the other two are lay led with significant male involvement in leadership.

As I think about it, I suppose it's possible that the sex of the minister could be influencing the style of the congregation - but many (maybe all?) of the 75+ year churches were led by men first - for decades - and so the style of the church was set long ago, no matter who is minister now.

I haven't been to enough churches in New England and the rest of the atlantic seaboard to respond much to your second question.

But right now I'm thinking the most powerful influences on the style of the church are whether it began as Unitarian church, a Universalist church (never been to one of those), or was founded as specifically Unitarian Universalist. And also - was it built 18th or 19th century, or mid 20th century, or even more recent than that?

ms. kitty said...

Jeff and Hafidha, thanks for your thoughts. You've both added a great deal to the conversation.

Masasa said...

Ms. Kitty, though I posted a comment yesterday, I think I need more time to consider this too. I know my initial response was particularly inarticulate (though it was also 3am, so what can I say). I've been turning this over in my head a whole lot over the last couple of days.

In response to your initial ponderings:

1. More significant than gender differences, my *personal* experience has been that past religious experiences (particularly childhood religious experiences), ministerial training (exposure and emphasis in training on various styles of worship), and the congregation's history make a huge difference in the type of liturgy/worship experiences that folks plan and conduct.

Certainly everyone has a personal style, and I can't conclude with perfect confidence that gender identity doesn't influence this. I do know, for example, that motherhood has really influenced my own understandings/needs/style/approach as a religious professional. I guess I just haven't witnessed a noticeable difference among genders in comparing my own worship experiences.

2. Is there a difference from east to west? Yes, there is a noticeable difference. I also think there is a north/south difference.

Jeff said, "I'll even get myself in hot water by saying that on the whole Northeastern congregations give better 'church' on Sundays than other parts of the country."

I will take exception to that. They are different. The difference is palpable. But I have had excellent worship experiences in the east and excellent ones in the west. I've also had poor ones in both regions, and everything in between.

I do wonder if some gender differences come into play in terms of what we perceive as high quality worship experiences when we are actually "in the pews"??? And if this *is* the case, perhaps it actually lends some validity to the idea that different genders lead a different style of worship, perhaps not on an individual basis but maybe in a more cultural/historical manner.

I am curious whether the east coast style, which tends to be more firmly rooted in a historical style, appeals more to those who identify with the masculine.

As in, this east coast style of worship comes from an era in history when it *was* mostly men in the pulpit. The western style seems to have developed during a time when more women were coming into the ministry. I'm thinking not even just of very recent history, like say from the seventies onward, but actually back to the Iowa Sisterhood and the late 19th century, etc.

In the interest of full disclosure, now that I've gotten into this conversation more than I anticipated (oy!), it seems I ought to say that I served a congregation on the west coast up until this August. I am now at First U with Tom and Barbara.

Masasa said...

P.S. I also do believe that Worcester, while located in an urban area downtown, does not identify as an urban church in particular. And thus I am not sure that in this case at least, this is an issue at play.

That said, I have noticed a distinct difference in style of worship by size of congregation and in cases where the church identifies as an urban/downtown church vs. suburban and rural churches.

ms. kitty said...

What a lot of new windows you have opened up on this conversation, Masasa! Thank you.

Anna Banana said...

I'm a new UU relative to the old timers at our 49 yr old SoCal church. In my 4 years we've had 4 ministers. Our settled minister, a woman, left to become an American Baptist minister(!), and 3male interims followed. We are about to call a settled minister; it's narrowed down to 3. At this point, I'm pretty convinced that male or female does not matter, gay or straight does not matter, young or old does not matter. What matters is Engaged vs. Not Engaged. If your minister is in tune with the congregation, the services will sing.

Ms. Theologian said...

I wonder if anyone has studied if there's a correlation between the physical structure that makes up the church and the style of worship. For example, the church in which I grew up, the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, has a really formal building with high pulpits and also held formal worship, particularly by West Coast standards. But all the smaller UU churches with less "churchy" buildings that I've been to also have less formal worship. And of course I could talk west coast v. east coast until the cows come home.

ms. kitty said...

More and more, Ms. T., I'm coming to think that there are an incredible variety of things that affect the worship experience. Building, geography, size of community, east/west culture, gender, demographic all seem to influence what happens on Sunday. And we haven't even factored in the wide variety of personalities and needs that come through our doors.

Perhaps it is that worship is the sum total of all the factors that happen to make up a particular congregation and that the professional's job is to shape an experience that reflects all or as many of those factors as possible.

I know that in the little chapel we rent it would be very unlikely that we could pull off a high church experience. It would feel incongruous. But we do have high quality, effective worship, even though the music isn't always perfect and the speaker is sometimes a bit too folksy.