Thursday, July 10, 2008

Changing Routines

This morning the cats woke me up earlier than usual, so I walked down to get the newspaper a few minutes earlier than I normally do, and IT WASN'T THERE! Hoping that it was just a few minutes late instead of missing entirely, I dawdled my way back up to the house, enjoying the dawn song of the birds, and brought my cup of coffee in here to read email instead of the paper.

But there was hardly any email and very few blog updates to read, which is the next thing I normally do after reading the paper with my coffee. Major routine upset! Made me a bit grumpy and I was relieved to find the paper in its box when I next went down to look for it. But the newspaper was incomplete---no Feature section and, more importantly, no comics! So I called the Times circulation desk and after many button-pushings, got the message "you are outside the redelivery zone. Sorry."

Argggh! Too many zigzags in my morning routine! And it made me think about how important routines are in our lives. Now, it's not going to ruin my day to do things differently one morning. But I love my morning routine---up early, feed cats, make coffee, walk down for the paper, read the paper with coffee, check emails and blog feeds, eat breakfast, go to the gym. That's how I start my day. Today, most of my routine was shifted around a bit, so my day started in a less familiar way.

I'm thinking about this because I often hear the gripe from some church goers that they wish worship services weren't always the same, with the same order of events, the repeated affirmation, the chairs a certain way. To hear some of them talk, you'd think they want the service to be different every week. I'd guess they haven't thought much about the importance of life routines.

There is a benefit to familiar ritual and routine; it's comfortable, it's reassuring, it's easy to do, its familiarity is soothing. Yet there's also a benefit to shaking things up occasionally; it shifts us out of our comfort zone and into a new perspective.

In layled congregations, where all the work is done by volunteers and there is no minister to help out, it's not uncommon to have every service be different. It's the "different strokes" model, where every service is designed and presented by a different person and there is less continuity between services. When a minister joins the worship scene, there's often a sense of loss of power and resultant angst, even conflict.

One of the symptoms of that sense of loss is an objection by some to the regularity of the minister-led services. For a minister, the ordered service is a boon; I can't imagine reworking the order of service every week to keep from falling into a regular pattern, for one thing.

And I firmly believe that repeated patterns in worship are important to the flow of worship. Every time there's a shift in the pattern, it requires extra explanation on the part of the leader, which creates a disruption in the flow. And returning visitors know what to expect, which enhances their sense of connection.

We UU congregations tend to operate with the "hymn sandwich" model: boilerplate welcome and opening, hymn, boilerplate joys/concerns/offering/kids piece, hymn, reading, sermon, hymn, more boilerplate closing. It's hardly different from any mainline Protestant service, except for the language and the sermon topic. Within that model, we offer something that's very different from traditional churchianity, however. We use a familiar model and give it a new sound.

Routine, ritual, familiar patterns---we order our lives around these predictable moments. When we don't have them, the shift can be disorienting but it can also be inspirational. I'm going to our district's UU summer camp (Eliot Institute) in a couple of days. My normal home routines will be totally thrown off, but I'll develop a new one for that week, a routine that will help me feel comfortable and in command of my environment. I'll do a lot of things differently, I'll be infused with new insights, new friends, new ideas and activities. And when I come home again, I'll gladly re-enter my old patterns.

I hope to write an Eliot journal next week. But that would be a new routine for me, so we'll see if I get it done!


LinguistFriend said...

The stated resemblance of the common UU service to a Protestant service can be very misleading to those for whom the content is inherently foreign or unclear, or who are oriented primarily towards ritual. I have had friends from other religious groups, whose orientation was primarily towards formalities, assure me that UUism
did not really differ from nominally different Protestant religions, after attending a marriage or a few services with limited content. It gets worse when a UU minister (e.g. speaking to an unknown or varied audience) tries hard not to offend and indeed produces a service which is Protestant in form and lacks religious content. I have on very rare occasions become so disturbed by this emptiness that I walked out on such a service. (Perhaps the significant content came after I left.) Fixed church patterns can be comforting, but without corresponding content they constitute a false claim to significance which (to me) can be maddening. Adolf Harnack has interesting related comments on some Christian groups in his "What is Christianity?"

Mile High Pixie said...

I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who throws a fit when the comics are left out of the paper. I so depend on the paper to give me headlines for the morning that tell me what I'm gonna read when I come home that evening.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, both of you. I note that later the day of this post (Thursday), I got waylaid by that darned kidney stone. Think there's any connection?