Sunday, August 03, 2008

Thoughts about worship committees

When I was looking at my calendar and making decisions about which Sundays I wanted to preach and which Sundays I wanted the worship committee to fill, I chose August 3 because I wanted to be able to welcome folks back to our services myself, rather than leaving that up to the "who can we get?" process that our wonderful worship committee sometimes has to fall back on.

We are blessed, at UUCWI, with a stellar worship committee which represents many aspects of the congregation and creates worship that is of reliably high quality. Two of the busiest people in the congregation are our co-chairs and other members are equally involved in congregational life. Over the years we've developed a process and a communication system that works for us and results in my feeling respected and appreciated as the minister and gives me huge appreciation and respect for their work. We don't always agree on everything but we listen to each other's points of view and make the best decisions we can.

Here's what I think a worship committee needs:
1. a clear sense of mission to offer high quality worship that is about Unitarian Universalism, its theology, its spiritual components, its social action work, its sources, its principles, etc.
2. a way of keeping a finger on the worship pulse of the congregation, whether by a survey, an open invitation to the congregation to give feedback, whatever, so that worship is open enough, varied enough, reverent enough, intellectual enough, to give most people a sense of worshipfulness every Sunday.
3. a thick enough skin to take in negative feedback without being demoralized or discouraged by it, recognizing that people often criticize without thinking very hard and the bigger picture is the more accurate one, not the one that emerges after something hits somebody wrong.
4. an awareness that you won't please everyone. Period. And that can't be helped.
5. a commitment to educating congregants about the purpose of worship and the value of "taking what you like and leaving the rest", as they say in 12-step groups.
6. a sense of drama that keeps worship from becoming humdrum but doesn't require that every Sunday be wildly different from the Sunday before.
7. a relationship with the minister of the congregation that is peaceful and creative, with mutual respect and appreciation.
8. if there is no minister, the worship committee needs to think of itself as the minister pro tem and bring to the congregation on Sundays the kinds of worship that a minister might want to provide, though with a layperson's perspective. We ministers think of our worship services/sermons as falling into several categories: pastoral (about comforting and caring), prophetic (about social justice causes), pedagogical (teaching), priestly (using rituals to bring a message), to name a few. These can be styles or topics. They all include theological threads and combinations of styles/topics.

Just a few thoughts on a Sunday morning before I head off to get ready to preach, on this first Sunday back in the pulpit after our July hiatus. We'll be meeting on the "lawn" of the sanctuary and sitting in plastic lawn chairs, accompanying our hymns on guitar, and cranking up the sound system to override the sound of the nearby highway, and we'll be smiling a lot, even though today we are remembering the victims of the Knoxville shootings. It will be good to be back home again.


Lizard Eater said...

Fabulous list. May I send it to my worship committee?

ms. kitty said...

I'd be honored, LE. Thanks for asking.

Anonymous said...

This is really, really good--and so clear. Thanks!

Kelly KH said...

Great list. I was on the worship committee at my former UU Fellowship and it was such a hard job, but sooo worth every minute. Maybe those summer sermons I helped give are what started me on my path to ministry!

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Kelly.

Anonymous said...

When I was chairing the worship committee at my church we came up with a similar list. The thing is though we were never able to actually accomplish any of it. And we could not really find any resources to help us, which makes me fear that no churches are able to.

I also have a major issue with number 3. I do not think that any committee in a UU church should have "thick skin" as a requirement, and I also think that (at least in my church) some people knew exactly how hurtful and demoralizing their comments were and are, and if they are not we should be telling them.

For number 2, my suggestion is to never, ever take anonymus surveys or feedback.

ms. kitty said...

Dubhlainn, thanks for your insightful comment. I heartily agree that anonymous surveys are not good. In my committee on ministry, we will not take anonymous complaints and the same should go for any survey, I think.

I am so sorry that your worship committee has been hurt by negative comments from others, comments that feel mean and deliberately hurtful. That is wrong, but it is also life, and we can learn to let those hurtful things roll off our backs, since they usually mean more about the person making them than the hardworking committee or person who is their target.

It is discouraging to have to work under those conditions, all right.

ms. kitty said...

PS. I share your desire for good resources for worship committees. One thing I would suggest is the book by Wayne Arnason and Kate Rolenz, entitled "Worship that Works". It's available through the UUA bookstore and our worship committee has found it valuable.