Our church toasted a key aspect of service last week. And by toasted, I do not mean that they raised a glass in honour of a long-cherished tradition. No. They no longer feature the sharing of Joys and Sorrows as part of the natural order of the sermon. And while I'm sure freeing up an extra 15 minutes of service time brings the good pastors great joy at the thought of yet more time to pontificate to the congregration ~ I personally feel sorrowful that such a personal and emotional component of our congregational life is no longer.
If you're still stuck on wondering what the sharing of Joys and Sorrows entails, permit me to digress. It is perhaps one of the more defining and unifying functions of UU pastoral ministry. It involves having congregates step up to the mic in order to ritualistically pass a flower from one vase to another, whilst verbally sharing with the church fellowship the best or worst part of their week as they do so. This may be a small and trivial joy, like getting a new job or finishing a major incomplete project, or it could be a huge life sorrow, such as the death of a family member.
Yet regardless of the size and scope of these joys and sorrows, there was something so emotionally touching about all of them. It allowed new members like me to put a name to a face and breathe meaningful life into each person, thereby reminding me anew what it means to be an iota in this interconnected web of creation. What I'm talking about is the remembrance that life is about connection, grace, gratitude and at least two of the three marks of Buddhist existence - dukkha (suffering) and anicca (impermanence).
I suspect churches the world over struggle over how best to make their ministry minutes count. Our service is typically 75 minutes, give or take a dozen, depending on the sermon de jeur. There is rhyme and reason and cadence and measure to it, such that each quote, each reading, each tale, each hymn, relates metonymically and musically to the sacred wheel of life.
But the service feels emptier now, devoid as it is of the happy and sad tears and faces that accompany joyous and sorrowful proclamations. And devoid of a certain kind of intimacy, connectivity and shared ministry amongst the community. The ministers insist that they will still share the highs and lowlights - but they will do so vicariously. Because, it would seem, they have the power vested in them to do so. Amen.
I'm not a seasoned UUer - I can still count my total churchgoing visits with only a few rounds of fingers and toes, so I'm not yet jaded to the fact that Mr. Klein was inclined to go on ad nauseam about his aches and pains at the podium during this time, to the utter bemusement of those who know and love him, to the extreme annoyance of those who do but wish they didn't, as well as to the abject boredom of the younger folk who squirm restlessly in their seats and pray only to God at these moments when they wish to escape this certain form of hell.
And I don't know Mrs. Weingartner with her whiny ways and her nasally voice, so to my newbie ears, she sounded less tentative and insecure than I guessed she otherwise might ~ as though for this one moment at the podium, she gets that her problems are significant and that she does indeed matter in some small and real way in the big scheme of things.
But I know something of what it means to be human, or so the decades tell me, and it seems to me that the passing of this part of service feels rather like a human departure. A liturgical death of a loved one whose time had come too quickly, and whose obvious absence has yet to be mourned fully, and whose burial ground cannot be fully discerned as being either a shallow grave or a deep rut.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. And for everything there is a season, turn, turn. And so I move this blog flower in small sweet sorrow for the parting of a great church tradition.