Saturday, 29 September 2007

Grave Matters

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
Kahlil Gibran

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.


Anonymous said...

This is something that comes up in most congregations. I know that when I was in San Francisco they stopped allowing for Joys and Concerns and it was a huge deal. In my small fellowship we still have it and it is possibly the best part of any service. I feel for any congregation going through the process of deciding whether to open up the floor to the congregation.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad to find you here, as well. As for your comment "life is about connection, grace, gratitude..." - I couldn't agree more. Again, I feel regret that you are so far geographically removed, and gratitude that the miracle of the Web allowed us to nonetheless connect. Be well,

aplseed said...

My church experience never had this ritual. I can see both good points,and maybe points that would explain why many would not care for this to continue.

For the good it would let others see how the bad things small and large really effect others and that each of us has difering strengths to cope. It could give young ones the ability to have empathy,something much lacking in todays world.

On the other hand it could encourage some prone to complain alot free voice to bore everyone with the same bad things every week and the ppl would become sensitized when they saw that there was little effort for the person to improve,and could foster a lack of sympathy that could teach young to not listen so closely to the complaints of others.

Of course the good things discussed could outwiegh any bad,since being forced to think of good happenings would help those that don't cope see that thier life isn't all bad.

I suspect that good or bad,it just takes too much time,in this hurry work far too many hours and stress over finding time for your family and yourself world.

Anonymous said...

Traditions are like the lifelines that tie us one to another, and when those are cut, something sad happens in our lives. It is too bad that the leader of your congregation can't see the ministry behind those moments as well. It really is in the moments of sharing that the most important things pass between us all.

Anonymous said...

I can see both sides of the issue, but the real question is what's best for the congregation.

I think I, too, would miss it, although I'm not very prone to sharing myself in such venues.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Holy!

Stopping by to catch up on your news, my friend; I know it's been too long a while...

The regrettable change in the church service which you described is one of the reasons I will probably never again be a regular churchgoer. In the world of Methodists, the powers-that-be see fit to move pastors around from time to time, rending asunder ties of affinity and trust which the clergyman forms with his congregation. In my mind, it's a bit like tearing apart a family.

The ceremony you described is unfamiliar to me and sounded beautiful; surely the change affected others in the congregation as deeply as it did you.

Perhaps another change will bring it back one day...

Holy Thought of the Week

"To live fully is to let go and die with each passing moment, and to be reborn in each new one."

~ Jack Kornfield ~