Our time in communion with one another is extremely brief these days. At present, worship in most of our Unitarian communities, consists of an hour long service and then a cup of tea with a biscuit and off home. The time we give to listening to a service is 1 hour, but the time after the service rarely lasts more than 30 minutes, with individuals floating off as soon as cups are emptied. During this brief commune we may discuss the previous week, the week ahead, where we're going on our holidays and other snippets of our lives. What we don't tend to do is converse, as a group, about the worship that has taken place, the life of the church, our spiritual goals, needs or expectations. Strangely, these important areas of being 'church' are now, more often than not, left to church committees and councils to discuss behind closed doors, as if the rest of the community are programmed not to 'think' on such subjects.
Historically, the most bonding ritual known to humanity is the sharing of food and that is still the case. When sitting at a meal, there is a common purpose, to be nourished, and our distractions are limited. The people sitting around us are able to spend time in conversation with us. We learn about one another and the more we learn about each other, the stronger the bond is between us. Time is given to one another, in the preparation and the sharing. It is a wonderfully spiritual way of 'being together'. The ancients realised this and it became part of their spiritual ritual. Even Christianity, at its beginning, consisted of reading from the Gospel followed by a meal together. Both worship and communion were as important as one another. For us, it is the intended 'being together' which has diminished. In order to get that back, we may need to find new ways of coming together as a community, and it doesn't necessarily have to be a cooked meal.
It could be said that our chapels and churches hold events where we are able to socialise more intently with each other and the wider community, but do we discuss our hopes and dreams, our theologies and beliefs, the worship we've just experienced and our own takes on the subject, or do we place our concentration on the event at hand? Filling in the answers to the quiz, dancing with one another, watching and putting on plays together, days out, jumble sales, fairs and all the other events we host are wonderful and socially nourishing, but it is difficult to cultivate the community when there is the distraction of something else going on.
What is needed is for us to find ways of being together and this is where the 'giving' comes in. We need to give our time. We need to be willing to add at least another hour to the time we come together in church, as a church. This can be done in a multitude of ways; the sharing of food, a group discussion, an after worship presentation, or even, if space or pew-dynamics dictate, split into smaller groups each week to have set topic discussions (although it would be important to rotate these groups so that we don't establish cliques or give allowance to avoidances). Each church would need to find what works for them, what cultivates them as a community.
In order for our communities to be able to fully engage in a spiritual feast of sharing ideas and experience, we need to give ourselves and our time, and give it to one another. Sixty minutes is not much to ask of each other if we want to share the feast.
Rev. Shammy Webster