Thursday, 26 March 2015

A Spiritual Feast For Each Person To Bring And Share Ideas And Experience

In order for us to fully engage with one another and be able to achieve this spiritual feast of ideas and experience we will have to be willing to 'give ourselves' in new ways which may feel alien to how we have related to church before. We may even have to review what we presently perceive worship to be.

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

1 comment:

  1. I admit it. I am one of the guilty ones. I don’t stay for coffee very often. In fact, I usually disappear after the service although I might stick around and chat in the sanctuary or in the foyer. Why? There are a few reasons: 1) I am somewhat an introvert and find the prospect of talking to someone wherever I can find a seat exhausting enough on its own, 2) my partner doesn’t come to church with me and given that his job keeps him at the office for long hours, I want to spend time with him and 3) it takes me nigh on an hour to get home from church and I’m hungry. I take my sports activities seriously so hungry is not a state I want to be in. Some weeks, however, I take part in or lead post-service activities.

    Now, why don’t we have deeper discussions in these situations? I think it’s partly because people don’t feel equipped to have them. Not that they are unable to articulate their spiritual lives but they are rather embarrassed to discuss them. Why? I think it’s because of the rationality that’s become normative in our congregations. ‘What will so-and-so think if s/he finds out that I believe in God?’ ‘What if so-and-so is offended if I talk about xyz?’ We should take care not to enforce normative behaviours, actively or passively, because if we do, we endanger our liberal faith.

    How might we be able to solve the post-service problem? We could actively encourage discussion groups after the service. Or we could have adult education centred around a related theme before the service itself. Personally, I’d actually be much more inclined to do things if everything happened an hour earlier. We could even have pre-service coffee. So there are ways, we just have to be brave enough to try them and resist the norm.

    Tristan Jovanovic (member, Kensington Unitarians)