Unitarian Universalist Best Practices
Chalices, Joys & Concerns, and other Sunday Service components

originally posted by Connie Barlow in July 2005
last revised April 2019

This is a very long webpage that offers a compendium of exemplary SUNDAY SERVICE elements that Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd have encountered in the course of speaking to some 500 Unitarian Universalist congregations since 2002. (This list will be updated as their travels continue.)


   Connie Barlow and her husband, Rev. Michael Dowd, have been traveling the USA and Canada since April 2002, presenting guest sermons and other talks that celebrate a sacred understanding of evolution (as discovered through mainstream science) in Unitarian Universalist and other churches.

Michael and Connie were honored as Religious Humanists of the Year at the 2016 General Assembly.

In recent years, Connie has shifted more into climate activism, while Michael urges "fidelity to the future" and practical wisdom for navigating challenging times. Core to his recent work is the notion that, for society to be sustainable, ecology must be the heart of theology.

Their work was featured in the spring 2006 issue of UU World Magazine.

Visit the homepage of their educational WEBSITE: The Great Story.

  • Suggested worship materials for "Evolution Sunday" in UU congregations:

        Jon Cleland-Host, a scientist and lay leader of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Midland MI, has developed a list of worship resources with evolution as the theme that can help a minister or worship leader flesh out an order of service for any evolution-theme service, notably what has come to be known as "Evolution Sunday" to commemorate Darwin's birth each year on February 12. (posted February 2009)

    This list of BEST PRACTICES derive from Connie and Michael's
    Sunday morning experiences in some 500 UU congregations

    * * * * *

    Some congregations have a tradition of beginning the service by ringing a chime or meditation bowl. Others simply have the pianist begin playing the prelude. The UU Church of August GA lists this part in the Order of Service as, "Call to Worship - Sounding the Bell." The UU Society East (Manchester CT) has an excellent way to encourage the congregation to come to quiet before the service begins: chimes or a small gong is visibly played softly, with no words spoken, as hush spreads throughout. The playing stops only when all talking has ceased. At UU New Bern (NC) the Call to Worship comes directly after the bell, followed by the Prelude (so that people sit quietly and listen to the prelude), and they relegate announcements to a very few after the chalice is extinguished at service end.

        WELCOME! It is crucial that whoever says the welcome is able to do so in a friendly and professional way without reading from a script. That person should be looking at the congregants, scanning the room, meeting people eye-to-eye while they are reciting the welcome. You might want to recruit 3 or 4 of your most charismatic best speakers to rotate playing this role each Sunday, and then let your service leaders or minister take over after that.


    UU Miami FL - On order of service is printed this quote: "I like the quiet of the church before the service begins." — Ralph Waldo Emerson

    UUs of Sterling VA - Order of Service begins, "Seating Music - Please use this time to enter the sanctuary in silence and prepare yourself for worship."

    UU Church at Washington Crossing, Titusville NJ - "Prelude - (The Prelude is a special part of the worship service. Allow it to draw you into the spirit of the service.)"

    UU Fellowship Briarcliff, Croton, Ossining (NY) - "Prelude - To listen to music is to listen also to silence, and to find the stillness deepened and enriched. Let us begin the journey to stillness and reflection."

    UU Church of Berkeley CA - The Order of Service lists what would normally be called Prelude as "Listening to Music: Members of the congregation appreciate the opportunity to listen to music in silence as people prepare for worship." The postlude is similarly listed as "Listening to Music."

    West Seattle UU Fellowship WA - "Ringing of the Bowl: The ringing of the bowl signifies the time for quiet throughout the room to appreciate the Prelude." [One worship leader there immediately follows the Prelude with a short reading, before the extemporaneous "Welcome", in order to again encourage quiet.]

    UU Jacksonville FL - Their service begins at 11:00 a.m., but at 10:45 (sharp!) every week, a musician or ensemble plays 15 minutes of music. It is so good that congregants know to arrive in time for this.

    CELL PHONES OFF: Many congregations include in the Welcome or Announcements a reminder to please turn your cell phones off. Worship leader at UU Winston-Salem says, "I welcome you to a time of celebration, and deep connection. And in today's hyperconnected world, it's a good idea to say something about the difference between being connected (phone) and being connected (heart). In order to really connect on a deep level, we need to disconnect from our electronic devices. Please take a moment to turn off your cell phones now. Really turn 'em off, or use the 'do not disturb' setting. At quiet times in our service, even the sound of a vibrating phone can be an unwelcome distraction. (pause to let them do it) Thank you. And in this quiet space, this pause from the busy-ness of our lives, may we find peaceful centering in this morning's musical interlude."

    Click here for the insert placed in the Order of Service each week by the UU Church of Las Cruces (NM) that graciously lists the "guidelines" for participation in the Sunday service.


    Because the chalice is the central symbol for Unitarian Universalists, the chalice itself can be an important part of the service. Above are three lovely chalices that we encountered during our journey. Notice that in each one the flame is easily visible by the congregation. Other congregations who use a less beautiful chalice setting or, worse, have a free-standing fat candle serve as the "chalice" (the flame in a fat candle is usually hidden by the high walls of wax) are missing an important opportunity to enhance the sacred and reverential feel of the setting.
         In the photos above, the porcelain chalice on the left is at the UU Fellowship of Clemson SC; the central bronze chalice is at the UU Fellowship of Flagstaff AZ; and the glass chalice on the right is at the UU Church of Berkeley, CA.

    Striking a match or striking the flint of a butane lighter are inelegant and sometimes embarassing ways to light a chalice during a UU service. Many congregations have taken to lighting before the service a tiny flat candle that comes in a little tin, and hiding this "starter" candle behind the main chalice. During the actual chalice lighting a taper candle that is lying alongside is lit from the small flame, and then the taper candle is used to light the chalice flame. (The UU Fellowship of New Bern NC hides the little candle inside a beautiful ceramic container, and then simply puts on the lid to starve the flame of oxygen after the chalice is lit.) Beautiful and error-free! This is the only way that a child can light a chalice or that a parent can light the chalice with a babe or toddler in arm. Below (left) is the "silver" chalice setting that shows this useful arrangement at the UU Fellowship of Laguna Beach CA. Right is the chalice (with lit candles of sharing) at the UU Church of the Palouse in Moscow ID. Note: If there are 2 services on a Sunday morning, make sure you use a new starter candle, or the original might burn out before the chalice is lit for the second time.


    The most moving procedure may well be to have the chalice reading happen simultaneously with the chalice lighting, rather than before or after. This necessitates two people working together: one to light the chalice, and the other to read aloud or to lead the congregation in a unison chalice reading. Some congregations use the chalice lighting as the time for unison reading of the congregation's very own "UU Aspiration", "Covenant", "Mission Statement", "Affirmation", or similar statement of commitments and bonds. Eg, the UU in Fargo ND reads their mission statement: "The Mission of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fargo-Moorhead is to provide to its members, and to the community, an environment of religious tolerance, a loving fellowship of diversity, an open forum for the exchange of social, political, and moral ideas and values, and a religious home for spiritual growth without fear of reprisal."
        Other congregations read the convenant in unison later in the service, or simply have it printed somewhere in the Order of Service booklet. In lieu of the reading of a covenant, some read in unison one or all of the Seven Principles of the UUA. UU Society East (Manchester CT) has the service leader say these words (with pauses) as a short guided meditation leading into the chalice lighting: "I invite you to take a deep breath; come into this sanctuary. Be focused and present. Relax. Know that you are welcome here." UU minister Hilary Krivchenia regularly writes her own chalice lighting recitations, to blend with the theme of the service and sermon. UU Winston-Salem always has two unison readings printed in the Order of Services, and they change from week to week. Each is only 3 or 4 lines and occurs at (1) the "Chalice Lighting" and (2) "Offertory Words."

    It is less than ideal for the service leader to light the chalice, as this key UU ritual is a wonderful time to build community. Some congregations invite a different individual each week to light the chalice, as a way of introducing them to the full community. Sometimes just their name is announced, but it helps build community when something more is said about them, or why this may be a special time for them. (For churches too large to do Joys and Concerns, this is a crucial way to acknowledge a birth, marriage, or death in the family.) A wonderful way for a congregation to get to know its children and youth is the way that the UU Church of Long Beach CA does its chalice lighting: a different child or youth comes forward each week to light the chalice, with the service leader reading a short paragraph about the child as to her/his age, school, favorite activities, etc. Surely, whenever an intergenerational service is held, a child or youth should be the chalice lighter. Congregations with fewer children can nonetheless recruit each child to be the chalice lighter for an entire month (UU Fort Myers does this).

    About half the UU congregations we have visited include this component, sometimes called, "Exchange of Friendly Greetings", "Greeting Each Other", or "Hand of Friendship." Some, but not all, have an opportunity for folks to rise if they are visiting or if they wish to introduce someone they have brought. The UU Fellowship of San Dieguito has a novel way of conducting the greeting. The service leader says,

    "I particularly want to welcome our visitors. The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito is an inclusive community built upon religious pluralism. The principles upon which our religion is based can be found on the back of your Order of Service. Now, I'd like our members and those who have been attending for awhile to stand. (pause) Take a moment to look around. Notice those newcomers and visitors still seated. Take a few moments to greet them. Be sure to say hello to someone you may not already know."

    Rev Lisa Schwartz at UU at Winston-Salem has used this text:

    "It's a joy to see so many people I'm getting to know, and — as always — a pleasure to see some new faces, too. If you're a newcomer, and IF you're comfortable doing so, it's time to introduce yourself to us — only because if we all stood to introduce ourselves to you, it would take too long. Now, if you're the quiet sort and this is a moment you've been dreading, don't worry: If you'd rather remain anonymous, THIS IF FINE. But if there are newcomers who are comfortable standing and introducing yourself, I invite you to do so now. (AFTER INTROS OVER) So many people who were all new at some time have come to think of this Fellowship as a home for their spirits and their hearts. If that describes you, take a moment to think about what it was like to be new here. (pause) Make a mental note to greet the newcomers after the service today. Get to know them — find out what brought them here. Share why you come. (pause) After the service we serve coffee and tea through the pass-through windows at the back of the room. Newcomers, we invite you to use a maroon cup for your beverage so we'll be reminded who's up for an especially hearty welcome.
    The UU of West Shore Ohio (near Cleveland) is too large to comfortably encourage in-service visitor introductions or neighbor greeting, but the worship associate did a fine job of pointing out that members' name tags included a year on them, which is the year that person joined. I found it a very enticing way to easily approach those who had long-ago years ('70 and '73 were the two people I approached), and those individuals seemed happy to speak about what they and the church were like when they joined back then. I also felt very comfortable asking one of those people about the history of and reason for an aspect of the church that I found unusual; so it is a way to guide the curious toward people who are very knowledgeable without having to do something as scary as asking the minister.

    UU Ft. Myers FL has a menu bar on its homepage that has 6 topics, the first of which is called "Newcomers". When one clicks on that topic, it goes directly to a welcome page that has 9 very short Q&A. For the Q: "What will happen when I attend for the first time?" A: "As our guest, we will not embarrass you, have you stand up, or ask you to give money. We know that many people want to check out the church. You will be greeted as you enter the door and be directed to the welcome table where you can (as you are comfortable) complete a name tag, pick up a connection card (so we can connect with you again) and find out about our newcomer opportunities before entering the main Sanctuary. Come in, enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and see if this church is for you. Following our service we invite you to join us in our social hall (Hobart Hall) where we gather for fellowship and where there are many opportunities for discussion and making friends. You can also visit the Newcomers Meet & Greet welcome station where people are on hand to answer your questions and help you make connections."


    PHOTOS ABOVE: UU Church of Sarasota Florida conducts welcoming of visitors in the way begun by their minister, Rev. Roger Fritts. The service begins with an Opening Hymn, Opening Words & Chalice Lighting, Introit music, then Welcome and Announcements. The worship leader asks visitors to raise their hands and then walks in the aisles, never letting go of the mic, while asking each person for just their name and where they are from. The minister then repeats just WHERE THEY ARE FROM, using the mic. An assistant follows along with a basket to then give that person a pen and a plasticized card with info front-and-back as shown above. (The second line on the pen is "A friendly, liberal religious community".)

    Not too crowded; not too empty: Church leadership seems to be aware of when "too many" people are crowding into the sanctuary — and thus the congregation needs to expand to two Sunday morning services. I have also attended a UU church that did have two services in which both felt far too empty to me (I sat in the back, while my husband delivered the guest sermon). In such settings, it seems rude to sit too close to anyone else in a pew, and thus passing the offering plate is a stretch and overall I feel quite alone and isolated. Recommendation: If your sanctuary is too big for your Sunday morning attendance, instruct the ushers to rope off the back for or 5 rows of pews or chairs, while remaining attentive as to whether an unusually large crowd is gathering, such that the ropes need to be removed before the service begins.


    Memorial Garden at Palomar UU Fellowship, Vista CA

    If the children are attending the first part of the service, there is often a time in which they are called forward to gather for a "Children's Story", "Generations Together", "Story for All Ages", "Story for All", "Intergenerational Sharing", "Celebrating our Intergenerational Community", or "Children's Connection." Different congregations have different views as to whether the children are visible (sitting on the raised platform or on the stairs going up to it), or not (sitting on the floor — preferably carpeted — just in front of the first row of seats, thus facing the front of the sanctuary). For some, there is a sense that kids should not be "on display" during the story time. For others, there is a sense that it is more important for the congregation to see the children's faces than to see the storyteller's face. Certainly, if children are asked to respond to questions during the "story" time, then it is helpful to have them facing the congregation. We have heard some dissatisfaction with Story Time, and this is understandable if the minister or story leader is simply sitting on a chair reading a storybook to them. But Story Time is also a chance for the story leader to dialogue with the kids while extemporaneously delivering a story or a theme, and even to turn toward the adult congregation in making a few points, thus helping all to truly feel included and engaged.
        Westside UU Church in Fort Worth Texas provides cushions for the kids to sit on, and the practice is for the kids to pick up a cushion as they enter and to sit in the front right from the beginning of service, rather than beginning seated with their families. This is an excellent way to ensure that seating is not taken up temporarily by kids, especially for crowded sanctuaries. At Westside, the 15 kids who sat in the front seemed to require no supervision; a habit had been developed to sit with a degree of reverence. It works great! Also, Westside UU immediately follows the children's story with the offering, and several of the children each week carry the offering plates from row to row; after the offering, the congregation sings the children out to their classes.
        Woodinville Unitarian Universalist Church (near Seattle WA) has bare floor in its sanctuary, but a large rug up front where the kids and their teachers sit from the very beginning of service. Kids begin in their classrooms, but then line up outside the sanctuary just before the service and enter reverentially down the center aisle during the "Children's Processional & Chalice Lighting" (which immediately follows the initial "Gathering Song". As soon as the kids are settled, the worship associate delivers a short "Invitation and Chalice Lighting," then comes the "Time for All Ages" children story, after which the children leave while the congregation sings them out. The big advantage of a children-only-on-floor approach (rather than the usual way of having them begin by sitting in the pews with their families) is that (a) it is a superb way to stave off the need for moving to 2 services, when the sanctuary space starts getting cramped as the congregation grows, and (b) it helps prevent remaining adults from feeling alone in their pew if they initially sat with a bunch of kids nearby.

    INTERGENERATIONAL SERVICES - The R.E. director at UU Church of Springfield MO equips the children for intergenerational services by giving each a cloth bag containing small playthings to keep hands and wandering minds engaged: a little puzzle book, pipe cleaners, and a few other play objects.

    Not all UU congregations recite a covenant of fellowship during the service; even fewer have the children recite their own. Summit UU Fellowship in San Diego CA is an inspiring exception. After the children's story and before the children's recessional, the kids stand, face the congregation and recite their own short covenant, which includes easy hand movements. It is listed in the Order of Service as "Children's Affirmation": We are Unitarian Universalists, people of open minds, loving hearts, and welcoming hands." At the Denton (TX) UU Fellowship, a pair of children are invited forward to light their own little chalice and to carry it out with them as they go. All the children recite in unison these words as the chalice is lit: "This is our chalice of love and light, uniting UUs by day and night."
        First UU Church of Stockton California combines the children's and adult's affirmation in this way: The following is the recitation printed in the Order of Service; the minister leads the children in their lines:

    Children: We believe in Love.
    Adults: Love is the doctrine of this church.
    Children: We believe in Truth.
    Adults: The quest for truth is its sacrament.
    Children: We believe in helping others.
    Adults: And service is its prayer.
    Children: We believe in the sacredness of Life.
    Adults: to dwell together in peace, seek knowledge in freedom, serve humanity in fellowship, and cherish the earth and its creatures: this do we covenant each with the other.

    Thoreau UU in Stafford TX ramped up this same Affirmation by having an adult up-front lead the children in sign language for each of the children's lines.

    Live Oak UU in Austin TX includes a lovely "Lighting of the Peace Candles" (for kids) immediately after the chalice lighting. A separate small altar is set up on the side of the stage opposite the pulpit, and 4 candles are ready to be lit. Four children are called up to stand behind the altar, facing the congregation. An adult gathers a light from the chalice and carries it to the first candle, lighting it, while the child says something like, "I pray for peace in the heart." And then the next candle is lit while the child says, "I pray for peace in the world." Another, "I pray for peace in the web of life." After all four candles are lit, the children return to their seats. (The adult speaks the first name of each child just before lighting the candle.)

    The UU in Clemson SC encourages adults (and kids) to bring canned goods and to put them in a basket just outside the sanctuary. Then, after the children's story, the offering is conducted, and the kids know it is time to go out to that box and each bring in one or two cans of food to place in a box up front right where the ushers are handing the offering baskets to the minister/worship-leader. This way, no child has to remember to bring in canned goods, but still gets to feel they are helping in the giving to the community.

    A vast majority of UU churches and fellowships we attended invite the children and youth to sit with their parent(s) in the sanctuary for the beginning of Sunday services. At the appropriate time, the children are sung off to their classes. For churches short on sanctuary seating, having the kids take up and then vacate seats can be a problem. Mid-Columbia UU Fellowship in Hood River (OR) solves this problem by placing a quilt on the floor up front, where the children sit for all early parts of the service, including the children's story, until their recessional. The UU Fellowship in Bend (OR) does not have a children's story, but the children are in the sanctuary for the early part of the service. Parents are encouraged to sit with their kids at the back (and cards are placed on back seats: "Reserved for parents and their young children"), and this allows parents to quickly exit if their kids start to cry. For the recessional, an arch is made in the center aisle; parents and kids come to the front along the side aisles and then all exit thru the center arch.

    Most congregations use for the children's recessional some version of "Go Now In Peace", the words to which may or may not be printed in the Order of Service. The UU church of Long Beach CA has a way of singing the kids out that is especially playful, high-energy, and powerful. And because they do the same thing each week, they have grown capabilities for excellent harmonies. That congregation uses an old traditional faith song, with a very familiar tune:

    Now let us sing, sing to the power of the faith within!
    Now let us sing, sing to the power of the faith within.
    Lift up your voice, be not afraid
    Sing to the power of the faith within.
    Whatever song is used for the children's recessional, some congregations that have wide center aisles have a tradition in which the kids exit via the center aisle — while those adults sitting right next to it form a long arch (at West Hills UU Fellowship in Portland OR, everyone was involved in forming the arch, as those not next to the aisles stand and face the aisle closest to them, while putting their hands on the shoulders of the person in "front" of them. The UU in Odessa FL calls this arch a "pyramid of hands".

    A big question facing congregations is whether the children leave for their classes before or after Joys and Concerns. Most congregations choose to have the children leave before this section of the service, especially as some joys and concerns may involve adult content. Others keep the children there for this part, allowing the children to be exposed to matters of grief as well as the joys in life. The Spirit of Life Unitarian Universalist Church of Odessa FL, for example, has the kids and adults both do joys and concerns together (meaning kids will come forward, too), whereas in most congregations the kids leave before this part and do their own joys and concerns ritual in class. The Buckman Bridge UU (in Jacksonville FL) takes a novel approach: the primary-school children leave before this part, but the youth remain with the congregation, joining adults in expressing personal joys & concerns. The youth depart for their own activities when Joys and Sorrows concludes.
        West Hills UU Fellowship in Portland OR conducts their offering immediately after the children's story ("Family Service") and it is the older children who carry the offering plates from row to row. Meanwhile, the piano is playing lightly and folks are invited to step forward to speak into the microphone (held by service leader) any milestone, notably anniversaries. Custom is that each person speaks only 1 phrase or sentence, thus distinguishing this event from the "Joys and Sorrows", which happens after the children leave (following the offering, the children are sung out to "Go Now in Peace").
        UU Church of Monterey Peninsula (Carmel CA) has kid's R.E. classes only at the first of their two services. That first service begins as 9:30, but families know that if they arrive in the sanctuary at 9:15, there will be 15 minutes when the minister gathers the children for their own chalice lighting and Joys/Sorrows, right in the sanctuary (which children find quite awesome). Then, when the main service begins, the Children's Story happens right away and the children are sung off to class.
        UU Fellowship of Briarcliff, Croton and Ossining (NY) splits its sharings into, first, "Joys and Milestones" and then "Sharing of Concerns". The kids stay through the Joys but then leave before the Concerns. Between the two segments is a hymn and offertory. Following the Concerns is Quiet Time / Meditation. The benefits of segregating Joys and Concerns, of course, is that there is no odd discomfort from a deep sadness being immediately followed by a great joy. Here is how the UU Briarcliff lists the "Sharing of Concerns" in their Order of Service: "For those who need our strength and support; those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit; those oppressed by intent or neglect."


    12. JOYS AND SORROWS/CONCERNS; MILESTONES (more suggestions at the UUA website)
    UU congregations variously list this service component as, "Sharing of Joys and Concerns", "Candles of Community", "Joys, Concerns, and Milestones", Personal Joys and Concerns", "Sharing and Candlelighting", "Centering and Stones of Intention". Some congregations expressly use the word "Sorrow" rather than "Concern" or have the service leader introduce it in a way to emphasize that this is a time for matters of a personal nature, not expressions of political opinions or announcements. The West Seattle UU Fellowship begins this section with a minute of meditation, from which people then quietly rise to express a joy or concern. Other innovations in this practice include:

  • What can be done if Joys and Concerns take up too much time? - This is a big issue for many UU churches. Some UU congregations feel that they are too large for Joys and Concerns to be part of their service; its elimination, however, sacrifices a very meaningful mode of community-building. Fortunately, there are a wealth of innovative solutions that we have witnessed in UU churches, and that we are delighted to share. For example: The UU of Miami FL relegates this service component to just one pre-established Sunday per month, and on that particular Sunday the sermon is intended to be very short. Even though its congregation is small, the UU in Clemson SC offers two distinctly different services each Sunday: the 10:00am service runs only a half hour and consists entirely of candles of sharing, followed by a very brief ministerial talk; coffee is then served for another half hour; followed by a full-length 11:00am service in which there are no candles of sharing. (This means that attendees who are easily irked by this segment of the service can simply choose to come to the second service.) The UU in Chattanooga TN holds a 20-minute special service before the main service, entirely for the purpose of inviting spoken joys/sorrows in a ritual setting. The down-side is (a) the area outside the sanctuary becomes cramped and loud with people arriving and waiting for the sanctuary to open for its regular service, and (b) those who prefer to arrive early for quiet reflection in the sanctuary have no opportunity to do so, unless they arrive before the doors close to begin the joys/concern period. The UU in Huntsville Alabama includes a half-page sheet in the order of service, for people to write out a joy or sorrow and check whether they wish it to be read aloud or just to alert the minister of their situation; click to see the form they use.
         All Souls UU in Colorado Springs places one blue and one yellow index card in each hymnal before the service begins; then during the minister's welcome, s/he encourages those who have not already alerted her to a joy/concern to write on the blue card a concern, the yellow card a joy, and to choose to sign or not sign their name. "These cards will be collected during the offering, and I will read them during the joys and concerns ceremony that follows." Note: the ushers who pass the offering baskets sort the blue and yellow cards and then hand them separately to the minister (who is sitting in the front row, not on stage); the pianist continues to play as the minister scans and sorts the cards (waiting for a signal to wind down). The minister then reads all the blue cards (concerns) before reading any of the yellow (joys) cards. Rev. Nori Rost told me that if she needs to decline to read a card because it is more of a political expression or announcement than a concern, she will go up to the person afterward and encourage them to speak about it to others during the fellowship time. She also will look at and gesture toward the person who wrote the card if it was signed so that others can learn who that person is and perhaps decide to speak to them after the service.
         Another possibility is to occasionally hold a SILENT joys and concerns during the offertory: while music is played, people come forward and drop a pebble in a bowl of water, which can be very moving for all and will encourage people to come forward who would never do so if they had to speak. This is especially good to do on a Sunday in which a Congregational Response time is to follow the sermon. First Unitarian Church of Austin keeps scores of low candles on ledges of the side of the sanctuary that is all window, and J&S consists of people coming forward en masse to light candles, as lovely music is played.
         Tahoma UU (Tacoma WA) regularly has more than 100 people attending service, so they have this printed at the bottom of the first page of the Order of Service: You are welcome to light a candle of joy or sorrow at anytime during the service in the front of the sanctuary on the right.
         First Unitarian Society of Exeter (NH) very effectively COMBINES silent and spoken Joys and Concerns in all services: The Offertory comes right after the Chalice Lighting, and people are invited to come forward and light candles in silence while the lovely music is being played and the plate is passed. (They ceremonialize this segment even more by having the service leader use a candle to carry the flame from the chalice to the bowl of sand on the left side of the church and then another candle from the chalice to the sand bowl on the right side; lovely very narrow candles are used for individual lightings.) Next is the sung-in-unison, "Dedication of Offering" (the basic "From all that dwells below the skies"). Then comes the invitation for spoken "Joys and Concerns" from the heart, with the service leader carrying the microphone into the congregation. The result is that only really significant current events seem to be spoken in Joys and Concerns (anniversaries of a loved one's death is handled by silent candles). As one who chose to light a candle herself, I found the emotion powerful to partake of it silently, so a candle lighting is not a second-best to speaking it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

    Chalice UU of Escondido CA begins Joys and Concerns by inviting individuals to stand and speak from their seat as a microphone is brought to them (and as the service leader drops a stone into water). Then, the service leader speaks this: "If there are any unspoken joys or concerns that you carry, please raise your hand now, and we will add them into the warmth of this community." The leader then slowly and silently scans the room, looking into the eyes of each individual whose hand is raised, then says, "May the warmth of this community extend to all who are rejoicing or hurting in our wider world."

    Cedars UU Church (Bainbridge Island, WA) has used this introduction to J & S: "We gather in community on Sunday morning — sharing the air, sharing the beauty, sharing ideas, sharing our collective spiritual journey and our singular life stories. As humans have done since they began gathering, we rejoice together in times of triumph, and we offer comfort and support in times of sorrow. The sharing we do and the caring we express strengthen the bonds of our community. We set aside this brief time in most of our services for sharing a few of those significant joys and sorrows that are part of our human experience. Please be respectful of each other and the time. This is not an occasion for announcements. Your concise comments will be appreciated and allow time for others who wish to share this morning."

    Woodinville UU Church (Seattle area) annotates "Joys and Sorrows" in its Order of Service this way: "Please keep your sharing to one breath so that all may share in this time." (They place it after the sermon.) The worship associate introduces it this way: "This is our fellowship, our community, in which we share and find strength and common purpose. Let us open our minds and hearts to one another to listen with love and understanding. If you have a joy or sorrow you would like to share, we invite you to come forward, tell us your name and briefly share, in a few sentences or one breath, your personal joy or sorrow, and place a stone in the water. For those of you who would rather quietly share in a smaller venue, the Lay Pastoral Associates will lead a Compassionate Connection circle in Rev. Lois' office directly after the service." Note: The worship associate holds the mic for each person who shares, never letting the speaker grab it.

    The UU Fellowship of Winston-Salem has "Joys and Sorrows" after the sermon (so that the sermon is not impinged upon by time constraints). The standard introduction they use describes this part as inviting people to share just "the milestones and millstones" in one's life, and further explains these as "stepping stones."

  • What if one or several individuals regularly abuse the process by speaking too often or for too long? - In some churches, the minister speaks frankly to these individuals in private, asking them to limit their time or to let a certain number of Sundays pass before participating in the process again. An ideal solution we have seen in several UU churches is this: the minister or trained service leader holds the hand-held mike and never lets go of it, simply extending it out to each speaker in turn (who has already lit a candle). There is always a way to politely pull the mike back and interject a "thank you for sharing," if it seems the person is far from ending.

  • What are other ways to speed up the process? - Some congregations use stones (placed into a sand tray or dropped into a glass bowl of water), as this is faster than trying to light a candle. (Harbor UU in Muskegon Michigan has those who wish to speak put either a stone or a feather into a wide bowl of sand — thus members can bring with them a special feather to deliver their share, or they can use one of the feathers provided.) Others establish a tradition in which everyone who wishes to participate comes forward at the start and forms a line, rather than coming forward one by one, so that when the line ends, the event is over. Sometimes a service associate will be the one lighting the candle, instead of the speaker. The huge congregation of Olympia Brown UU (Racine WI) manages to keep Joys & Concerns an integral but manageable part of their service by having a team of volunteers work it this way: one or more youths stand by a 4-foot-tall elegant metal sculpture (a "tree" of candles) at the front of the sanctuary. Meanwhile, 2 adults carry hand-held mikes into the congregational space, having people stand at their seats to speak their joy or concern. There is no down-time between speakers because the minister has directed, "Please keep your hand raised while someone is talking so that we can get the other microphone to you." While each person speaks, the youth light another candle. At Live Oak UU in Goleta CA, the minister always introduces the "Sharing of Joys and Sorrows" segment by voicing the congregation's intent that only "a few lines" should be spoken, for further discussion during the coffee hour. Community Unitarian Universalists in Brighton MI include this message in their Order of Service:

    Sharing of Joys and Sorrows. Please form a line by the window if you wish to speak; briefly share your joy or sorrow; the celebrant will light the candle for you.
  • Having Joys and Sorrows FOLLOW the sermon - The UU Church of Jacksonville FL and the UU Fellowship of Raleigh NC use the same, very effective way of ensuring that "Joys and Sorrows" are brief: this part of the service comes AFTER the "Address" and the congregational response to the Address. The only elements that follow "Joys and Sorrows" are: "Meeting Our Guests", "Announcements", and "Spoken Affirmation" (the church covenant). Thus participants have a sense of needing to keep their comments brief, because it is just about time to end the service. Also, this way, instead of congregants becoming restless toward the end of the sermon/address, they become restless during the Joys and Sorrows. Ministers and guest speakers do not have to shorten their message in order to accommodate unusually long Joys and Sorrows comments.
        After the sermon and offertory are over, the UU of Winston-Salem worship leader introduces "Joys and Sorrows" in two parts: beginning with a silent component and then spoken words. (1) SILENT sharing: "There are lots of ways we stay connected with each other here — sharing the joys and sorrows and milestones of our lives is one way to bring the matters of your heart into the embrace of this community. (pause) If you've arrived today with sorrow or joy but you're not ready or able to share the details out loud, I invite you to share by coming forward and placing a pebble or a shell in this bowl of water. (Spirit of Life plays while they do so.) May each of us be heard in the deep heart of compassion, where words are unnecessary to true understanding." (2) SPOKEN sharing: "One way to facilitate connections between us is to speak with me or with a member of the Care Committee after the service. Will the CARE COMMITTEE members who are present please stand? [THEY DO] Thank you. (pause) If you've personally experienced a loss, a serious illness, or a joyous life passage during this past week, you might want to share that out loud. Recognizing that our time is brief, please choose your words carefully, and speak only briefly. Aware of our desire to connect, please introduce yourself before you speak. (THEY SHARE) May we remember those who have spoken, those they have named, and those we hold in silence in our hearts.

  • Making opportunities for candles to be lit without speaking - In churches where a line forms for this part of the service, one can choose to light a candle and speak or just light a candle. At the UU in Columbia MD spoken joys and concerns are handled first, and then those who wish to light a candle without speaking are invited to come forward while flute music is playing. At the very large UU in Asheville NC, there are no spoken joys and concerns, but during a poignant piano solo, anyone who wishes is invited to come forward in silence and light candles. (Especially if the music is heartful, we find this method of joys and concerns to be very satisfyingly ritualistic, indeed inducing a lot of tears and the opportunity to reflect on one's own personal joys and concerns while candles are being lit.) Something similar happens at the UU Congregation of South Jersey Shore: After the spoken joys & concerns with candle lighting, those who wish to light a candle in silence are invited to do so, while the Offertory (and its music) is occurring. This is a great way to make the Offertory more "active" and to save time without a sense of speeding up. At the very large UU Church of Berkeley CA, the Order of Service begins, "ENTERING: At this time you may come forward to light a candle and write a joy or sorrow in the memory book." This is followed by standard opening fare, "Ringing the Bell" etc. This "memory book" is used by the ministerial team at this or the next service in order for one of the ministers to announce any life passage of major importance.

  • Lighting 5 candles to speak the congregation's overall commitments. - At the UU Church at Washington Crossing (Titusville NJ), the minister carries around a mic in the congregation for J&S for 2 or 3 Sundays per month. For any service that has a baptism or special event, J&S is dropped and a 5-candle lighting is recited by the minister instead (while a congregant lights the 5 large candles alongside the chalice). There are several different versions of the script, but all speak the congregation's chosen commitments in 5 ways. For example, one such script reads, "We light these candles to remember, affirm, and celebrate this faith community's commitment to our Unitarian Universalist principles: ♦ We choose to take the Journey Toward Wholeness, a path to a world free of oppression. ♦ We choose to remove barriers so that people of all abilities can participate fully in our religious community. ♦ We choose to be a Peace Site; our church and grounds are to be peaceful and used to promote peace. ♦ We choose to be a Welcoming Congregation, a church community that intentionally welcomes people who are bisexual, gay, lesbian, or transgender. ♦ We choose to be a Green Sanctuary, dedicated to caring for our building and grounds and all places on earth in ways that respect the interconnected web of all existence of which we are a part."

  • Inserting J&S forms into the Order of Service - Recently the UU Church of Huntsville (AL) switched away from individually spoken comments to a more streamlined and ceremonial form: A form is inserted into each Order of Service in which a J or S can be written. The minister then reads these, as appropriate, at the J&S time while someone lights a candle for each. If the person has signed the form, then their name is read, too. If it is a big joy, then the minister asks the person to stand and be recognized (but not for a sorrow). There is also a box to check if the person would like the minister to call them on the phone.

  • Making J and S more ceremonial - UU Topeka took home from the 2007 General Assembly session on J & S a new idea and has worked it into its Sunday services in this way: (1) On the first Sunday of every month, there are no spoken J & S at either service, only silent forms done by candle-lighting, with soothing music. As Rev. Lisa Schwartz observes, "This allows the introverts to participate." Because UU Topeka has 2 morning services, on the remaining Sundays, congregants are (2) invited to come forward and speak, first the sorrows, and following on that, any joys. To make this section richly ceremonial, the same short refrain is sung 3X each Sunday: to lead into the sorrows, to transition to the joys, and to close out the whole ritual. The refrain is #1002 of our "Singing the Journey" hymnal supplement. The worship leader begins the ceremony by saying something like this: "Each Sunday we set aside time in our service to bring our joys and our sorrows into the embrace of this loving community. We will begin by sharing our sorrows. If you have something that's been weighing heavily on your heart this week, we invite you to come forward now and [silently light a candle/briefly share your name and your sorrow aloud at the microphone]." At the second service (bigger attendance), congregants (3) submit their J or S in writing in brief (in advance), and the worship leader reads them. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
         Bradford Community Church in Kenosha WI has their talented pianist play gently in the background as each person speaks their joy or sorrow. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
         The Universalist Unitarian Church of Farmington (MI) prints the same call-and-response in the order of service every Sunday, to be recited as the invitation to Joys and Sorrows. They call it "Litany of Gathering." It was created by the church as a whole. Click here to read the "Litany of Gathering".
         The UU of Winston-Salem has listed in the Order of Service, right after "Joys and Sorrows" (which comes well after the sermon) this element: "A Ritual of Remembrance: Naming U.S. Military Deaths" (and then the name of the person doing the reading that week). It is very ceremonial and moving, and then is followed by "Silent Meditation" and then "Closing Hymn".

  • "Centering and Stones of Intention" - In their very large and wide sanctuary, the UU of Fort Myers FL precedes their silent process with a meditation, silence, and then musical accompaniment for the ceremony. They have four pottery basins, each with a large lit candle in it. Two are at the front and 1 each along the window alcoves at the sides of the sanctuary about 1/3 back from the front stage. The members know to line up in 4 columns (the 2 aisles separating the 3 sections of seats, plus the 2 side aisles) while one at a time each walks forward to place a stone. The norm is to have the front of the line set a good distance back from each ceremony site, to enable privacy. It is announced that people can pick up a stone in the box alongside each station, or they can use the stone that they picked up outside the sanctuary as they entered. About 1/3 of the 200 people in attendance line up to place a stone, and yetthis ceremony proceeds just a normal length of instrumental accompaniment, so it is a way for congregations to have both the benefit of a segment of instrumental music and a J&S ceremony in each service. Note the innovation of having a basin of stones outside the sanctuary for people to pick up on the way in. This offers the additional ceremonial feel of holding the stone and focusing intention throughout the early part of the service. Highly recommended.

  • 3 stone colors to signify Joy, Concern, Sorrow - The UU of Lakeland FL uses a single station up front for the silent placement of stones while instrumental music is played. Their innovation is to use 3 different colors (white, light blue, dark blue) of stones to signify whether an intention is a joy, a concern, or a sorrow.

  • "Worship on Wednesday" service includes Joys and Sorrows - At one of the largest UU churches in America, All Souls Unitarian Church of Tulsa OK, there are far too many congregants Sunday morning (about 500 at each of the two services) to do any Joys and Sorrows. Instead, there is a church dinner every Wednesday, followed by a short evening service in the chapel (instead of the large sanctuary). It is mostly a musical, contemplative event, and during the first piano piece, any who wish come forward to silently light a candle. The church also holds a "Soulfull Sundown" worship service in the chapel one Friday per month, with more ritual and emotional content, intended to attract young adults as well as parents of young kids (as there are separate activities for kids).

  • Cultivating Public Speaking Skills - At West Hills UU Fellowship in Portland OR, the chalice and candles area occupies center stage. Their custom is that each person who comes forward to light a candle stands squarely behind this small table and thus faces the audience while speaking and candle-lighting. One senses this is a marvelous way to cultivate public speaking skills that come from the heart, and thus to make it possible for an entirely lay-led congregation to sound very professional and welcoming in all aspects of the service.

  • Encouraging Heartful Shares / Opportunity for Prayer - Tracey Wilkinson at All Souls UU in Colorado Springs, used this text for introducing Joys and Sorrows:
    "With this beautiful music still resounding within us, let us enter a space of silence, where we can reflect on the joys and sorrows we've brought with us in our hearts this morning. (silence) If you have something heartfelt you would like to share with this beloved community, I invite you to stand and a microphone will be brought to you. Tell us your name, and I'll light a candle." (congregants share their J&S) Closing: "In response to these prayers that have been spoken, and to honor those still unspoken, let us pray." (silence).

  • Closing out Joys & Concerns - In many congregations, the service leader lights a final candle and says something like, "This candle is for those joys and sorrows that remain unspoken." UU Society East (Manchester CT) has the service leader say, "Let us hold in our hearts those who have spoken and those who have been mentioned. Let us also be mindful of those joys and concerns that remain unspoken in the deeper recesses of our hearts." The UU Church of South County (Mission Viejo CA) closes its Joys and Concerns with this Responsive Recitation printed in the Order of Service:
    Leader - May the joys and concerns spoken here this morning
    Congregation - And those which remain unspoken, known only to those who hold them close
    Leader - May all these joys and concerns be enfolded in the warmth of this community
    Congregation - And may that warmth extend in sympathy and compassion to all who are hurting in our wider world.
    West Hills UU Fellowship of Portland OR closes its "Joys and Sorrows" with a familiar chant tune (based on, and thus honoring, Pagan heritage), with these words printed in the Order of Service:
    The river is flowing, flowing and growing.
    The river is flowing down to the sea.
    Father, carry me, child I will always be.
    Mother, carry me down to the sea.


    13. OFFERING
    This is listed sometimes as "Offertory," "Sharing Our Gifts", "Building Our Unitarian Universalist Congregation (Offering)". Very rarely (e.g., UU Clemson SC) no offering is taken during the service itself, but a container is put at the doorway into which offerings can be placed as congregants enter. As mentioned earlier, the offering can be the time in which a musician plays a solo, rather than scheduling a distinct time for a musical interlude. If it immediately follows the spoken Joys & Concerns, it can also be the time when Candles are lit by those who wish to have their sharing acknowledged but not spoken.

    The UU Congregation of Whidbey Island (WA) has their service leader introduce the offering by acknowledging something like: "There are many ways that we contribute to our congregation. We thank [name] for X and [name] for Y, etc. Our monetary contributions are also vital. Many of us contribute on a monthly rather than a weekly basis, however, so it may seem awkward for us to just pass the plate. Instead, I invite you to receive and pass the basket while contemplating all the good work that comes from our joined donations."

    The UU Fellowship of New Bern (NC) sometimes uses this intro to the offering: "This house is a house of freedom, built and sustained by the gifts of those who come to receive what they need and give what they can. This house is your house: may it always be worthy of the gifts it receives from you. The morning offering will now be given and received."

    The UU Fellowship of Alamosa (CO) uses a rectangular basket, and at one end includes a small basket filled with folded small slips of paper — each containing a single evocative word. People are encouraged to pick a slip and reflect on its meaning in their life, whether or not they place anything into the offering side of the basket.

    Tahoma UU has two places in its service where the congregation has an opportunity to recite in unison. The first accompanies the chalice lighting and is called "Unison Reading". The second concludes the offering as the ushers stand up front; it is called "Dedication of the Offering". An example used for the latter:

    We dedicate ourselves and our offerings
    to the work of this congregation;
    weaving a tapestry of love we call community
    both within and beyond these walls. — Rev. Bill Graves

    14. UU "DOXOLOGY"
    For those of us who grew up in a Christian church in which the doxology was sung to its standard tune, it may be a comfort to experience the same tune, but to very different words, used as a standard feature of the UU service. Several different word forms can be found to this short tune in the UU hymnal. Most common is this one:

    From all that dwell below the skies
    Let songs of hope and faith arise
    Let peace, goodwill on Earth be sung
    [or: Let beauty, truth, and good be sung]
    Through every land by every tongue.
    For UU churches that use the same doxology every week (usually following the offertory), the words may or may not be printed in the Order of Service. It may be listed as "Doxology" or as "Song of Affirmation." I am aware of at least one minister who has written several of her own variations on this doxology.


    Peterborough Unitarian Church NH / UU Fellowship of San Dieguito CA / UU of San Antonio

    Some congregations classify this segment in the Order of Service as "Sermon," but others list it as "Message" or "Morning Message", or "Service," or "Reflections", or "Homily."



    What a fabulous way for homebound or travelling members to catch up on what they missed on Sunday! Although a number of UU congregations post written copies of sermons on their website, a growing number are posting audios — sometimes of the entire church service, but more often just the sermon. Audios are preferable for a number of reasons:

    • Much is gained by hearing the intonations of voice and the congregational response.
    • Some ministers and guest speakers depart considerably from their written sermon or notes when speaking.
    • I (Connie Barlow) enjoy lying down and closing my eyes and thus relaxing when I click on an audio sermon.
    • Some congregations are posting podcasts downloadable from I-Tunes so that folks with I-Pods can listen to the sermons while driving.

    All this is surprisingly simple to do. Surely your congregation has someone with the requisite skills; put out a call to find him or her. In the meantime, you can peruse the UU WEBSITES WITH SERMON AUDIOS that I enjoy listening to.


    Some congregations regularly or occasionally include a Congregational Response or "Talk-Back" time within the service itself, following the sermon. Others never do. The UU Atlanta offers a "Sermon Seminar" time in the minister's office for those who wish to attend, but only after the first service, ending 15 minutes before the second service (9:00 - 10:00 first service; 10:00 - 10:15 coffee; 10:15 - 10:45 Sermon Seminar; 11:00 - noon second service). Summit UU near San Diego CA offers any who wish a chance for a "Circle Discussion", to discuss the sermon among themselves and the speaker, beginning 15 minutes into the post-service fellowship/coffee time. The UU Fellowship of Durango CO allots 30 minutes for refreshments and mingling and then offers Q&A and discussion with the guest speaker (they have no settled minister) for the next half hour back in the sanctuary. Central Coast UU Fellowship (Newport OR) takes a 15-minute coffee time within the service itself, then reassembles for a half hour of congregational response, ended with a circle of hand-holding and song to close the service. Most attendees stay for the response time because (a) some have driven 35 miles to this rural fellowship and (b) the fellowship rents space for the service only on Sunday morning, so this is the only gathering of the entire week. Tahoma UU includes in its Order of Service an opportunity for silent reflection right after the sermon. They call it "Setting an Intention".
         Rev. Erica Hewitt at Live Oak UU Congregation in Goleta CA uses the back page of the Order of Service to (a) mention what is happening that day in kids R.E. and (b) suggest thoughtful questions for discussing the sermon with others during coffee hour.


    17. MEDITATION (Guided or Silent)
    Many congregations include an opportunity for short, silent meditation — listed as "Meditation", "Silence", "Contemplative Moment", usually towards the beginning of the service. Guided meditation is much trickier to accomplish among spiritually independent, and especially humanistic, UUs. Nonetheless, we experienced a very successful guided meditation led by the minister of Olympia Brown UU Church in Racine, WI, and apparently a guided meditation is performed there every Sunday. The building was very old, and, as we recall, contained some Christian stained-glass imagery grounded in its Universalist roots, so perhaps this UU church does not attract a large number of UUs who might object to a guided meditation. We were told that the guided meditation regularly addresses "Spirit of Life" or "Great Spirit", rather than "God". Because the pianist beautifully accompanies the spoken-word part of the meditation before dropping into silence, this moving part of the service reminded us of the kind of guided meditations that one commonly finds in Unity churches. At All Souls Unitarian of Tulsa (OK), the minister leads a prayer, followed by a short silent meditation, followed by a "Prayer Response" played gently by the pianist or softly hummed by the choir — exceedingly moving! At Cedars UU (Bainbridge Island, WA), the minister leads a short "guided meditation" accompanied by soft, live piano; the piano continues softly during the minute or so of silence that ends this meditation: the soft piano sound very effectively helps one move through the inevitable human sounds that otherwise disrupt absolute silence. Other UU congregations effectively build in a short guided or silent meditation as lead-in or for closing the Joys and Sorrows segment (see above) The UU in Ann Arbor MI has a very large attendance, but the minister-led "Silence and Reflection" beautifully serves as a humanist-friendly prayer or meditation while also calling forth the feelings of a Joys and Sorrows component, though no names are mentioned: the sentences and phrases have long pauses, so it truly is an opportunity for reflection, and there is a section in which we are invited to reflect on our own challenges and those of others. It was exceedingly skillfully presented when we experienced it in September 2014.


    Sculpture at center of the ceiling of the round sanctuary
    at Palomar UU Fellowship, Vista CA

    Many UU congregations have made this UU hymn a somewhat regular part of their service. The UU in Odessa FL sings it every Sunday, so by now everyone knows the words. A wonderful bonus to this is that the kids are taught how to use sign-language for the song, and any who wish spontaneously come forward during the singing and sign the song. The UU Congregation of Green Valley AZ also sings this song every week, and they print in the Order of Service the words for the first verse and that same verse in Spanish, and thus sing it twice each time. At the UU in Woodstock VT, we experienced what we regard as the most moving way to sing this song: the congregation sings the single verse twice, but on the second time the piano drops out after a few bars and the congregation sings it a capella, almost like a whisper so that it feels very prayerful (indeed, it evokes tears!). The People's Church (UU) in Ludington MI has the words posted large on two opposing walls of their small sanctuary; at the close of the service congregants are invited to stand and form a large circle, hold hands, and sing. The UU Fellowship of New Bern, NC, hums together the melody of Spirit of Life, accompanied by piano, as a standard component of their Sunday service.
        Penny Wollan-Kriel, a member of the Abraham Lincoln UU Congregation of Springfield IL, has created a simple and lovely DANCE for "Spirit of Life" that children and any adult can easily learn — and that can even be "danced" by someone seated on a stool, as it is largely upper body movement while standing in place. Check out our 4-minute VIDEO of the DANCE, as taught by Penny.

    A congregation that loves to sing is a blessing for anyone attending the service. Even in churches too small or disinclined to form a choir, it is possible to cultivate a spirit of congregational singing. At the UU in Cheyenne WY, where there is no choir, one of the ministers simply announces the hymn by inviting anyone who wishes to serve as the "impromptu choir" to come forward to help give gusto to the singing and to face the rest of the congregation. The time it takes to assemble this impromptu choir is not wasted time; it gives the pianist a chance to play through the hymn entirely once, which then helps the congregation know how to sing an unfamiliar song, much better than just playing the first few bars. Indeed, for any hymn that is not well known by the congregants, and especially if it is complex, it is very helpful to announce that the pianist will play it through entirely once before the singing begins. Many churches ensure that if there is no choir leading the singing that someone with a great voice comes forward and stands onstage or at the pulpit microphone singing, and thus leading the congregation (in a few congregations, that someone was the minister with a great voice!).

    At the UU Church of Tucson, a "Family Choir" sings at all the intergenerational services. This, of course, is a mix of kids and adults, and they practice on Sunday mornings before the service.

    The UU Fellowship of Galveston County sings every week the same short "Call to Service" to begin the service and the same "Choral Benediction" to close the service, with words printed in small type in the Order of Service. It is a beautiful way to encourage community voice in a small congregation and to establish a ritualistic tone for the service. The Call to Service is a familiar pagan chant, and the Choral Benediction is a familiar Christian hymn, with rewritten lyrics.

    Call to Service: Gathered here in the mystery of the hour/ Gathered here in one strong body / Gathered here in the struggle and the power / Spirit draw near.

    Choral Benediction: Blest be the tied that binds, our hearts in care and love. / A fellowship of kindred minds, none other is above. / And now as we depart, to face life's joys and pains. / We shall be joined in hope and heart, until we meet again.

    All Souls Unitarian of Tulsa (OK) is a very large congregation that has a lot of time for music and singing in their congregation by eliminating the Joys and Sorrows from the service components (and they also have no chalice lighting). They begin with a musical prelude, followed by a powerful "introit" of opening words delivered by the minister, and immediately the congregation joins in a six-line "Call to Worship" which is sung the same every week. Then the "Invocation" (church covenant) is read in unison while all still stand, followed by unison singing of the UU doxology. Live Oak UU in Austin TX sings its benediction at the close of every service, and an adult stands up front to lead hand-signing of the short verse ("And We Believe in Life" by Shelley Jackson Denham).

    Stained glass at Live Oak UU, Goleta CA

    Most congregations do announcements at or near the beginning of the service, always before the chalice is lit. Some use this as a time for late arrivals to enter and be seated without disturbing the reverential atmosphere that ensues after the chalice is lit. A few congregations relegate announcements to the end of service, though we find that this sometimes breaks awkwardly from the reverential feel of service end. Olympia Brown UU in Racine WI, a huge congregation, has a wonderful way of handling announcements: Those who wish to make an announcement line up along one wall (same format each week, so no directions have to be given), and one by one come to the center, passing the mike one to the next, with no downtime and no minister facilitating. There is an absolute "no more than 50 words" rule that is exactingly obeyed. The one Sunday we witnessed this process it worked without a hitch, quickly, and with the added benefit of connecting voice and face with particular announcements so that discussion could ensue easily after the service. We highly recommend this format!

    The UU Congregation of Gwinnett (Lawrenceville GA) has a tradition of unison reading for this, with the recitation printed in the Order of Service: "We extinguish this flame but not the light of truth, the warmth of community, or the fire of commitment. These we carry in our hearts until we are together again." The UU Church of Long Beach CA turns this into a responsive reading, by having the service leader recite the foregoing, and then the congregation responds, "The Light goes with us into the world."


    Memorial Garden at First UU Church of San Diego, CA

    22. CLOSINGS
    Perhaps half of the congregations we visited closed with a group hand-hold, often accompanied by group singing of a well-known short song that is sung at this time every Sunday, such that no hymnals are needed. Some have congregants rise from their seats and hold hands, also bridging to the next row. (Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship prints the words to Hymn No. 155, "Circle Round for Freedom," in the Order of Service; all rise and hold hands across the isles, with minister and choir stepping down and facing all from ahead of front row and singing in harmony; a capella is very powerful.) Small congregations sometimes have a tradition of leaving seats and forming a circle around the perimeter of the room. Some have a musical postlude following the minister's closing words; others do not. Some have a tradition of encouraging the congregants to stay seated for the postlude (speaking the intention or simply having it printed in the Order of Service); others have a tradition of people beginning to exit while the postlude plays. The UU in Birmingham MI always closes with Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" melody, with 4 lines of verse that the congregation has come to know so it need not be printed in the Order of Service. The Billings UU Fellowship (Montana) forms a circle around the perimeter, holds hands, and sings the same 2-verse song, "Shalom," each week; it has the words posted high on two opposing walls, so that no matter where you are in the circle you can see the words and thus sing along.

       UU Society East (Manchester CT) recites in unison the same benediction every week while all join hands. Their innovation is that the benediction has been painted in lovely calligraphy (left) that hangs at the front of the sanctuary, so that no one needs to awkwardly read from the order of service and so that even newcomers can join in.

       LEFT: Bioregionally attuned art on permanent display in the sanctuary of the UU Church of the Palouse in Moscow Idaho, home of rich glacial soils now dedicated to growing wheat.

    RIGHT: View from the pews toward the head of the sanctuary at UU of Monmouth County, Lincroft NJ.



       FLOWERS: Live Oak UU has been very successful at inspiring congregants to volunteer to bring in flowers for the sanctuary: members are phoned in anticipation of their birthdays and asked whether they would like to commemorate their birthday by bringing flowers to the sanctuary on the nearest Sunday; their name and birthday are then listed in the service bulletin.

    THEME ART: Some UU congregations have a different banner for each season hung across the sanctuary front wall. Some have a gorgeous piece of art that remains year-round and that fosters reverential meditation. Some have huge windows that allow congregants to gaze outdoors during the service without turning their heads. The UU of Traverse City MI has a very interesting approach to providing theme-based sanctuary art: A bare wall is at the front of the sanctuary, and a committee is in charge of decorating this wall (and the altar) each week. The individuals so involved seem to find this to be a major creative outlet, rather than a burden. Also, a "chalice" candle may be brought in, too, appropriate to the theme. For example, when we (Connie Barlow & Michael Dowd) led our Stardust Intergenerational Service there, the sanctuary had been decorated as seen below, with a star-shaped candle holder serving as the chalice.

    QUICKLY SETTING UP UU SYMBOLS IN RENTED CHURCH SANCTUARY. Photos below show how the Unitarian Universalist Community of Lake County (CA) sets up the sanctuary in the old Methodist church sanctuary it rents, late on Sunday morning (after the Methodist service). The UUs created banners for the front. All banners remain on the wall at all times, but all are flipped to the reverse side when UUs are done with their service. All except the UU Flaming Chalice banner are just blank on the reverse side. The Flaming Chalice flips (as shown) to reveal the red Methodist symbol.


    Some congregations have a paid R.E. director and volunteer teachers; others have both a paid R.E. director and give some payment to teachers; others are entirely volunteer. Some have no R.E. director, but instead channel their financial resources to pay trained or "volunteer" teachers a stipend each month for their time in class and required attendance at periodic meetings of all teachers. Some R.E. teachers are recruited to work in pairs, not only to ensure a knowledgeable backup in case of illness but also so that each teacher is in the classroom only every other week, giving them a chance to attend the full service on alternate weeks. Some are recruited for only 6 - 8 week time blocks, the length of a short curriculum, as it is generally easier to recruit someone for 2 months rather than 9. The UU Church of Atlanta solved the problem of teachers wishing they didn't have to miss the service by holding two services, even though the congregation is small; no R.E. is offered during the first service, so that teachers can attend. Unitarian Church of Evanston IL attracts teachers by holding their children's R.E. classes and a variety of adult classes and discussion groups in the hour preceding the 11:00 a.m. service (and at 9:30, families can come early and begin with a half-hour "family worship"); grade school kids and older attend the first part of the 11:00 service and then go to mixed-age art and music classes, managed by different teachers. West Seattle UU Fellowships helps R.E. teachers experience their single service on Sunday mornings by providing each teacher with an audio CD of the service. Some UU congregations encourage their adult members to offer one-time programs for kids in their vocational or avocational areas of expertise. Note: The large First Unitarian Church of Dallas created a week-long summer day camp for kids and youth in 2006, using the theme "Evol-UU-tion". It is based on kids curricula material drawn from or linked to this website: "We Are Made of Stardust", "Coming Home to North America", "Great Story Beads", "Great Story Parables", and "The River of Life".


  • A "ONE-ROOM CHURCH" SETTING WITH KIDS. When we visited the UU congregation in Palatka FL (All Souls Church), it had been meeting for less than 6 months. Average attendance in their lovely rental facility is 15 adults, and 2 to 6 elementary to middle school age kids. There is no additional room for holding R.E. But this congregation had a wonderful solution: At the front far right of the room, there was a coffee table with coloring pages related to the sermon theme, and a big armchair with a half dozen dolls and stuffed animals in it. In the welcome announcement, parents were told that their kids could come forward anytime to sit by the table and color, or to pick up a "Friend" (stuffed animal or doll) and take that friend back to their seat to enjoy the service with them. The beauty of this is that with the kids area being up front, most kids have a sense that they need to be quiet while up there, and their parents can keep an eye on them without any effort.

  • A "ONE-ROOM CHURCH" SETTING WITHOUT KIDS. A small UU congregation in a tiny town along the Pacific NW coast rents on Sunday mornings a gorgeous one-room community center, with a full-pane view of the crashing surf — and for less than $20 per week. Because it is mostly a retirement community, the congregation chose to not accommodate young families with children, and thus to maintain their lovely meeting room and very low costs, and to fully attend to the needs of the older membership for whom the congregation was started.

  • MEETING IN THE "RELIGIOUS EDUCATION" WING OF A SHRINKING MAINLINE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. In 2012, Michael Dowd delivered a guest sermon at the Unitarian University Fellowship in Alamosa (Colorado). Their small fellowship had arrived at a superb and innovative solution to meet the needs of both the older adult congregants and the two young families who sought a very liberal religious education for their children. The solution: The fellowship had been renting on Sunday mornings a one-room meeting space at the community hospice center. To accommodate the kids, they switched their location to a local Presbyterian congregation that had a very large building but a dwindling congregation. The Alamosa UU rented two rooms in an otherwise vacant R.E. wing of the church: one room was just large enough to accommodate seating 30-40 adults for the service itself; the other room became a "one-room schoolhouse" for all the kids (with the older kids kept interested by eliciting their help in assisting the younger kids). Alamosa UU also nurtured good relations with the Presbyterians by (a) sharing responsibility to bring/serve the once-a-month Sunday pre-service breakfast (and thus also mingling socially with the parent church congregation), and (2) switching to a 10:30 am rather than the original 10:00 am service time so as to be fully in sync with the 10:30 am Presbyterian service — and thus ensuring that the UUs would not take all the best parking spaces!

    The R.E. director at the UU Church of Springfield (MO), showed me a copy of the looseleaf notebooks that ushers are equipped with. If a parent-child combination enters who appear to be newcomers, the notebook is offered to instruct the parent about the location of the nursery, an overview of the R.E. classes available, and a basic and inviting introduction to UU and the UU Sunday service. Apparently the Springfield church learned about this practice from the R.E. directors at First Unitarian of Houston and the Oklahoma City UU.

            L: quilt at UU Fellowship of Salina, Kansas

    R: stained glass window at Westside UU of Rio Rancho, NM

    The Unitarian Universalist Church of Jacksonville has a marvelous and easy way to help newcomers get directions to come to the church. On their home page, beneath a photo of their church, there is a link called "Directions to our church". When you click on it, you are at a modified mapquest that shows a map and makes it easy to type in your home address and click for a full mapquest directions list.

    The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro (GA) is a small congregation with a half-time minister. They spent a lot of time tweaking their order of service to find the best sequence for their needs, then printed out copies on thick paper and re-use these every week. Obviously, the sermon title is not in it, nor the hymns, but the hymns are written on a small whiteboard on an easel at the front of the small sanctuary. Eliminates the need to create and print out an order of service each week. The Whidbey Island UU economizes on paper (one paper folded) by having the Order of Service begin on the cover page (with the Congregational name and info moved to the just the top area).

    The Unitarian Universalist Church of Fargo-Moorhead ND is a small congregation that chooses to employ part-time 3 members of the church instead of a part-time or full-time minister. In addition to a part-time office manager and a part-time member services coordinator, one of their members is paid 10 hours per week to serve as Worship Coordinator: to find and communicate with the guest speaker, empower the volunteer service leader for that week, and ensure that other elements of each Sunday morning service will be handled well. Note: Our experience (as guest speakers) with this system was very positive — whereas with an entirely volunteer committee, sometimes important communications slip through the cracks or have to be communicated twice.

    Virtually all congregations appreciate the importance of having a smooth, swift, and professional flow between service components. UU Fairfax VA was unusual in its use of very brief instrumental interludes by the pianist or a guest musician to signify the some of the shifts in the flow of service. Perhaps because of the stunning views of nature through the sanctuary glass walls, I found these musical interludes very centering and satisfying as I shifted my gaze out to the forest each time.

    Woodinville Unitarian Universalist Church (Seattle area of Washington) has professional round buttons made as member nametags, rather than the standard pinned or necklace rectangular name tag.

    Woodinville Unitarian Universalist Church (Seattle area of Washington) makes use of at least two ways to accommodate a growing congregation in their current building space: (1) On Sunday mornings, the children do not take up any congregational seats, as they enter the sanctuary in a "Children's Processional" right after the Gathering Song, and go immediately to their rug up front. After they are settled on the rug, the Order of Service has a "Candle of Compassion," then a children's story ("Time for All Ages"). Following the story, one of the older kids serves as "Junior Worship Associate", officiating the "Children's Chalice Lighting", and then the congregation sings the short printed words for the "Children's Recessional." (2) The sanctuary is bare floor, with the kitchen adjacent across the hall by the front of the sanctuary. Immediately after the service, some chairs are moved, buffet tables (snacks and coffee) put in place, and that section of the sanctuary doubles as a Fellowship Hall (with no fear of food stains on a carpet).

  • Click for a list of UU programs and theme topics offered by Connie Barlow and Rev. Michael Dowd during our travels.

  • Visit the homepage of our website, The Great Story to view our itinerary, to download educational materials helpful for ministers and R.E. teachers, and to access many more resources.

  • For a lot more assistance in ways to conduct Sunday services at Unitarian Universalist fellowships and churches, visit the WORSHIP page of the Unitarian Universalist Association website.


    Jon Cleland-Host, a scientist and lay leader of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Midland MI, has developed a list of worship resources with evolution as the theme that can help a minister or worship leader flesh out an order of service for any evolution-theme service, notably what has come to be known as "Evolution Sunday" to commemorate Darwin's birth each year on February 12. (posted February 2009)

  • WWW www.TheGreatStory.org

    Home  |  About The Great Story  |  About Us