The trouble with custom-crafted words

So, then, what might future worship look like? And what will it accomplish?

Peacebang, that is, blogger, Unitarian Universalist minister and friend Victoria Weinstein asked, and I replied

One concern I have is the cultural norm, among Unitarian Universalists, for creating and finding the right words for every service: weddings, funerals, dedications, Sunday services, the lot. The right words, and lots of them.

This tendency comes from the laudable standard of speaking to the context of the ministry you’re in, and the liturgical tradition of the centerpiece sermon and the long prayer, composed by the minister.

I’m not saying we should abandon either, but we should count the cost, not only in the salaries of those who draft them, but on the dependence the words create. And this has spread to new compositions to open worship, close worship, kindling flames, talking to children — even reaching to preaching texts.

Dependence? We like to think of ourselves as a laity-driven religious movement, but that’s only true in certain constrained ways. If our religious experience relies on an endless stream of original composition, or at least curated selection, then someone has to produce it or find it. And that speaks of specialized skills — or haphazard results. Is this creative output our most pressing need?

While traditions with liturgical textual traditions seem restrictive, the access to a reliable, common language of faith can also be very liberating.

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Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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