Contemporary Worship Review

(Posted with permission from Christopher Sims)

The first UU Contemporary Worship Conference
held in San Diego, California at First Unitarian Universalist Church is an
indicator of the future to come in the way we do religion as Unitarian


I felt the conference, the first of its kind
organized by visionary and leader Michael Tino, would be well-attended. I had
this feeling deep in my being that the conference would be special. My feeling
was right: Over one-hundred thirty people attended the conference. Michael
informed me that he had to turn people down because of not having enough room
for more who were eager, interested.
I am fortunate in that regard.
To have attended the first UU Contemporary
Worship Conference with so many amazing visionaries from such places as
Berkeley, CA, Santa Barbara, CA, Boston, MA, Iowa, and Houston, TX, was indeed a
From meeting my good friend Matt Meyer at the
airport in San Diego, as well as two Unitarian Universalists who attend the UU
Church of Las Cruces, New Mexico, the magic of our gathering was in full effect.
And why not a place as beautiful, serene, and colorful as San Diego?!
In my cab ride, the pace and direction of the
conference was set with the need for contemporary worship in our faith. With the
Reverend of the UU Church of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Rev. Nancy Anderson, I had
a delightful and thought-provoking conversation about contemporary worship and
the issue of Young Adults in our congregations.
Rev. Anderson and I spoke honestly about the
absence of, and need for, a Young Adult presence in our churches. She was well
aware of the situation, providing a prospective I had not encountered recently.
Rev. Anderson made a strong point: those of us who are Young Adults and who
attend weekly Sunday services should be more active, visible. She recommended we
join our churches leadership committees, for instance. I agreed, having not
second-guessed her rationale. However, I have met Young Adults who do belong to
or have served our congregations as leaders. I wonder how many of us have served
as leaders of our many congregations.
We were definitely out-numbered at the
conference. There were lots of DREs, ministers, choir directors, and lay leaders
who are aging or elder members in attendance. We Young Adults existed in small
clusters, often scattered in groups of twos, threes, or fours throughout the
church’s beautiful landscape.
It was very inspiring and encouraging to witness
so many people interested in contemporary worship. From conversation to
conversation, an element of contemporary worship was a hot topic at lunch,
dinner, and even in conversations outside of the dining hall. There is
excitement about a change in the way we do religion as Unitarian
The large question for many ministers and lay
leaders of our churches, is how do we bring forth these ideas, that can be
different and radical, into congregations that are not used to such change. Some
of the ministers had already introduced contemporary worship services to their
congregations. They spoke of fright and reserve as they described in detail what
they had done. The Rev. Beth Johnson of the Palomar Unitarian Universalist
Fellowship of Vista, California described a worship service she had designed and
led. She used a Michael Franti song that played throughout the entire service.
She used poetry as a main element also. Beth shared with me that she stirred her
congregation with such a unique service. She stated that her congregation is
warming up to her ideas.
This is where the inspiration and hope is:
Although contemporary worship is being met with some fright and reservation,
some congregations are considering the colorful and creative energy such worship
can bring.
The key, as many of us agreed, is to introduce
certain elements of contemporary worship into Sunday services slowly,
methodically. Bit by bit, we are ushering in new forms of worship practices to
people who would like to experience something different, but not too much at
first. We have to understand most of our churches have been doing worship in
specific ways for quite some time. It will take this kind of practice to ready
our churches for new styles of doing religion different.
A djembe’ drum at the start of service, a
story-song in the middle of service, or decorating our churches with colorful
arrays of cloth or silk, are all ways of introducing contemporary worship in our
I attended Sunday service at First UU San Diego
after the conference had ended the previous day. Matt Meyer brought some of
these same elements we spoke about and learned from Dr. Marcia McFee, a
contemporary worship specialist. The congregates of First Unitarian Universalist
Church, San Diego, California were really involved in the service. They
appreciated difference, many speaking with Matt after the service was
Our Soulful Sundown was met with a lot of
anticipation. There was a buzz about it. To know that this kind of excitement
exists for the baby of the contemporary worship movement in our Unitarian
Universalist Faith is a great feeling. If there is any form of contemporary
worship that is radical or challenging, it is a Soulful Sundown worship service.
Matt and I carefully plan our services. Before
we greet the people with what we do, we have an understanding of what needs to
be involved as we present in front of a diverse crowd in age and worship
experience. However, Soulful Sundown worship services are held at unconventional
times at our churches, and during our conferences. We have the freedom to be
radical, challenging, or different. People are expecting our services to be this
Soulful Sundown worship services have a ways to
go to be official Sunday morning services.
With this excitement, and hunger for something
new, who knows?!
The first UU Contemporary Worship Conference was
a huge success. Because it happened, is proof enough we Unitarian Universalists
are changing, are ready for a new future as we worship and gather to strengthen
our beloved faith.
(c) Christopher Donshale Sims 2007
All rights reserved by author
must prove to the people a better day is

— Curtis Mayfield


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