Over the years of UUCC’s life, some of the most powerful moments in worship have come during the personal sharing of joys and sorrows – when we’ve heard celebrations of sobriety anniversaries, news of devastating medical diagnoses, grief over the loss of loved ones, joy in welcoming a new family member, the poignant impact of a job change.
I remember my own personal experiences of sharing from the joys and sorrows microphone that I was pregnant with our first child, that I had experienced a miscarriage, that my father had died. Those were sacred moments for me.
Many of you have had your own sacred moments of mustering the courage to speak of your own pain, or mustering the courage to share your joy, despite your nerves. And many of us have valued the privilege of bearing witness to others’ vulnerability. Through their sharing, we have felt connected, even to those we’ve never met.
But the truth is that not everyone has experienced such positive value from our spoken joys and sorrows practice. Some feel that its informality and unpredictability are a distraction from the other content of the worship service. Some resent the amount of time it takes. Some feel that the quality of what is shared often doesn’t meet the “personal and profound” criteria. And some are genuinely harmed by the content of what has been spoken during that time.
In worship this past Sunday, I shared that we were immediately suspending the practice of having a live microphone at which anyone and everyone is invited to speak of their own personal joys and sorrows. I said that we would enter a time of discernment about how best to share these parts of our lives.
Since then, I’ve received a variety of feedback – from anger and disappointment because the sharing of joys and sorrows is the most highly valued element of a worship service; to gratitude that we’re “finally” addressing a long-held concern; to those who say they wish things were different, but they understand that the practice is not working well right now. And I’ve heard from some who already are thinking of different options for sharing.
As we move forward together, everyone is invited participate in this discernment, each person not only considering their own preferences, but also imagining what might be the perspective of those who have had different experiences. Each person is wise to remember that the individual’s experience of the world is only that individual’s experience. And here at UUCC, we must account for many experiences in making decisions about what is best for the congregation.
Many of you will remember about three years ago when we last publicly considered whether to continue the spoken joys and sorrows practice. In anticipation of the opening of the new and larger sanctuary, Rev. Kären Rasmussen, Anthony Jenkins, and I facilitated a conversation about how and whether to keep the practice in place as the congregation grew. Many varied opinions were expressed during that discussion – from those who wished we would get rid of the sharing altogether, to those who suggested that the worship leaders should monitor or time the speakers and cut them off if they speak too long, to those who felt there should be no limits on the practice. At that time, the biggest challenge was managing the time of the worship services. So, we took note of the feedback, but made no major changes to the practice.
This time is different. This time, harm has been done. And yes, this decision was prompted by recent experience – not just one experience, but a series of them that led those of us in UUCC leadership to ask ourselves whether the practice no longer serves the congregation well. It definitely serves some individuals well, but also it has harmed others. And we must consider the good of the whole, not just of the individual.
We don’t want to censor anyone, and members of the community aren’t expected to be experienced public speakers. That’s one of the reasons why this practice has been so meaningful – because it’s authentic, real, imperfect. And yet, as Anthony has expressed multiple times (including in his recent In Between Sundays piece – The Family Stone), we have extended significant trust to one another in offering this open microphone during our sacred worship time. We have expected one another to speak of personal things that are meaningful and profound – not to offer political commentary or critique, not for self-aggrandizement, not to announce upcoming events, not to argue with one another, and definitely not to implicitly or explicitly perpetuate systems of oppression. And yet all of those things have happened and are happening with more frequency.
So, it’s time to take a break – an indefinite one – and apply our skills of imagination and compassion and creativity to the question of what might be possible, perhaps what we haven’t even imagined yet, that would allow us to connect with one another’s personal stories even more effectively than this beloved-by-many practice has allowed us to do.
Yours in community and in love,
EDIT: Please visit the Joys & Sorrows — New Ideas post to offer your input about different ways we might share!