Joys & Sorrows

Joys & Sorrows

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.

In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to share any pastoral care needs with our Karuna Caregiver team, Anthony, and/or me.

Yours in community and in love,
Paige

EDIT: Please visit the Joys & Sorrows — New Ideas post to offer your input about different ways we might share!

12 Comments

  1. Kathy Tillman

    Thank you, Paige, for explaining why the time of Joys ands Sorrows has been suspended. Our sacred time together on Sunday mornings needs to be spiritually uplifting for all, and making changes to keep it on track may be necessary.

  2. Becky Bell

    I would like to remind (or notify) everyone, especially those making this decision, that not everyone has a large or even medium-sized support system that is reliable to call or visit during such things as hospitalizations. Not everyone has family. Not everyone has another place of community.
    Please understand how this sudden change is currently marginalizing those people. Did you consider us? And what lifelines to the community we would lose? — We just lost one of the few/only in-person places to say something difficult ONCE and get a community of support. Taking it away before creating an appropriate replacement (if needed) is not equitable to those of us who need it most. And I strongly encourage you to including someone in this marginalized group when determining the future of Joys & Sorrows.

    The pastoral care team including Karuna is not set up nor has the people/time to be able to meet the needs (visiting, calling, etc.) of UUCC 400+ community. That’s not a judgment, just a fact. It’s also not the same as have 5-10 people come up and offer hugs after service. I have the experience to know that.

    The Ends to which the Exec. Team is accountable to the Board of Trustees for meeting include “Provide a connected community of people where members experience a sense of home and family.” and “Minister to members in times of need and times of joy.” had the 2nd and 3rd lowest average ratings, respectively. What is the Exec. Team’s plan to improve those ratings? Especially after going down to one full-time minister next year.

  3. Phyllis Cook

    Thanks for this update and I can see that many people did somewhat abuse the time. So many of the things I was so glad to know. I attended a worship service (don’t remember what congregation) but they had an insert for sharing …like someone in hospital, someone just had baby etc don’t know if something like this could help .

  4. John Shea

    I think it is a shame if people cannot share their joys and sorrows spontaneously with the entire congregation. This kind of sharing can be cathartic for both the speaker and the listener.

    I understand that some people have recently abused the privilege of joys and concerns by using the microphone to talk about political issues and disputes. I wonder if there might be a less extreme way to curtail such abuses, such as cutting the mike of people who start to veer off into politics, and/or sanctioning people who abuse joys and concerns (e.g. a three month ban or a one year ban).

    My biggest concern is that some people no longer trust others in our congregation to express what is in their hearts, because they are worried that they might say something awkward or hurtful. Well, yes, that is true, but isn’t that what a community is for? We covenant to listen to each other speak from their heart, even knowing that sometimes we will feel uncomfortable.

  5. Frank Hazzard

    I thought our open mic was more good than bad. Yes, some folks were inappropriate and long-winded, but most had fitting, personal and often profound things to say. On the rare occasions when I spoke, it usually felt cathartic. For me, it added to the spiritual nature of services and I’ll miss it.

  6. Ann Faust

    I think like many I also loved this UUCC tradition as I got to learn more about my fellow parishioners, and got to share my on story quite a few times. Of course, there were times I didn’t agree, or particularly liked what has been announced or more like a forced doctrine to us from the mic. yet always felt like it was part of the mosaic we build together during our gatherings. After all acceptance and respect are some of our stronger values as a UU. And having kindness towards each other is somewhere there, too. So if this has been really hurting some of us, we should stop take a step back and reevaluate. It sounds like this is your plan, too. I wonder if it is possible to open up some sort of online or write-in forum that people can share their ideas with you how we can make this more inclusive. I think last weekend someone said to me that they know another church where people wrote what they wanted to share to the ministry team ahead of the service and the team and these read out during the service that way it contained within the advised parameters. I thought that was not a bad idea, but then again as I am one of those visual people and if I do not know the person mentioned I wouldn’t be any wiser than reading it out of the website or the bulletin we have. This defies the purpose for me. Anyways, I am sure many people will be coming out with many suggestions and maybe not a perfect but I am sure a brilliant one will be in the service before long.
    Thank you all for all the hard work you do to connect us.

  7. Gregory Seidman

    I went to a Quaker school (for high school, though it’s K-12), which exposed me to the practice of Meeting for Worship. You would think that a bunch of kids, very few of whom were themselves Quaker) with what amounted to an open mic would goof off, crack jokes, and otherwise not take it seriously. You would be mistaken. Not only was there essentially nothing inappropriate said, but we all sat in respectful silence, listened attentively when someone spoke, and even vulnerably expressed our own profound experiences and troubles to those least likely of confidants, our entire class.

    What made it work was culture. There was a clear culture of what was appropriate and what was not. It was not communicated in writing, but in a thousand little corrections by peers and teachers.

    We have no culture surrounding Sharing. We have spoken guidelines, which are frequently ignored. We have corrections of the big things, but not little corrections. We do not feel the culture, but we need one. I do not know how to create that culture. I do know that without it, Sharing will continue to be fraught with uncomfortable and even harmful breaches.

  8. Robin Slaw

    Hello everyone – your friendly Director of Religious Education here. I wanted to remind all of you that we have many ways to develop community beyond joys and sorrows.

    Join the drop-in Reflection Group every third Sunday at 5 pm. There are meditation groups and fun feasts and bike groups and all kinds of ways to get involved in the community! Read through the long list on our Get Involved page (https://uucolumbia.net/get-involved/) to find the perfect place for you and your family!

    • Ann Faust

      Dear Robin, first of all, thank you for the different windows you are pointing to us to be able to see a bigger picture of UUCC. Yet, I think the biggest difference between these small groups as and us sharing a bit of our lives during a service is, it was build-in. I like many out there surrounded by other commitments either towards UUCC or my family or the community, work and I dare say every now and then towards my own self. Adding one more to this might be a great opportunity to many, but tiring to even consider for me and quite a few like me. What is done and said is stays with the group not as accessible for the congregation at large.
      Again, the idea of many other ways of connecting with other people in my congregation is great but what we have had was something different, and more organically build into the service. At least what I have been hearing and feeling myself is the loss of that, more than looking for something else to connect. Still, as human beings our greatest strength is our ability to adapt, I am sure we soon find a way to adapt to the new way of sharing things and who knows this may even be better than what we had.

  9. sharon Hipkins

    It seems to me that the hurtful things I have heard during “joys and sorrow” were offered as a joy. Having read the above comment about being able to share a sorrow which created immediate community support, I suggest we keep the sorrows in the worship session . Perhaps we could share the joys in a written form in the bulletin which other congregations have tried. This would shorten the time, generate support for those in need, and probably eliminate the inappropriate use of the time.

  10. Paige Getty (Author)

    Thank you, all, for sharing your thoughtful responses and input. We have set up a post specifically to collect ideas for how to share joys & sorrows:

    https://uucolumbia.net/joys-sorrows-new-ideas/

    So, if you have a new tactic / medium / vehicle that you’d like us to consider, please post it there, so that others can see and comment!

  11. Becky Reese

    I am sad too, and actually had something I wanted to share last Sunday. However, I also recognize quite a few negatives we’ve experienced with this ritual in various iterations throughout the 32-some years I’ve been a member. While it is a poignant/cathartic ritual, it also does not effectively spread information about congregational needs for caring as widely as would be idea. I’m hopeful that we may come up with an even more effective approach to this challenge, which is shared by just about every religious community (regardless of denomination).

    I would like to see us create a private online space only for UUCC members/friends/affiliates (probably on REALM now that we have it as a more flexible and robust congregational database) in which people could post their struggles, joys or life-event news to make it available for the ministers and others in the congregation to respond to in caring ways. (The private Facebook group is NOT it.) This could be a post-only informational mechanism (probably best) or it could also offer a means for people to briefly comment on posts immediately after reading them (though to be practical, I think that would have to be in a threaded forum so it’s not too cluttered to find original posts). Such items could be posted at any time, and the minister could select particular items (after seeking the poster’s consent) to highlight during a prayerful time in the service. If there’s a means to subscribe to or be notified of new entries, anyone in the congregation could monitor what’s going on in others’ lives so they can follow up. This would significantly help to increase the opportunities for people to be more caring with each other, and would help to strengthen caring and support across the congregation.
    We could call it Ripples, or Community Ripples, or (going back to candles) Kindling Caring, or Community Chalice, or Flames of Joy or Sorrow, or just Joys and Sorrows. Someone more poetic or articulate than I may be able to come up with a better title.

    Basically, I’m hopeful that we’ll initiate an even better tradition.

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