Reflection on leading a UU Service

Delaware UU altar.JPEG

I had the honor of being asked to lead a service for the Delaware Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, which was extremely fulfilling and very affirming to my vocation.

In preparing for the service I spent some times talking to two of the organizers for the congregation, Karen and Gwen, both of whom were personable and lovely. I had asked them what exactly they were expecting from a service so that I could prepare in such a way that it would be meaningful to them. They wanted to learn more about neo-paganism in general, and wanted to see exactly what a ritual would look like, since they had tried to stumble through one before on their own, and felt like they were doing it wrong.

So, I began the service by explaining first what paganism is generally, and then more detail about how ADF operates within that pagan umbrella. I touched on what polytheism is, the idea of right action over right belief, and how we can engage in hospitality with the spirits and the world at large. A few folks had questions about specifics things, and so I spent a little more time answering questions that centered mostly around how we practice paganism in a modern context.

After having done the intro to paganism and answering questions, we moved into the rite itself. When talking with Gwen in preparation for the rite, she mentioned that they enjoyed music and singing, so I made sure to include a lot of music in the rite itself, and Mike B helped me get the notation down so I could actually provide them with notes on a page, rather than just lyrics. It was wonderful to have a congregation that sang with such heart and soul and joy. They didn’t know any of the songs going in, but each and every one did their best to follow the notes and my voice, and it was just beautiful and moving for me. I am so, so glad that I included as much music as I did. (I’ll post the complete Order of Service in a separate patron-only post.)

The rite itself was structured as a simple blessing rite. I included a somewhat longer attunement, to bring everyone together in the same space, physically, mentally, and spiritually. It is the one I typically dowhere we begin with a normal Two Powers connecting to the Waters below and the Fire above, and then become aware of each other by watching the ripples of a pond overlap. One of the cool things about setting up for the rite was the inclusion of the Delaware UU Fellowship’s sacred waters.  They have a practice of collecting waters from around the world, and we were able to add their waters to our Grove waters in the Well. Then I invited and honored each of the beings we normally call, and then for almost all of them we also sang a short song.

Things became especially meaningful once we reached the omen, and I could tell that the congregation was finding it quite moving. I simply asked for blessings from each of the Three Kindreds, and received Khi, Beta, and Iota. In interpreting them together we were blessed with the knowledge that by working together with friends, nature, and a little bit of luck, we can achieve our goals. But we must remember that that alone won’t get us there, that we must put in the time and the effort and physical, tangible efforts to do so. I tied the omen and blessings back into activism for human rights and for the Earth herself. I spoke on the importance of reaching out to those across racial, religious, and cultural lines, and becoming connected to them so that we may work together for the causes that matter. Not only could I visibly see how others were moved by the blessing in that moment, but I personally was also very moved by the blessing. Which meant that putting them into the Waters in order to receive it was easier and felt more powerful than it sometimes does.

In the working section of the right I placed the normal UU sharing of Joys and Sorrows. I find it to be a meaningful practice that really builds a sense of community. We get close to it sometimes when we do healing work as a grove, but feeling the trust and support that the congregation has for each other was moving to me watching it from the outside.

When I do services for other groups, particularly when I am responsible for all parts of the rite, I find it is extremely moving and fulfilling for me. In our grove rites, the way that serves a lot of my Folk is by encouraging them to take a part in the ritual, and take some amount of ownership in performing it. They are fulfilled by that contribution to the rite. However, when I am serving others, particularly non-pagans who see themselves as more spiritual or Earth-Centered, I lead the entire rite from beginning to end, and invite participation via song, personal offerings, drinking of the blessing cup, and the working. The Folk in these cases are often deeply moved by experiencing the rite, and I am deeply fulfilled by leading the rite and having the opportunity to speak to the blessings received.

I know many pagans are turned off my the idea of a sermon, but I find that rites become the most meaningful for both me and for the congregation when I can speak on the omens and blessings we receive and explore how they apply to current events in the world and to the lives of those individuals and communities. I really like how as a Druid Priest I preach on the fly based on the omens we receive. Our sermons as pagans don’t come from a book of sacred text, but rather from spirits themselves as they speak through the divinatory work that we do. Performing the Omen and Return Flow in this manner is probably my favorite part of the rite, being both deeply fulfilling for me and deeply meaningful to the Folk I am serving. I feel like I don’t get to do it as often in our Grove rites, which makes it even more meaningful for me when I perform rites outside of the Grove.

The feedback afterwards was all very good. Many members of the congregation told me they really enjoyed the service and were moved by it. That the service met that need they were craving for spirituality that they weren’t getting elsewhere. When asked how I came to paganism, druidry, and was called to clergy I gave my backstory as well as my goals for the future. One of the members told me that they thought I would make a fantastic chaplain and that that work and representation is desperately needed in hospitals and beyond. Its one thing to feel like a rite went really well, and quite another to hear it from many mouths afterwards. I may be going back to do more services for them in the future, and I couldn’t be happier.

tl;dr, I’m feeling deeply fulfilled by the work I did this morning, and am full of the joy of this work.

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