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Worship in Unitarian Universalist Congregations

“The central task of the religious community is to unveil the bonds that bind each to all.” 
—Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, UU minister and author

Weekly gathering is a hallmark of Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations. We call this time “the service,” “worship,” the “Sunday program,” or just plain “church.” We gather for inspiration, reflection, connection, and religious education.

What Are Services Like?

Rev. Mark Belletini explains in the Unitarian Universalist Pocket Guide:

 “As with every other spiritual group, Unitarian Universalists range in our worship from plain to fancy, from ‘low church’ to ‘high church,’ from singular to eclectic.”

Elements of a typical Unitarian Universalist worship service include:

  • Words of welcome
  • Lighting a flaming chalice, the symbol of our faith
  • A multigenerational segment, such as a “story for all ages”
  • Music, both instrumental and vocal and in a variety of styles
  • A time for lifting up the joys and concerns of the congregation
  • A meditation or prayer
  • Readings—ancient or contemporary
  • A sermon given by a professional minister, a guest speaker, or a member of the congregation
  • An offering, collecting financial donations for the congregation or for justice work in the community.

From time to time, worships incorporate holiday celebrations, multigenerational plays and pageants, longer musical performances, or special ceremonies to commemorate life’s passages. Most congregations offer childcare and faith development programs for children and youth during the Sunday service.

Visiting for the First Time

Don't worry. You're welcome! Visitors and guests are welcome to visit our congregations at every service.

As you prepare for the visit, wear what you please. (You'll see people in skirts and neckties but also in shorts and jeans.) Congregations often have space for wheelchairs, canes, and walkers; many have assistive listening devices as well as large print and Braille hymnals—you may wish to call ahead to make sure.

When you get to the front door, most likely you'll be greeted by a volunteer usher, offering you a paper name tag and an order of service. (The order of service is like a program for a concert—it lists what’s happening in the service). It’s fine if you wish to chat with the greeters and ushers, or to slip by quietly to find a seat. Our worship spaces generally have open seating—find a place that feels comfortable.

You’ll often find a hymnal—a book of songs and readings for worship—in the seats. The order of service will tell you when we sing. Usually, so will the speaker ("Please rise, as you are able, for the first hymn, number 123"). If there's a reading the congregation will say together, you'll be told where it's printed out.

Most congregations provide care for the youngest children; call ahead or come early to see the nursery and meet the caregivers. Children of school age and older will be invited to age-appropriate activities and groups, often during the worship service. But visitors and guests are welcome to stay together too. You can arrange a visit to classrooms or meet with the Director of Religious Education after the service.

Following the service, there is often a casual gathering where members and visitors can get to know one another (often known as “social hour” or “coffee hour.”) This can be an excellent time for newcomers to make connections and learn more about the congregation and Unitarian Universalism in an informal atmosphere.

For more information contact info @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Wednesday, December 18, 2013.

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"Justice Is Love in Action" Get ready to be moved as Rev. John T. Crestwell, Jr., the General Assembly musicians, choir and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis ministers lead us through a spirit-filled and challenging service on advocacy and social action. From the UUA's General Assembly, 2012, which focused on compassionate immigration reform. Music director David Glasgow and choir director Keith Arnold.
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