Take one theme, one flexible
worship space, one or two worship leaders to be the “bread and thread,” and a
few others to provide the filling. Add music and people of all ages and
abilities—infants, elders, teens and toddlers, grown-ups who are parents and
some who are not. Include a generous helping of meaning and more than a dash of
fun. Supplies are optional.
You now have everything you
need to create Village Worship, a pan-generational, experiential, “alternative”
worship experience that touches spirit through movement, song, speaking
(including story, poetry and personal sharing), seeing, and feeling. It is an
exciting way of worshipping all together.
Village Worship began at First
Parish of Sudbury about three years ago when families with young children told
us that they needed something we didn’t have. Sunday morning was often their
only time together as a family. They wanted to worship together, not separately in the
traditional “upstairs/downstairs” model. They hesitated to bring the wee ones
into the sanctuary for fear of disturbing worship. They wanted something
informal, relaxed, and accessible to the whole family, oriented to heart and
head and body and spirit. And they wanted it at a family-friendly time, not when
someone was hungry or ready for a nap.
Village Worship evolved. Now it
is offered once a month on Saturday afternoons at 4:30 pm followed by a potluck
supper. It’s not just for families, either. It’s for everyone. One Saturday two
elders showed up saying, “We think the Village could use some grandmothers!”
It’s also become an inviting worship experience for those with challenges that
make so-called “regular” services, well, a challenge—adults, teens and
children with ADHD, Down’s or Tourette’s Syndrome, and the autism spectrum. In
Village Worship, no one is required to sit still and be quiet! Yet, it is far
from chaotic. Regulars will tell you that it’s profound and fun all at the same
time. We’ve even discovered how popular it is with visitors exploring Unitarian
Our alternative worship engages
everyone. It is truly worship, not a performance or play time. It speaks its
message on many different levels and in many different forms. It has a simple
structure: Gathering, Welcome, Singing, Chalice Lighting, Main Message, Sharing,
Closing Words, and Singing. And it’s always a collaborative effort. Begin with a
theme; that’s the filling. Discern the” thread” that will tie the whole worship
service together. Brainstorm how you will develop the theme through the service.
Include at least three different multiple intelligences—ways of engaging the
world, such as movement, music and touch.
Choose stories that are
generative—wisdom stories, parables, sacred stories from world religions.
Children understand them on a concrete level, while teens and adults can tease
out and unravel deeper meanings. Beware of talking “down” to children or of
leaving them out with language they don’t understand. “Kid-friendly” language
can still cover deep concepts.
How will you make time for
people to integrate the experience for themselves: a spoken or silent
meditation? Maybe a movement meditation such as a labyrinth or a Sufi dance?
Will people who want to have a chance to share? Will there be visual and tactile
things to engage those who make meanings in these ways?
The “bread” is what opens and
closes your worship; it contains the filling and completes the experience. How
will the space look, feel and sound when folks arrive? Pay attention to
lighting, how the room is arranged, where people will sit and how they can move.
Remember, too, to keep some things at a child’s-eye level. (And, of course, make
sure everything is safe!) How will
it begin? How will it end—how will you bring your community together to go out
into the world?
At First Parish of Sudbury
we’ve learned to keep it simple. Avoid including too many disjointed elements
that might give an MTV-feel. Make your pace deliberate and gentle. Choose songs
that everyone can sing without sheet music. Call-and-response songs work well,
as do “zipper songs,” where you change only one or two words each verse. We
frequently invite members of the congregation to provide live music: a child and
her violin, a teen and his cello, an adult and his guitar or her
We’ve learned to get others
involved in planning and leadership. After three years, volunteers now come to
us suggesting ideas for Village Worship. We’ve had celebrations for Divali,
Chinese New Year, and Beltane (complete with maypole dancing). And provocative
topics like prison ministry and justice-related topics tied to a service project
that follows the worship. We held a “Simple Gifts” Village Worship in December,
followed by a gift swap that used only re-giftable items and recycled wrappings;
no money changed hands. (Everyone agreed it was a lot more fun than the
This form of worship began with
a different name—one that didn’t quite fit. But that changed one afternoon when
a mother of a four-year-old and infant twins inspired the name “Village
Worship.” There she was, at the after-worship potluck, slowly, meditatively
turning in circles, arms out, softly chanting: “The village has my children. The
village has my children.” Indeed, it was true. Following worship as a family,
the four-year-old was playing with a friend under the watchful eye of several
adults, and two other adults were gleefully holding each twin, oohing and ahhing
over having babes in arms again, now that their own children were bigger. The
mother’s arms were light and free to twirl. Everyone was happy. Here was a
snapshot of beloved community—warm, welcoming, engaged, connected, safe,
meaningful and fun. That is the essence of Village
For more information contact web @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Tuesday, April 19, 2011.
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