Why Bother with Rituals?

candles on blue

WHAT DO RITUALS MEAN TO YOU?

As the Easter season unfolds, what spring rituals will you celebrate–if any?

Many UUs experience a love-hate relationship with rituals, especially if they were previously involved in a ritual-rich denomination, e.g., a Catholic or Episcopal church.  This ritual-ambivalence surfaces most often around the winter and spring holidays, I’ve noticed.

Did we throw the baby out with the bathwater?

I’ve heard many explain that they want avoid just going through motions. . . but yet feel a need for some kind of communal activity that evokes a spiritual meaning.  This longing is part of our essence as human beings reflecting our need to connect with one another around a shared sense of something larger than our own small selves.

“Sometimes I feel Unitarian Universalism threw the baby out with the bathwater when it got rid of rituals,” one formerly Episcopalian UU confided in me.  She missed Easter Week, Holy Communion, stained glass saints, ornate decorations, etc., but not the liturgy.

Meanwhile, I watched as the UU minister at First UU Syracuse celebrated Lent, only to provoke some folks to complain that they left Christian churches to get away from precisely that kind of activity.

What rituals do UUs observe?

Our proprietary UU rituals include the Flower and the Water Communions, and you can also witness UU Child Dedications, Youth Bridging ceremonies, Bread communions, weddings and funerals. Some congregations import traditions from other faiths, e.g., Seder dinners and Christmas trees, which makes some wonder if UUism is a melting pot or something different.

It seems to me we still have more work (or play) to do around rituals in Unitarian Universalism.  Do we even want to evoke the sense of shared mystery?  Some dyed-in-the-wool humanistic UUs would probably say “no.”  What about you?

Should we invent new rituals? 

While serving as the RE Chair at First UU Syracuse, I had a Spring planning discussion with the highly inspirational Director of Religious Education and ex-Catholic, Sheila Schuh.  “Easter is coming, and I feel strange,” she told me.  “My body is telling me that I am supposed to be doing something special to celebrate.”  I assured her that as a former Presbyterian, my only such impulse was to buy a new dress.  (Thankfully the urge for a new Easter hat and gloves long ago dissipated.)

Sheila, understanding the need for ritual and the desire of many UUs to avoid reminders of more painful or boring times, began to tap her spiritual longings and talent to create engaging,new rituals for the children and congregation.  My very favorite, which I hope gets diffused across UU-dom, is the uniquely UU winter Festival of Lights, stretching from Thanksgiving to New Years Day and celebrating each of the UU seven principles with a candle, reading, and activity. [Read the details on page 70 here.]

Join the discussion of ritual.

This Sunday the Spirit of Life class with be discussing the role of rituals in our personal and collective lives.  I’m sure we will have diverse experiences and opinions.  Perhaps some ideas for UUFE rituals will spring forth from our collective wisdom.  If the issue of rituals resonates with you, please join the discussion there or on the web. . . or during our most honored UU ritual, the Coffee Hour.

Gayle Scroggs

Adult Enrichment Coordinator

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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