One of my sabbatical practices is to attend a new worshiping or practicing community each week. Today I visited the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Santa Rosa, or UCCSR. The church meets in a former movie theater and it is a gorgeous and comfortable space. This was their first Sunday back in person after many weeks of meeting online. I could sense their excitement about coming together again.
The worship theme for February is Jubilee and the Director of Religious Education, Era Capone, read a picture book about Juneteenth from the perspective of an enslaved family in Texas first hearing about their emancipation. Children participated as the congregation received new members. The church treasurer spoke frankly about the financial challenges facing the community, assuring them, “We’ve been here before and came through it. We’ll get through it again, together.”
The minister, Rev. Julie Brock, filled the room with her energy and enthusiasm. She was prepared enough to guide the people through the flow of worship, but free enough to go with the flow at various points, including, refreshingly, admitting when she had made a mistake and lifting that up as an example: “We say it’s okay to make mistakes, don’t we? Do we mean it? Good, becuase I just made one.”
Here as some things I appreciated about worship at UUCSR:
- A lot of lay people had speaking roles, including congregational leaders and musicians.
- The congregation donated its offering “basket” to the Sebastopol Senior Center.
- During the offering, many people lined up to light candles – like in a Catholic mass – to mark milestones in their lives.
- There were several sung responses that the congregation was familiar with and sang confidently.
- The pastoral prayer was led by a “Lay Chaplain” who read written prayer requests and offered to speak with anyone immediately following the service.
- At the close of the pastoral prayer, the minister lifted up the following social and global issues on people’s minds and then invited silent meditation: the suffering of the Ukrainian people; the pain of transgender children and their parents in light of the Texas bill criminalizing trans-affirming health care; Beth Shalom synagogue in Napa where anti-semitic flyers had been distributed in the surrounding neighborhood.
Finally, I loved it when Rev. Julie said, “When we gather together like this, we actively resist the powers of isolation and separation.” And her sermon refrain, which she had the congregation repeat back to her like a mantra was “We commit ourselves to freedom.” Then she looked at us and said, “I believe you.”