Sermons & Liturgies
Preaching and the Liturgical Arts Shape a congregations worshipping life
Sermons & Liturgy
“Intentional churchgoing involves seeing worship as the primary spiritual practice that informs everything else a person does in the church. Intentional churchgoers believe that participating in church life has the power to transform their lives towards greater depth, joy and meaning. Intentional church life engages members in a community that sees itself as more than a civic institution or club or school; that sees itself as a continuing embodiment of a religious way of life and tradition. That way of life is revealed in stories, images, music and metaphors that speak of ethical imperatives and incarnated truths. It is revealed in worship.”
(From “Worship that Works: Theory and Practice for Unitarian Universalists” by Reverends Wayne Arnason and Kathleen Rolenz, Skinner House Books, 2008.)
When I was granted a sabbatical in 2005, I knew that the primary purpose of that sabbatical would be to study worship. I wanted to explore the centrality of worship in congregational life. I was worried that at the dawn of the digital age of easy access to well-produced TED talks, inspiring lectures and even excellent on-line preaching, that the arts of liturgy and preaching could go the way of the rotary phone. I was pleased to realize that excellent preaching and inspiring liturgy is an art form that still has the power to inspire, provoke, heal and transform lives. Preaching and creating liturgy is not only one of my greatest passions, it is one of my greatest skills. Growing up I was drawn to dance, music, and performance and pursued these interests in my undergraduate work in theatre, speech and communications. Creating worship brings together some of my natural talents in music, the spoken and written word, stagecraft and directing.
My understanding of preaching and liturgy is well-grounded in twenty-five years of serving in ministry, is reflected in several preaching awards, and was recognized by the invitation I received from the UU Ministers Association to serve as co-Dean for the “Beyond the Call”, a three year intensive training program for colleagues in ministry on preaching and worship.
For the past ten years, I’ve been working with monthly themes in the planning of the liturgical year, usually co-creating those themes with a team of worship leaders. Sometimes those themes have been inspired by the Unitarian Universalist curriculum “Soul Matters.” Other times, I have been inspired to suggest a theme for the entire year, and then subdividing that theme into months. Worship then, should interact with other parts of the church/congregation and inspire programming in all areas of church life.
Liturgy is “the People’s Work.” It’s what we do together.
Working with the laity to create worship is an essential part of my ministry. Lay leaders bring their own passion, creativity, sparks of ideas and their own hopes for worship to the conversation as we co-create worship together. The best “preaching” is not because the minister acts like a solo rock star. It happens within the context of the on-going conversation between minister and congregation, with trained and dedicated lay leaders, with a well-maintained building, and among people who understand that showing up for worship is a spiritual practice.
Over the course of twenty-five years, I’ve written, prepared and delivered literally thousands of pages of reflections in hundreds of sermons. Most were written for a particular congregation to speak to the theological, spiritual, relational, educational or societal needs of the congregation.
That’s why it’s difficult to identify one’s top ten sermons and offer them for review: because sermons are most alive in the moment, never to be repeated again in that same way. And yet, sermons are a unique way of getting to know a minister’s style. Are they intellectually focused? More feeling-oriented? Interested in educating or communicating an idea? Or are they usually more “spiritual?”
My “style” is all of the above, but they are always guided by one question, “What is religious or spiritual about this idea?” In other words, what makes this a topic worthy of being part of worship, as opposed to a secular lecture or an educational program? My intent is to illuminate some aspect of our spiritual life; to point towards those things which inspire us to lead lives of meaning and purpose. Nothing less will do.