New Churches and Old Recipes

Nobody will ever make tamales as well as my grandmother. Nobody. I don’t care that her ingredients weren’t the “best” or that she didn’t do things by the book or that her idea of making me something vegetarian was that there was no “visible” meat. I grew up eating her food. When I think “tamale” her tamales are the baseline. When I order a tamale at a restaurant or have one at a party* my mind automatically compares it to my grandmother’s tamales.

The churches in Boston aren’t like the church back in Maine. This is one of those “well, duh!” statements. But it warrants mention. The church in Maine was my first Unitarian Universalist church. It was in no way perfect. It was, however, what I knew. I went into it not knowing differently, so it became the norm.

It has definitely been hard for me to get a grasp on the churches here and to recognize that they are not bad, that they are just different. I have had to come to terms with the fact that diversity and change and individuality are all parts of Unitarian Universalism and that if I DO want to go into religious leadership, or simply if I want to experience this religion and this world more fully, that it does me well to embrace those differences, that individuality, rather than constantly compare and contrast and make value judgments on what church is better at what aspects of being a church.

That was a ridiculously long sentence.

Yes, all the churches are different. So instead of comparing and contrasting and building a verbal Venn Diagram I want to celebrate those differences AND embrace the similarities. I’m simply going to talk about what I love about church services.

I love when we light the chalice. I loved using the same chalice lighting, week by week, at the church in Ellsworth because it called us all back to the same place, the same time, from wherever our minds had wandered. It was routine, it was ritual, and it was beautiful. A different member always lit the chalice but our minister led the spoken part. We really got to reflect on the words because we said them each week. At the church I’ve been to a few times now they have a different member or family of the congregation do the chalice lighting each week. It’s not as meditative or grounding, but it’s beautiful in its own way – we get to see and hear from different members of the congregation each week and learn a little about them.

I love when a minister leads the whole service, start to finish. These are people who went to school to learn to do this. They understand the importance of ritual, the necessity of wording things well, the beauty behind worship, and the meaning it has for the congregation. I also love when members of the congregation lead different parts, from the covenant to the readings. It is putting worship in the hands of the congregation, truly allowing them to drive the church.

I love timeless sermons that make just as much sense now as they would have twenty or forty or a hundred years ago. I love knowing that talking about the beauty of spring, or the power of prayer, or the meaning of family is something that has been happening for a long time and will happen for a long time. And I love when current events and church meet, to bring out the best of our political selves to fight for causes that our faith upholds. I love that it was not church but a protest that taught me to pray. I love that the two can mix.

I love trying new things out in service, whether it is dancing in the sanctuary, trying to get our heartbeats in sync, or having a talk back session during the service. I also love when the order of service remains the same, allowing some of our defenses to slip away, allowing us to become comfortable enough to become spiritual.

I love when we try new songs or new arrangements or when the choir does something beautiful that makes everybody stop and pay attention. I love when we sing a song that everyone knows so well that picking up the hymnal is a matter of formality that some don’t even bother with. I love when the music swells because everyone is confident in what they are singing and feels good about it.

I love the old recipes. I love new twists on old recipes. I love it when people throw out the old recipes all together and decide that we’re going to have something else, instead.

*Who the hell am I kidding, nobody in New England has tamales at their parties… le sigh


4 Comments to “New Churches and Old Recipes”

  1. This post touched me. You are a fast learner about this sometimes complicated faith–maybe because using meaningful analogies, like tamales, sharpens a learning curve:) I’m glad you are sticking with us. I was about your age when I chose UUism and it shocked me this year to realize it has now been 50 years (longer than my marriage lasted). When I think about it I don’t think I have attended a single service in all those years that I haven’t left with some small gem to carry in my mind or heart; a hymn, reading, chalice lighting, choir performance, or sermon–maybe sometimes it was simply the view out the window as I centered myself in the community I love. As always I appreciate your sharing your journey in this faith, it always gives me something to think about.

  2. Please don’t be offended or take this the wrong way, but have you ever seen a Catholic Mass? They bring ritual to an art form. Everything stays the same same week in, week out. But it changes as well – the readings change and some prayers change week to week.

    Now that you’re in Boston have you gone to other churches to see what their services are like?

    • I’ve never been to a Catholic Mass in English and/or Latin, but I regularly attended mass in Spanish with my grandmother and I can’t imagine that they are that vastly different. I’ve been to a lot of religious services; lots of Shul with various exes of mine, a lot of Pentecostal church in my tweens, etc.

      I actually have a blog post in the works right now about attending various religious services.

  3. The Latin Mass has the most Ritual. I’ve never been, kinda refusing to go for political reasons.
    English is probably the same as the Spanish except for the music. They might pick songs that sound better as Spanish songs then just translating the English ones.

    Even though the Mass is the same, there’s tons of variations wherever you go. A lot of it has to do with music choice. Do churches use their organs and sing traditional songs or did they decide to update their music ministry and switch to pianos or guitars or both? I’ve seen drum sets too. It’s so weird to see those contemporary instruments on an altar because my home church still uses the organ and traditional choir.

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