I’ll always remember the first time I walked into a Unitarian Universalist Church, maybe 18 years ago. At the front of the tiny church were three people — hippies, straight out of 1960s. Around the neck of one, a metal washboard dangled from a guitar strap. Another cradled a fiddle. The third stood with his right foot resting on an upside-down galvanized tub. From the underside of the tub rose a pole and a giant rubber band that he plucked with his left hand. A homemade bass.
I don’t recall what the sermon was about that day, but I remember that the three hippies gave it — mostly in song. Never having experienced anything in a house of worship except the Catholic Mass — with all of its rituals, pomp, and that grand pipe organ — I found all of this a little too weird. Where’s the minister, anyway?
It was years before I came back to a UU church.
If only I knew then what I know now. It so happens that my first UU experience was in July. In the summer, many UU congregations adopt a more informal environment featuring an array of lay-led services. Sermons can be on any topic that is spiritual to that week’s worship leader — and in a UU church, that covers a lot of ground. Just last week, for instance, Caryl Tipton, director of the Music Ministry at the UU Church at Washington Crossing, in Titusville, Mercer County, led a Sunday service focused on the spirituality in the music of the Beatles.
Summer is prime church-shopping season. Imagine you are one of the 40 million families in the U.S. who moved last year. Now imagine yourself in your new home town, looking for a church that fits your style and offers your kids a really cool education program.
Now imagine you walked into the hippie service. What would that be like for you?
Maybe that would be cool. But don’t be fooled by what you see in a UU church on a summer Sunday morning. If the minister’s not there, the service will be nontraditional. You might like it or you might not, but if the people were nice and the coffee was good, come back next Sunday. You’ll get a completely different experience. The beauty of UU services in the summer is that they’re all different. You’ll be exposed to spiritual perspectives you might not hear during the regular church year. You won’t always get a sense of what regular services are like, but by September — when the minister returns to the pulpit on a regular basis — you might have decided any place this loose can’t be all bad.
Try something different
Here’s a sampler of lay-led services you’ll find at some North and Central Jersey UU congregations this summer:
July 28, First UU Fellowship of Hunterdon County: Tarot as the Illustrated Guide to the Perennial Philosophy
Aug. 4, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ocean County: All Creatures Great and Small, or “Things You Can Learn From Your Dog”
Aug. 11, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Palisades: The Poetry and Spirituality of Emily Dickinson
Aug. 18, Lakeland Unitarian Universalist Fellowship: Porch Discussions
Aug. 25, Morristown Unitarian Universalist Fellowship: The Soul
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