If I was asked to explain what made our shared worship experience of this past Sunday so special, I guess I would have to say it was a true religious cultural exchange. Unitarians often visit temples, synagogues, and churches of other faith traditions, but the way the experience is structured usually ends up putting us more in the role of “observer.” In contrast, Sunday’s shared worship was a true exchange, where a representative portion of our congregation took part in Serenity’s worship service, and a great many, if not most, of Serenity’s congregation came and participated fully with us. In other words, neither group were “religious tourists,” but got full cultural immersion. That made the experience pretty special, I think. Now I know so much more about the identity of Serenity Christian Church, as I have an experience of being with them and I witnessed a bit of both the form and the substance of their ministry. And I think a great many of their members can now say the same thing about us.
We were greeted by “Welcome Unitarian Universalist Church” on the marquee in front of Serenity. An even warmer welcome awaited us once inside the sanctuary. Kathy and I sat near the front, so I didn’t get to observe how much the UU crowd got into the praise music provided with the accompaniment of a keyboard and drums, but Kathy and I did. As a Methodist and a former Methodist, we recognized some of the songs. (Yes, Methodists do praise and worship style music also!) Then we heard a sermon from Rev. Rose, who used a folksy, storytelling style that I found most engaging. We recited the Serenity Prayer together. Communion was offered to those who wished to participate. There was also a time of sharing from the congregation. It was good to go back to my religious roots in such a positive way.
We then convoyed over to our church. What a joyful sight to see four rows of seating around our sanctuary completely filled! Keith treated us to “One Love,” “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” and “Lean on Me.” Lars made everyone in our diverse multitude feel welcome and at ease. In the Story for All Ages, we talked about some of the changes in our society since MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 and also how much work is yet to be done to build better relations between races. Each of the kids got a “stone of hope” to help them remember that every effort we make hews away from the “mountain of despair.”
The texts for my sermon on “The Language of Love” were the Tower of Babel story from Genesis and the coming of Pentecost from Acts 2. In a nutshell, my point was that language and the meanings of religious words can divide us, but actions of love speak a language all their own that can bring us together in a spirit of harmony and peace.
Then we all shared in a pot luck feast thanks to our dedicated kitchen crew and those who brought a dish to share. My thanks to all who worked so diligently to make the meal possible. The food was plentiful and delicious!
I think our courage in moving forward with this shared worship experience will be felt in both our congregations “like a mighty wind” as was mentioned in Acts. Some may understand that mighty wind to be the spirit of God, some may prefer the language of “human spirit.” Whatever variation of language we wish to use to express the great mystery within and beyond ourselves, l hope our real focus will continue to be on our actions and not merely on our words, and that those actions will continue to speak love one to another. Our congregations have so much more in common than we have in differences – especially where it counts. Both our congregations stress inclusivity and focus on work that promotes justice and equity. I am excited about the possibilities for collaborative efforts between UU Valdosta and Serenity Christian Church going forward as we continue in our efforts to build the beloved community.