11 The Service

What is a typical Sunday church service like?

Our typical service follows a Protestant structure: hymns, readings, meditation, singing by the choir, organ music and a sermon. Although the service's format is similar to a Protestant church, the content is quite different. God or Jesus is hardly ever mentioned and rarely are there Bible readings. Though the words prior to the meditation might sound like a prayer, they are not addressed to and do not request the support, inspiration, help or blessing of a supernatural deity.

What symbols do you display in your churches?

In the sanctuary of most UU churches, you will find no traditional signs or symbols. However, in those churches which have chosen to retain their liberal Christian identity, you may see a cross, open bible, or some other Christian symbol. A few churches display Christian symbols for historic purposes only.

Other churches, demonstrating their belief that there is wisdom in each of the world's religions, display symbols of many faiths: Christian, Judaism, Islam, Eastern, Native American, and others.

There are no rules laid down by our Association as to what constitutes the appropriate use of religious symbols; the decision is left to the local congregation.

What is the significance of the flaming chalice?

In the days preceding Word War II, the Boston-based Unitarian Service Committee was attempting to rescue Unitarians and other religious liberals from those parts of Europe (notably Czechoslovakia) where their lives were threatened by Naziism. The flaming chalice was the code by which those needing to be rescued identified themselves to the Unitarian Service Committee.

This symbol, which came into widespread use in Sunday services during the last 20 years, is usually lit at the beginning of the service, accompanied by a simple spoken ritual.

In our services today the chalice symbolizes wisdom, knowledge, and spiritual insight, and the flame that rises from the chalice represents the light of illumination and understanding.

What is the Flower Communion?

Many congregations observe this simple ritual in the late spring. On Flower Sunday, each person brings a flower and places it in the same large basket. At the close of the service, each person walks by the basket and removes a flower.

The variety of flowers symbolizes the variety of people, beliefs and ideas found in the congregation. Bringing a flower symbolizes the idea that each person brings something of themselves and contributes it to the service. The removal of the flower represents each person taking something away which the others have contributed.

Like the flaming chalice, this service also originated in Czechoslovakia before World War II. It was started by Czech minister Norbet Kapek who, in Prague, was the minister of the world's largest Universalist congregation during the 1920s. and 1930s. Captured by the Nazis, he was executed at the Dachau concentration camp. His wife, Maya, who escaped to America with the help of the Service Committee, introduced the Flower Communion to congregations in the United States and Canada.

What is the extent of ritual in the church?

Unitarians and Universalists emerged from the radical free church wing of the Protestant Reformation where all types of religious ritual and liturgy were suspect. Still retaining some of that suspicion, we avoid rote ceremony or ritual for its own sake. Although we attempt to make meaningful those rituals and symbols we do use, we don't wish them to become ends in themselves.

Why do some say that listening to a UU minister's sermon is a lot like attending a college class?

Because we have a rather intellectual religion, ministers often speak on non-religious contemporary issues which most adults find to be of great interest.

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