Drivel that cannot fit in a single panel comic.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Water Ceremony

The church had its annual Water Ceremony. The source of much contention among the worship committee and the church as a whole. I had forgotten about it only to be reminded upon entering the sanctuary. My feelings on the ceremony are rather neutral but I understand the tension and its sources.

The worship committee had its annual discussion and debate about the ceremony and one of the people who voiced objections ended up serving as co-service leader. The other service leader was a person who in years past very vocally opposed any radical changes to the ceremony.

The short talk before the actual ceremony consisted of two parts. The first presenter shared his experiences and impressions of the first water ceremony he attended. He was not impressed and said why. He had made a mental note not to attend the next one but his wife wanted to go so he went and felt a bit better about it but still not quite impressed. The first time he felt unwelcome because he was new and he had concerns about the classist overtones, water from the Amazon or the Nile? He hadn't really gone anywhere that year.

He shared his objections with the other presenter. They had a dialogue (at meetings) and it was decided that she would present her reasons why the ceremony as it is moved her to the congregation.

[I leave out names because I haven't received permission to use them]

She gave a lovely short talk about how the water people brought from exotic lands, conferences, taps and other sources represented the journeys we as people took and transitions we experienced that year and that we shared the results with each other when we come together as a community. She stated that while she would enjoy being there for hours to listen to everyone's stories, she acknowledged that our time was limited and others may not have the same joy.

Some of the more memorable sharing of water:
Water from the Southwest UU Summer Institute. That water was from all the churches from the Southwest District represented at SWUUSI.

One of the gentleman, also expressed some class concerns about the ceremony but he realized that he always conducted a private water ceremony after a loss or transitions and that the water he poured symbolized those losses and transitions.

A newer member who recently moved to our community shared water from her refrigerator door. She said that through most of her marriage they lived in pre-1900 houses. She said it can be romantic at first but dealing with the problems of a pre-1900 structure can get old after a few years. When she moved to this community she decided she would live in a modern house and she knew she arrived when she could use a refrigerator with an in-door water dispenser.

Another member brought water from the tap out of gratitude that we live in a society where clean water is readily available and in remembrance of all the people who do not have access to clean water.

Another newer member shared that the water came from the water cooler in the back of the sanctuary and it symbolized the spiritual home that embraced him and his wife.

Others brought water from taps of new homes they bought (transitions), conferences they attended (personal growth), and family vacations and reunions. The water represented losses, joys, transititions, growth and realizations.

Some totally new people shared water. People who had not come to a service before.

I shared a bit of water from a family vacation (symbolic water because I forget to water even though the annual family vacation is at a lake) and talked about the sustaining power of water and thought of all the volunteers at various races who made sure I received my cups.

I think the worship committee and the two presenters did a wonderful job of addressing the concerns about and maintaining the tradition of the water ceremony while adding a spiritual element.

After the service I shared PeaceBang's ( story with folks after the service. A native Spanish speaker and the other not-so fluent people thought it was funny and agreed that the person in the story would not have been able to pull that off in our district without provoking a lot of giggles. It is the restroom but not necessarily the toilet, according to my source.


Mama G said...

I have confided in close friends that our Water Ceremony has traditionally been one of the most painful services for me because of the whole class thing. I realize that many people don't approach it that way, but I really felt out of place when I sat and listened to people talking about their vacations to the south of France or to some island off some remote country. I sat silently, not participating, rather than sharing water that represented the water we struggled with keeping connected and paying our bills. I thought that would sound too bitter. The lack of awareness was particularly uncomfortable for me. A congregation that would share water from the back of the sanctuary or from a fridge door sounds much more aware than some gatherings I've witnessed.

This year our worship team changed it. They handed out strips of construction paper and invited us to write the source and meaning of our water on the strip and then when we shared the water, we did so silently. The strips were collected and are being forged into a chain to encircle the sanctuary. It was a wonderful improvement IMO and I emailed those in charge to tell them so.

Toonhead said...

Thank you for giving your worship team feedback. Sometimes that committee is expected to not only put together meaningful worship services but have psychic abilities as well.

The class thing is a bit of an UU problem but I'm afraid it would turn ugly if we had people from higher up in the association try to fix it with seminars and such. I don't want it to turn out like our anti-racism/ anti-oppression education sometimes comes across. I fail at these seminars because I refuse to feel guilty about being white. I'm willing to deal with my own predjudices (and do feel guilty about them) and do what I can to get rid of white privilege and do my best to be aware of it but I'm not guilty just for being white.

I'm afraid the same thing would happen with addressing class issues in UU congregations. Some of those wealthier folks give a lot to the church. They shouldn't feel guilty about having wealth and enjoying some of its trappings (I'm refering to wealth acquired legally and ethically).

In my church we try to be sensitive to disparities in wealth - give equal value to pledges in the form of labor. We even put it in the budget even if a volunteer is doing the task because once that volunteer stops we would have to pay for it and the congregation knows costs and the value of the labor. For a couple of years my husband and I were recognized as top pledgers despite only giving enough money to cover our UU and District dues but the rest of the pledge was cleaning the church. Things have gotten better for us and our pledge is monetary now.

It is a fine balance to try to maintain and I don't think any religious community can do it perfectly all the time. To make it work most people would have to assume good intentions and then privately and politely point out things. People do not become aware if you never tell them.

I'm glad you enjoyed your water ceremony.

DrPattiS said...

My UU church (Ann Arbor, MI) has a water service, too. We've never had issues like this...most of the water comes from the Huron River or one of the Great Lakes. I think one person had water from some mission he went on in Costa Rica, but that was it. Personally, I brought water from my local, city pool :)
It's interesting to read these other perspectives....