My Bio of UU (Part 2)

Go to Part 1

In part 1 of this my bio of modern-day Unitarian Universalism (UU) I said that what I love most about UUism was not don at UU congregations on Sunday mornings during their weekly service and its accompanying fellowship hour. I also stated that it can be fond in Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU), which is the current youth organization within UUism. I ended with saying this “So what are the key features of this brand of UU? How dos it differ from other forms of UU?” which is exactly what I will be delving into here in part 2.

The brand of UU I like the one practised by most of the youth and many of the young adults within UU, the one with its roots in the culture and ways of YRUU, I have heard it called “UU ecstatic traditions”. Ecstatic traditions because it is a set of linked traditions that leave the folks involved in them feeling highly exhilarated and UU because they arose out of UUism itself. On the other hand the one you find described on UU web sites and practised by most of the adult population within UU, the one that is most dominant within UU is what could accurately be called “intellectual UU” because it has intellectual reasoning at its core and UU because it is native to UU. I would say these are the two main forms of UU and the best way to understand them, including understanding how they differ would be to take a look at how they do group worship.

Group worship is the central element within must if not all religious and spiritual traditions and UUism is no exception. At the heart of what I have called intellectual UU is the group worship style that has been described as “UU pew-and-pulpit worship” It’s the one don in all UU communities (churches, fellowships and societies) most every Sunday, usually all year round. UU pew-and-pulpit worship also happens to be the predominant form of group worship within UUim. But amongst the practitioners of UU ecstatic traditions is the group worship style that has been referred to as “UU circle worship” and it’s common at UU youth and young adult conferences and summer camps usually taking place late at night. UU pew-and-pulpit worship resemble a worship service in a liberal Christian church except instead of a sermon that is always devoted to teachings or passage from the bible it has one that delves into the thoughts of the presenter (minister, lay presenter or invited guest) on for example such subjects as the United Nations, peace, neopaganism, the environment, and politics. On the other hand UU circle worship is a form of worship that isn’t based around a delivered talk by a presenter that the gathered audience reflects on during and after the preceding, but rather on a set of activities that are designed to invite those present, including those who have planed and are leading the service to engage with and be moved by the service. So one can say that UU pew-and-pulpit worship is intellectually centred whereas UU circle worship is experientially driven. UU circle worship is usually the form of worship learnt by those UUs that grew up in UU community, especially those that have gone through YRUU, whereas UU pew-and-pulpit worship is the form of worship that is most comfortable to the majority of the adult UU population. It should be noted that most of the adults in UU grew up in a different religious community, usually one of the varying Christian denominations so this could and I would say dos explain their preference for UU pew-and-pulpit worship.

As you can see UU ecstatic traditions has experience as a key element and aim of their group worship practice. Whereas intellectual UU’s group worship practice UU pew-and-pulpit worship has the aim of getting those in attendance to reflect and analyze on what they are hearing using intellectual reasoning. I know I am generalizing a bit but I would say that this is generally the case. So how has this affected UU today? Well that is to come in part 3.

Go to Part 3


4 responses to “My Bio of UU (Part 2)

  1. For gosh sakes what is the reflective value of ecstatic worship? This is like saying warm showers should do feel good. Ho hum. Maybe the difference lies in the fact that YRUU participants have not finished college yet. The pulpit pew group are 95% done. They need the intellectual stimulation in order to have something to think about all week. The circle group need the stimulation and warmth of the group. They are satisfied with the intellectual content of the week to follow.
    As an intellectual person I need the challenge of the Sunday morning presentation. I do like variety in the presentation’s and presenter’s style. It is a terrific relief from the boredom of US consumerism, advertising, and mindless tv.
    Circle services are very difficult with more than 200 people in a setting with pews. I realize that Amherst took the pews out and use folding chairs which are taken out for the ending circle.
    But they don’t have 200 in attendance.
    As for YRUU they are the children who score the highest on SATs. Don’t they need to talk about the global issues beyond themselves. Apparently not or this self-absored form would end with RE.
    How will they “save the planet”?


  2. Marilyn you say circle worship is hard to do with 200 people as well as in churches that have immovable pews. Well I can tell you with certainty based on my experiences as a youth (from 97-2002) of going to district YRUU cons in Northern and Southern New York State as well as helping to run some at what was my home church then the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada that it’s at least possible to do good circle worship for 140 (that includes both youth and their adult advisors). Also based on this experience I know that circle worship can be don in a sanctuary room or worship hall that has immovable pews. In fact I have helped to run some that not only utilized pews but also a stage and it’s pulpit, and too top it all off we didn’t even do them in a circle. So based on this I would conclude that indeed this kind of UU worship can work for large groups of worshippers even ones using pews and pulpits. And I would further conclude that the circle of circle worship dos not always have to be a physical element of the service but can also be a feeling of connection and sharing that the service brings to those involved in it.

    To your comment “For gosh sakes what is the reflective value of ecstatic worship?”, I will restate it again that this kind of UU worship it is not one that has reflection at it’s core but rather feeling. For instance one going to a UU circle worship on the theme of lets say peace, will instead of being given a sermon on peace which they can reflect on and hopefully learn something about peace that they can then apply in their lives and the lives of others, will instead be given an opportunity along with all present to feel peace. And by felling peace they may be better able to help bring it about in themselves and in the lives of those around them.


  3. Devin,

    You may want to check out this resource on the UUA’s Young Adult and Campus Ministry web site pages:

    “Cresting from the Ocean: Creating Profound Worship” (PDF)

    This PDF is a paper written by the UU ministerial candidate Elisabeth Bailey

    The web site describes her paper as giving “a theological basis to challenge what she calls ‘minister-dominated, boring worship.’ She then goes on to give some fairly concrete tips about how to design an embodied, spiritual, meaningful, community-centered worship experience. Bailey calls on all of our congregations to make worship a community practice, and not something we endure to get to what really brings us together as a community.”

    This may help with the theological framing of this discussion about different ways to worship.

    Take care,


  4. I will indeed have to go and read this. THANKS.


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