At our April gathering we for the first time took advantage of a new format of service. We had experienced the format first hand at the Festival of Unitarians in the South East (FUSE) in Worthing, Sussex UK, in February.
We have chosen to try the new “heart and soul” format so that we are one of several UK Unitarian congregations now experimenting with it. Knowing that others are also trying it connects us a little bit more; on social media we can have conversations with others who are familiar with it; and it also means that visitors from other congregations may more readily recognise what is happening in our gatherings. In a widely scattered community like the Unitarian movement, even tenuous links like that can help to glue us all together.
The “heart and soul” format is more about experience than words or knowledge, and it was easy to fit our traditional, simple, experiential ritual into it. The overall topic was “What is church?”, and no prescriptive answer was given. As with all things Unitarian, it was anticipated that participants would place their own interpretation on what was offered.
We framed our time together using hymns, contemplative words from Unitarian leaders sourced from the www, a children’s story from the Brothers Grimm, and an extract from Plato ALCIBIADES I. There was an exercise in selecting at random a line of poetry or a question, so that these could be explored together.
At the very heart of the “heart and soul” service there are four aspects:
- Naming: an opportunity to give thanks
- Knowing: a gentle reflection on our own day
- Listening: a time of silent meditation
- Loving: offering prayers for others
We first came across these aspects around 1999 when they were first set out by Rev Erik Walker Wikstrom @revwik, in an essay published in Everyday Spiritual Practice - Simple Pathways for Enriching Your Life, editor Scott W. Alexander https://www.bookdepository.com/Everyday-Spiritual-Practice-Scott-W-Alexander/9781558963757. A wonderful book, highly recommended, which we hold in our library for anyone to borrow.
The people who took place in our first “heart and soul” gathering are now reflecting on how they feel about the new format, and it will be tried again in May.
“Heart and soul” has the benefit that there is more of a group collaboration in curating the safe space for reverence, and less pressure on the ‘president for the day’ to craft a coherent and intellectually satisfying gathering. We always look for meaningful ideas, but we know it can feel daunting to be asked to lead, if leading requires a homily to be prepared. Small groups without trained ministers can - and must - minister to each other, and as many people as possible must be given the chance to try. A group that does not rely on one or two strong leaders will be more resilient in the long term.