The cornerstone of our practice is the Sunday worship service. It starts at 11AM and lasts roughly an hour. It’s a key opportunity to lay down the distractions of day-to-day life and to renew our spirit. Attendance is entirely voluntary, however. No roll call is taken! And, in order to make services as accessible as possible, they are also available over the web, either with live streaming on Facebook (see https://www.facebook.com/uujax.org) or Zoom (use the Contact page at https://uucj.org/contact-us/ to request a weekly mailing from us). You can also see the archived services at https://uucj.org/sermons/.
If you attend in person you may wish to sit in the sanctuary or you may prefer to view the services using the TV in the basement hospitality room. You are encouraged to pick up a copy of the day’s Standard Order of Service handed out by the greeters. The Standard Order of Service provides an outline of the service components; they are described below
Music is provided prior to service commencement. During this time, you’ll encounter volunteer greeters and service assistants. It’s an opportunity to be welcomed, to ask questions, and to get a copy of our Standard Order of Service for the current service. It will give you details about the speaker, upcoming events, members who are in need of comfort and support, and, of course the schedule of the day’s service components. New members should take note of the back page; it lists the Seven UUA Principles, UUCJ’s Spoken Affirmation, and church contact information. Once the music ends, the service will start. Please try to be seated (in any pew you’d like) at this time.
Every gathering has to start somehow, and what better way than to state simply who we are, why we are here, and to affirm that everyone of whatever description is welcome to be here? New visitors are welcome to introduce themselves to the congregation so our members can say hello to you. Everyone is invited to greet their neighbors too! The service leader will make announcements of general interest, especially those not listed in the current Order of Service.
Lighting a chalice is a relatively recent (1960’s) addition to our collective life, indicating a shift from general business and information giving to a more introspective mood. It has become the main symbol of our faith and the signal that we are up to important matters. The “flaming chalice” (in various pictorial styles) has come to symbolize our church. Quenching the chalice at the end of the service forms a symbolic end to our physical solidarity, marking our dispersion into the world with the renewed values we have affirmed.
Singing together is a special mark of religious gatherings, an act rarely encountered in the normal course of human affairs. [Some soloist is even invited to sing our national anthem that we should all sing together.???] So this act of solidarity is special and has special music to serve it. Our two hymnals, “Singing the Living Tradition,” and “Singing the Journey,” represent the whole sweep of human spirituality from ancient chants to newly composed hymns from UU musicians (see https://www.uua.org/worship/music/hymnals/singing-living-tradition/index-hymn-titles for song titles). Make it a habit to glance down at the bottom of hymns to see where the music and text originated, noting that most of the world and its cultures are represented. Note also that the hymn is part of the spiritual traditions of the world’s peoples and not the commercial, mass produced songs that coat our communications systems. Refer again to the six sources of our faith to see why this is so appropriate.
We’ve inherited this activity from traditional churches whose ministers love to haul all the children in the congregation up to the front of the church and have some kind of lesson, story, or object that can be explored at their level, and that relates to the sermon the adults will hear later. We aren’t sure the children like being on display like this, but still want to make sure they are included as part of the congregation. Alternatively, the children are allowed to continue sitting with their elders for the message.
After the message, children are invited to leave adult services for age-appropriate classes or nursery care. As the children leave, the adults sing to them to celebrate their journey. From time to time, but especially during holidays, we have family-themed services that older children (not in need of nursery care) are encouraged to attend. During family-themed services, all activities are kept youth-friendly.
As a congregation it is important to know about the major issues that concern individual lives. We are not a mindless herd bent on some collective task, heedless of the lives within our midst. Each person should be able to assume our collective interest and count on both sympathy and practical assistance, and in happy times, to celebrate together. Sure, we could spread the word in an e-blast each week, but when a person in need is right there before us, that demands our attention to a greater degree.
Of course, some members are too verbose, and some Sundays the line to speak grows longer than our patience, but somehow, we always come back to the need for such an inclusion in our services. Think about your own attitude and how you can better bring patience and concern to this activity. Conversely, some members may be reluctant to share their personal experiences and that is perfectly acceptable. All participants in this activity are encouraged to light a candle as a symbol or shared sorrows and joys. If you are viewing services remotely, contact the Caring Network Committee, especially if you could use some help or contact.
Members are asked to make an annual pledge of funds to keep the church functioning, and could just do all this by electronic funds transfer. But it’s just too emotionally cold. There’s something so deeply religious about passing the plate that it allows a very present, concrete expression of our faith in this body of people and our service to the world. We are right here in this place we support, right now doing the supporting. It’s a small, functional act we value and it allows us to continue operations. If you are attending services virtually you can mail your contribution; cash or check are equally welcome. You can also make an electronic transfer from your bank.
In addition to our weekly collection, we offer our members a regular opportunity to contribute to a local charitable organization that is making a positive difference. A representative from the selected charity will be able to tell you about it. It is really uplifting to hear so many stories about good works being done.
We are a “wordy” people – always have been. Our gray hymnal, “Singing the Living Tradition,” has a compilation of some of the most memorable words of many people drawn from our six sources. On occasion, we may read these selections together as food for thought, enhancing the sermon or main interest for the day. Take some time next Sunday just to explore the selections, noting how varied and beautifully expressed they are. Alternatively, the service leader may recite a text not listed in the hymnal if it stimulates the imagination and requires rumination in the kind of silence we think of as sacred.
Just prior to the sermon, the congregation is asked to observe a few minutes of silence. Unitarian Universalists have such a wide range of beliefs that we can’t assume to direct everyone’s thoughts, hopes, earnest pleas toward some Being, internal or external. People use this interval as need demands. Silence is so rare in our contemporary world that simply the chance to sit, with no demand at all to respond to may be the greatest gift we can provide.
UU’s expect something substantial in a sermon, more than a confidence builder or a bunch of personal stories, kick-off to a funds drive, or the many utilitarian purposes to which these things have been put. Our speakers are varied and include persons drawn from outside sources, members, and of course, our Minister. We believe in the “freedom of the pulpit” by which our speakers may present some hard truths or controversial positions. We also believe in the “freedom of the pew” in that all our members have the option of disagreeing with whatever is preached and making a contrary position known in whatever ways are kind and helpful. We value depth of study, evaluation of options held to the standards of our faith, and calls to our attention of civic matters that should concern us. Sermons should sustain our spiritual lives and motivate our actions to reflect our seven principles more effectively.
Our Spoken Affirmation is printed on the back of the Standard Order of Service, and begins with, “Love is the doctrine of our church.” It has been part of our closing ritual for as far back as most of us can remember. Even a hint that this activity might be abandoned has been met with a solid chorus of “no way!”
This affirmation represents our congregational promise to each other. It is recited by all members as we hold hands. Our circle of held hands symbolizes the circle of human care that makes us a congregation. It is a closing statement of what we are as a people and what values we take back into the world with us.
Love is the doctrine of this church,
The quest for truth is its sacrament,
And service is its prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve humanity in fellowship,
To the end that all souls shall grow
Into harmony with the divine,
Thus do we covenant with one another.