Summary of the feedback sessions on Worship held in 2016

Prepared by the Shared Ministry Team: Debby Lake, Stephanie Harvey, Kent Klostreich

The Shared Ministry Team (SMT) hosted three small-group feedback sessions in 2016 (two on May 1, one on Sep 18). All sessions were held at the church from 12 noon to 1:30 pm following the Sunday service, and a light lunch was provided to all participants free of charge.

Each session was facilitated by two members of the SMT (leader & recorder). Jon Cowtan, past SMT member, served as recorder for one session, and Tanya Brothers observed one session for the Ministerial Search Committee.

All members and friends of the church were invited to participate and signed up either on-line or on a paper list on Sundays. Sessions were advertised in the weekly all-church email, in the Communicator, by announcements in the Sunday order of service and from the pulpit, and by personal invitation. There were a total of 25 participants, representing some diversity in personal characteristics: age, length of association with the church, family situation, and degree of church involvement.

All participants were sent a short list of questions by email a few days prior to the session and/or by print the morning of the session. The questions focussed on personal experiences of Sunday worship and were developed in consultation with the Sunday Services Committee and following the guidelines provided in the book Completing the Circle.

Participants’ responses were recorded on chart paper for each session. We have taken all of those responses to each question (in italic font) and organized them into thematic clusters. Our source does not indicate the degree of support for each comment or suggestion; thus, some outliers may appear to have equal weight with ideas that had more widespread support. Please keep this in mind as you read on. We end this document with a list of ideas or suggestions that invite further follow-up.

Feedback Sessions Results

Using today’s service (or any recent Sunday service) as an example, please tell us:

  1. What was it like for you preparing to come to the service this morning? Are there difficulties or challenges for you or your family that make it hard to attend Sunday services?
    • Positive responses: Time of service is good; “Expect to be here if I’m in town;” Look forward to seeing people; Coming to “a church” on Sunday.
    • Negative responses: We were a “UU centre;” “Faith, church” are gag words (though do give a framework with other religious people).
    • Challenges: Competing priorities (CBC, loss of income); Getting out of bed; Accessibility/limited mobility; Transportation (bus service not great); Getting the whole family ready.
  2. Did you come today with any particular aches, joys or reasons for thanksgiving? If so, was there any place or time in the service that connected with your feelings?
    • Feelings: Global issues/events; How my beliefs inform how I live in the world; Moving away from belief system and at the same time focussing on / tending to inner life; Feeling frazzled.
    • What connected with feelings: New member ceremony (private new membership option is nice); Poetry (Steve’s); Greeting is fun; Calm; Acknowledge seasons (Spring!); Ingathering message balancing joys of summer & possible life sorrows; Joys & concerns; Guidance for path and company on journey; Social connections without threat, for the greater good; Church as catalyst; Singing during meditation: tough for some, others found it moving, a nice alternative.
  3. What were the highlights of the service for you? Did anything you heard challenge you or offer new insight? If so, how?
    • Highlights: Opening words and readings from varied sources; Meditation (sound of bell helps focus, missed when not used); Music, singing, piano; Congregation sings well; Chanting promotes reflection (but not every service); Story wisdom with adults and kids together; Benediction (but closing announcements / reminders can break the spell).
    • Sermons and speakers: Greater insight into what it means to be UU; End up leaving lighter; Engagement; Introspection; Food for thought; Different people sharing stories about welcoming; Hearing from congregants.
    • Insights/Challenges: “If you receive something you do not have to pay it back, you can pay it forward;” Visitors feel welcome; Theme-based ministry allows deeper exploration of aspects/pillars of (our) belief system; Monthly themes welcomed if not regimented; Want more drawing on rationalism.
  4. Are rites and ritual important to you? Which parts of the service are essential and should never be removed without disturbing the meaningfulness of worship for you? Are there any parts of the service that make you wonder “Why on earth do we do this?”
    • Valued / essential rituals: Chalice lighting/extinguishing; All-welcome statement with introduction; Closing words and parting song; Joys, sorrows, concerns; Meditation/two minutes silence (with bell); Affirmation; Flower communion; Bridging ceremony; Child dedication; New members; Water ceremony; Christmas eve; Diverse service formats; Child-friendly services; Valuing diverse religious backgrounds; Miss repetition of benediction (e.g., “Go in peace, go making peace, live gently, love mightily, and bow to the mystery” as woven together by Millie).
    • Why do we do this?: Struggle with words like worship, spirit, church, service; Structured interactions/discussions can be uncomfortable; Put offering after meditation; Some find uniformity of “hymn sandwich” comforting, others find it boring/conservative; Some prefer sermon delivered as a whole; others like it broken into parts; Trying to innovate and being told to stay to the routine; Open to discussion.
  5. How did you respond to today’s music? What kind of music would you like more of? Less of?
    • Likes / want more of: Good quality; Diverse; Singing children’s recessional; Singing “Carry the flame”; Music has grown; Choir is fabulous; Wonderful musical talent; Amazing musician and choir director; Lucky to have musicians we have; Beautiful piano music; Appreciate familiar songs with “better” words; Inclusive language in hymn book; New hymn books welcome; More singing; More gusto; More varied music, different instruments, ensembles of good quality (we used to have a band!); Choir sings two Sundays per month – the other two Sundays could be something different; Song leader or group of song leaders and instrumentation to elevate and pull us in; Multi-part singing / harmony for congregation; Repetition of song; Evening sing-along; Hymn-fest Sunday; Use old and new words to a hymn.
    • Dislikes / want less of: Get away from singing 3 hymns (and who picks them?); Presentation and singing of music is so traditional; Music is part of worship, not a performance; Different kinds of music leadership; High “E” can be a problem; Hymn book/standing with a hymn book/hearing music during collections re-traumatizes; Two hymn books per service is unwieldy - pick one! Do not like services without music.
    • Hymn books vs projector: Get rid of books and use the projector (words, music and stories)—but projected music can block the whole front of the church; Looking down at songbook reduces engagement, singing music could be much richer.
  6. What else would you like to add about your experience of worship today?
    • General comments: “Worship” – to pay attention to that which is worthy; Connecting with other people, greeting, conversing; Befriending newcomers; Hearing people’s stories; Humming as a segue into or out of meditation; Using different ways of learning; Touching vs non-touching; Personal space; Why stuffed animals (tucked in birch trees at front of sanctuary)? How do we welcome people? Don’t make people feel ignored or overwhelmed.
    • Children: Roles for children; Presence of children: sit with parents and families? Or sit together at the front of the church? We can be more intentional about including children and involving youth in the service. Children’s choir. Inviting them to contribute to the work of the church. We used to have youth soup lunches.
    • Continuing the process of feedback: Good to keep talking and hear about others’ experiences; Newcomers’ orientation - get their feedback, too; Tap into wisdom that has come from and nurtured UU; Make a postcard of the questions used for this process for people to complete and hand in.

For follow-up

  1. We need some way for people to offer and accept rides to church.
  2. More accessible space and interactions, including people of all abilities. Keep accessible chalice. Suggest lighting both chalices every time.
  3. Clear some space and arrange a circle of chairs facing the window for coffee & conversation. Host a corner for newcomers during coffee hour.
  4. Hearing assist earphones are not always working. We need stronger technology and technological support (but we have made great progress).
  5. We value the unique old house we have, and the generosity of Ed Ratcliffe, who helped the church to build the sanctuary by providing material, etc.); should we consider a plaque / invitation?
  6. Request for animal blessing ceremony. Request for public de-Baptism ceremony.
  7. What do we want from our library? Use of Pocket Guide to UU? Use of Communications committee?
  8. Make hidden rules explicit.
  9. Let’s have some dancing.
  10. Consider how to support more varied music (instruments, ensembles).