Homecoming Sunday/Gathering of the Waters Ceremony
Homecoming Sunday falls on the first Sunday after Labor Day each September. It is one of our "High Holy Days," bringing members, friends, and visitors to our congregation together for the launching of a new church year. The service includes special music and the Gathering of the Waters Ceremony. For the Gathering of the Waters, every person brings a small amount of water (or borrows some from a small common bowl) that comes from a special place in their inner or outer journeys in recent months. During the worship service, people come forward as individuals, couples, or families; they name the place (or places) that their water represents, and they pour their water into a large communal bowl. The Gathering of the Waters symbolizes that our shared faith honors each person's spiritual journey and comes from many different sources. The water we gather is later purified and used as our "holy water" in child dedications and other special services.
Day of the Dead/
Día de los Muertos
"Death ends a life but not a relationship." -Robert Benchley
Our ancestors of blood and spirit still inform and inspire our lives. We cannot forget them, for they are as close as breathing. Every year in a ceremony of remembrance we think of those whome we have loved and lost and who have contributed to making us who we are today. In the spirit of our Mexican heritage we create an altar, and people bring pictures, mementoes and offerings to decorate it. And to remember that life and death are forever intertwined, we hear the names of those children that have been born in the past three years.
The Four Sundays in Advent
On the four Sundays preceding Christmas Day, we honor the themes of the Advent season: faith, hope, love, and joy. In the Christian tradition, Advent represents a time of anticipation, a time of "active waiting" for the sources of our hope to be born once again. We Unitarian Universalists find many meanings in this season; most of all, it offers a chance to pause and reflect on timeless themes in the midst of the busy holiday season. We wrestle with the meaning of "faith" in a religion like ours that has no creed; we explore where we find hope in a season that many people find sad or overwhelming; we celebrate the gifts of love and the possibilities for joy within our beautiful, broken world. During Advent worship services, families and youth light the candles in the Advent wreath, and the congregation reflects on how we might focus on that week's theme in our daily lives.
On the evening of December 24, we hold two services, filled with carols, candlelight, special music, and reflections on the meaning for Unitarian Universalists of Jesus' birth and life. We tell the familiar story in new ways, honoring both the faith tradition from which it comes and the many spiritual paths we each find meaningful. It's a beautiful blend that allows the traditional to become new again!
Unitarian Universalist congregations around the world continue the practice of the Flower Communion started by the Rev Norbert Capek, founder of the modem Unitarian movement in Czechoslovakia. On Easter Sunday members of the congregation are invited to bring flowers to adorn the church and then are asked to come forward to take a flower home with them. The flowers symbolize the beauty of our own individual lives coming together in community. They are the gift of spring which we celebrate in our own lives.
Social Justice Sundays
In addition to the social justice themes that often enliven our worship, we set aside several Sundays each year as Social Justice Sundays. On these Sundays, our children's and youth religious education classes join together to explore a particular social justice theme. They learn about a particular issue—such as global warming, peacemaking, or freedom of speech—and they share hands-on experiences that make the issue more concrete. They may make signs or banners expressing their thoughts and feelings about the issue; often they come to the sanctuary or to Hattie Porter Hall after worship to share with the rest of the congregation what they have learned. Children and youth are encouraged to develop their own point of view and to respect each other's opinions. Through Social Justice Sundays, they experience the joy of putting their faith into action, and they see that they can make a difference.
On the first Sunday in June we celebrate those youth in our church who have graduated from high school. Their parents offer them a blessing and a wish for their future. And then we hear from the youth themselves who speak briefly about their plans and how they will carry forth Unitarian Universalist values in their lives.