Worship and Ritual Arts

Etymologically, the word worship means “to give worth to.” I love the idea that once a week, we set time aside to gather and consider: what is worthy of our time, our resources, our life force? Worship connects us to something larger than ourselves, and grounds us in our values. Good worship reminds us of who we are, tells us that we are enough, and yet gives us the possibility to grow and learn. I think worship should be evocative of emotion, stimulating of thought, and when possible, involve all the sense

I love multi-vocal collaborative worship. I work well in teams, with worship associates, or worship committees. It is important to me to practice the traditions and customs of Unitarian Universalism, such as chalice lightings, and water communion. I love to learn the new traditions and customs sacred to each local congregation. I hope I get to learn yours. It is important to me to have children in worship at least some of the time. I love to use worship to highlight the achievements and, in times of strife, heal the wounds of the congregation.

Receiving the charge to the minister at my ordination.

My worship style is enthusiastic and interactive. I do not preach from behind a pulpit or from notes. I find it easier to connect with the congregation and invoke the holy when we aren’t separated by lecterns and paper.

Sermons

In this sermon, I talk about my call to ministry and what I think ministry is.

In a sermon featuring my favorite Harry Potter character, Neville Longbottom, I talked about our amazing human brains and their ability to make choices. I use the Story for All Ages as an integral part of my message. Listen to the sermon at this link.

I often preach messages of justice and anti-oppression. In February of this year, I was preaching a sermon about the legacy of the civil rights movement when the service was “Zoom-bombed” by people who started showing disturbing white supremacist images, and sending me violent and explicit threats. The video below shows my real-time response, after my worship tech got back control of the service. I think it says a lot about how I show up in worship spaces.

Ritual and Rites of Passage

In addition to sermons, I think ritual is vitally import to worship. In her book Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, Catherine Bell describes ritual as having two basic functions: to ground ourselves in communal norms, and to give meaning to that which can’t be expressed in words. By the time the my congregation was celebrating their second Easter in quarantine, we needed some of both.

The worship team and I got creative and put together a drive-through service with contactless stations. At one station, you could sing along with a musician playing the guitar through a closed window. Another station had someone reading you a poem. We had a “joys and sorrows” station staffed by a member of our pastoral care team. I did a contactless handwashing blessing. Then there was a reverse bonnet parade, where people were invited to drive by the children in their newly-made Easter bonnets as they blew bubbles at passing cars. This is the homily I gave to start off that event. (The sound is a bit tricky in the beginning as the videographer wasn’t standing close enough.)

Music and Poetry

Music and poetry are essential to the evocative experience of worship. One of my favorite parts of worship planning is sitting down and choosing the perfect pieces to complement the service. This is also one of the most enjoyable parts to collaborate on! I’ve been introduced to some of my favorite poems when worship committee members sent them to me for consideration. Sometimes, I also feel the need to write my own pieces.

I loved working with Rev. Julie Brock while Music Director at First Unitarian Society in Madison, Wisconsin. Rev. Brock regularly shared  her considerable musical gifts.  We also worked together on worship preparation and Rev. Brock was instrumental in coaxing the staff to think outside the box.

Dan Broner, Music Director, First Unitarian Society of Madison
Singing at a vigil with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Here is an audio clip of my family singing the grace song I wrote. You can hear my baby singing along!

This is a spoken word piece I wrote and performed at a vigil for the five-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting.

Theology

My theology is rooted in the first and seventh UU principles.  It can be summed up as (1) every soul is sacred, worthy of love and human dignity; and (2) we are all connected. 

For me, God is that which connects us and gives us worth.  It doesn’t have to be an anthropomorphic being with human sentience…but it can be.  It also doesn’t have to be anything that exists outside of nature…but it can be.  And, we don’t have to call it God, but we can. I have not consistently conceived of the holy in the same way myself throughout my life, so I have no expectations that a congregation would agree on the function, form, or name of the ultimate.  So I bring many names, imagine many forms, and ask us to consider how the holy functions to help us call on our best selves and live our best lives. I sometimes use explicit language of reverence, but when I do, I most often give another option as well. So far, the atheists don’t seem to mind too much.

This audio grounds my theology in story.