CHURCH: the practice of gathering

Theme for October

The intention of the themed year is to help Unitarian Universalists build a robust spiritual and ethical vocabulary. The themes are points of departure for religious liberals seeking to think, speak and act theologically, prophetically and prayerfully. The themes reclaim religious language, casting old terms in a new key to deepen spiritual grounding and sharpen moral reasoning. More at: or sign up for a circle at

Download 2019Oct Church – gathering.pdf


  • What makes it church, as opposed to just a gathering?
  • Why is it important (or not) to call this place a church?
  • What unites us on a Sunday morning, out of the great olio of our various beliefs and backgrounds?



“My grandmother took me to church on Sunday all day long, every Sunday into the night. Then Monday evening was the missionary meeting. Tuesday evening was usher board meeting. Wednesday evening was prayer meeting. Thursday evening was visiting the sick. Friday evening was choir practice. I mean, and at all those gatherings, we sang.” —  Maya Angelou

“The Church is like a great tree whose roots must be energetically anchored in the earth while its leaves are serenely exposed to the bright sunlight. In this way, she sums up a whole gamut of beats in a single living and all-embracing act, each one of which corresponds to a particular degree or a possible form of spiritualization.”
— Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

“Jesus, as everyone knows, didn’t ask his followers to build anything,” he wrote in the opening page. “Worship involves persons, not places. Persons are the temples. They are the holy things.”  “most important things in the church are not the communion table, the font, the cross, or the pulpit, but the people.”   — Church architect Edward Sovik

“Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life.” ― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

“Our faith is not interested in saving your soul. We’re here to help you unfold the awesome soul you already have.” — Andrea Lerner, UUA District Staff member

“I am remembering, gathering together the prodigal parts of myself and welcoming them home.” — Marion Woodman

“I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are [children] of one religion, and it is the spirit.” — Khalil Gibran

“I think it was the ability of the theater to communicate ideas and extol virtues that drew me to it. And also, I was, and remain, fascinated by the idea of an audience as a community of people who gather willingly to bear witness.” — August Wilson



On Sundays, the preacher gives everyone a chance
to repent their sins. Miss Edna makes me go

to church. She wears a bright hat
I wear my suit. Babies dress in lace.

Girls my age, some pretty, some not so
pretty. Old ladies and men nodding.

Miss Edna every now and then throwing her hand
in the air. Saying Yes, Lord and Preach!

I sneak a pen from my back pocket,
bend down low like I dropped something.

The chorus marches up behind the preacher
clapping and humming and getting ready to sing.

I write the word HOPE on my hand.

—Jacqueline Woodson


Let us gather in a flourishing way
with sunluz grains abriendo los cantos
que cargamos cada día   
en el young pasto nuestro cuerpo
para regalar y dar feliz perlas pearls
of corn flowing árboles de vida en las cuatro esquinas
let us gather in a flourishing way
contentos llenos de fuerza to vida
giving nacimientos to fragrant ríos   
dulces frescos verdes turquoise strong
carne de nuestros hijos rainbows
let us gather in a flourishing way
en la luz y en la carne of our heart to toil
tranquilos in fields of blossoms
juntos to stretch los brazos
tranquilos with the rain en la mañana
temprana estrella on our forehead
cielo de calor and wisdom to meet us
where we toil siempre
in the garden of our struggle and joy
let us offer our hearts a saludar our águila rising freedom
celebrar woven brazos branches ramas
piedras nopales plumas piercing bursting
figs and aguacates
ripe mariposa fields and mares claros
of our face
to breathe todos en el camino blessing
seeds to give to grow maiztlán
en las manos de nuestro amor

—Juan Felipe Herrera




We gather together in spiritual community because we need constant reminders of what matters most in life. In a world of heartbreak and dehumanization, our congregations and communities call us to our better selves. We learn to live with more wisdom, more connection, and more compassion.

Our Worship Services are weekly reflections that weave together our own thoughts and experiences with music, beauty, poetry, and words that both comfort and challenge. Our programs for all ages inspire us, and awaken us to our capacities to make a difference in our own lives and in the world.

We are inspired not just by religious sources but by the people with whom we journey: the diverse and spirited Unitarian Universalists.

Do Not Be Alone Right Now by Karen G. Johnston

Do not be alone right now. Gather together.

Gathering together grows courage: in ourselves and in others who see the numbers swelling. It is a small thing, but right now it is an important thing.

Great sources of wisdom remind us: just because you cannot stem the tide of all hate, it is still right to do the thing you can do. These things add up: your one thing & my one thing; his one thing & their one thing & her one thing. Together it becomes a BIG thing.

Do not be alone right now. Any liberation—all liberation—is collective liberation. My freedom is bound with yours and yours with mine. Inextricably.

Let us together cast our lots doing this BIG thing: bending the moral arc of the universe towards justice.

From the Rev. Peter Wallace, Episcopal priest:

Worship services provide a place not only to experience sublime peace, but to be challenged to serve. Getting involved in an active community of faith, even without faith, can help us build mutually beneficial relationships, and can also offer opportunities to meet the needs around us —to get out of ourselves and our own concerns, see the hurting world around us, and do something constructive and meaningful about it together.

A number of people added comments to my friend’s post. One said: “The best part of church is the fellowship you describe.”

To be sure, in our culture today, there is so little opportunity to experience camaraderie and affiliation with other people — men and women who may be very different from ourselves in a number of ways. To my thinking, we need all the human connections we can get in this world. Church offers this rare opportunity for meaningful fellowship, if we give ourselves to it.

This commenter continued: “In a small town, churches are hubs for the community. In a big city, your church can be an oasis. I loved going back to [my old] Church when I was home in May, even went to a choir practice with my old choir. Felt good to see everyone again.”

Interesting: Church as an oasis of peace. Church as a lifeboat in the storm. Church as a gathering place for joyful interaction — regardless of who is part of the congregation.



Gathering Songs from our hymnals:

Gathered here in the mystery of the hour. 
Gathered here in one strong body.
Gathered here in the struggle and the power. 
Spirit draw near.


Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?…


Gather the spirit, harvest the power.
Our sep’rate fires will kindle one flame.
Witness the mystery of this hour.
Our trials in this light appear all the same.


Other Titles:
Circle Round
Welcome Table
Go Yonder, Go Yonder
“…this is our covenant, to dwell together peacefully
to seek the truth in love, and help each other grow.”