I have always been intrigued by the notion of service as prayer. When I was young I was taught that prayer was words—words that expressed gratitude, contrition (always and lots of contrition), and requests for blessing, healing, wisdom, and strength. We prayed alone in silence and together out loud.
Yet if prayer is the word we use to describe connecting to what is sacred, I think service may be the best form of prayer. And if the purpose of a spiritual practice is spiritual growth, service is a powerful spiritual discipline. I have seen again and again how service transforms people. No one who commits herself to service remains unchanged by the experience. When we serve we become more compassionate, more sensitive, more understanding, and more aware. We are reminded of how precious and fragile life is. We experience our vulnerability and our deep need for one another. When we serve we experience what love can do.
Sometimes in our congregations we speak of spirituality and social action as though they are opposites. This is a false dichotomy. Spirituality and service are two sides of the same coin. Deep spirituality, a loving nature, expresses itself in action. And action that springs from love deepens us and makes us more loving. Love and action cannot be separated.
In the last few years I have also come to appreciate how much people need to serve. I saw this clearly among new members joining the congregation I served in Colorado. As part of our new-member process, we always asked about the activities they wanted to become involved with at church. This congregation is large and active, and they could choose among a broad spectrum of programs. The largest number told us they wanted to become involved in some form of service to the community. In the last several years we found that the percentage who said they wanted to get involved in service kept growing. People need to give of themselves.
While we offer many opportunities for service in our congregations, I have long wished our Association did more to offer options for volunteer service—opportunities that go far beyond what any single church can do. I particularly believe that we need to do more to help young people participate in volunteer work. Late adolescence and young adulthood are times of high energy and idealism. It is also a time when a volunteer experience can change a lifetime.
We need to do more as an Association. This coming year we will begin work that I hope plants the seeds for many more service opportunities in the coming years. First, our Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries will begin working on identifying and promoting volunteer opportunities for young adults. This work will be made possible by a grant from a generous donor—a donor whose own life was changed by volunteer service.
Second, we are expanding our partnership with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). Acting UUSC President William F. Schulz and UUSC leadership have been meeting with me and several members of the UUA staff. We have agreed to form two task forces to explore further collaboration between our organizations. One of those task forces will focus on developing volunteer and experiential learning opportunities. The other will focus on working jointly with congregations.
We Unitarian Universalists have always been a faith that seeks to bring healing to a broken world. We heal the world and grow our souls when we join hands and take action.
May service always be our prayer.