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The Rev. Natalie Fenimore at the Council on Cross Cultural Engagement worship service, 2013.

Team plans creative, nourishing arc of worship

Worship Arts Team, new this year, supports worship leaders at General Assembly.
By Donald E. Skinner
6.16.14

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If worship services at the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly next week seem just a little deeper and a little more meaningful, it will be because the worship leaders poured their hearts and souls into creating these events.

It will also be because of the new Worship Arts Team at GA.

The Rev. Carolyn Patierno, senior minister of All Souls New London, Conn., is heading up the team coordinating nine GA worship services. (Check the GA Streaming Video schedule to watch worship services online.)

Joining Patierno on the team are the Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith from the Congregational Life staff of the UUA’s Southern Region; Lane Campbell, director of religious education at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, Ohio; the Rev. Elea Kemler, minister of First Parish Church, Groton, Mass.; the Rev. Paul Langston-Daley, minister of First Unitarian Church in New Bedford, Mass.; Debra Boyd, co–vice chair of the GA Planning Committee and a lay leader at First UU Church of Columbus, Ohio; and David Glasgow, GA music coordinator and music director of UUs of the Cumberland Valley, Boiling Springs, Pa.

Patierno emphasized that the new team will not be dictating worship terms and requirements. Worship leaders will still have free rein over their respective services. “I describe what the team is doing as making it easier for worship leaders to plan services,” said Patierno. “We don’t want them to feel overwhelmed. There’s a huge cast of people involved in creating worship at GA—from the worship leaders to musicians, speakers, the GA Planning Committee, and the people who manage the stage. What we do is help them communicate with each other. This is one GA system that has needed more tending and now it’s getting it.”

None of this is to suggest that worship services at previous GAs were lacking in any way, Patierno said. “What we’re doing just makes the process smoother and hopefully removes some uncertainty for worship planners. We hope that as a result GA participants are going to feel an arc of worship that is very creative, nourishing, and inspiring.”

She noted there are many deadlines that must be kept to in planning a GA service. “We keep those deadlines in front of worship leaders. We let them know what their budget is and how to access other resources. There are eleven pages of instructions about how to use the plenary hall. We help the leaders navigate those.”

Each of the Worship Arts Team members is responsible for several services. Patierno will oversee the Service of the Living Tradition on Friday and the Sunday morning service. The Rev. Rebekah A. Montgomery, a U.S. Army Reserve chaplain and affiliate minister at River Road UU Congregation in Bethesda, Md., and AWAKE Ministries in Annapolis, Md., will lead the Service of the Living Tradition. The Rev. Mark Stringer, minister of First Unitarian Church of Des Moines, Iowa, is worship leader for the Sunday morning service.

“Part of what we do is also give the leaders feedback on their messages,” said Patierno. “For instance, when I saw Rebekah and Mark start to go down a similar path in their messages, I let them know that they needed to talk. And they did.”

And if two worship leaders are planning to sing “Blue Boat Home,” the Worship Arts Team will initiate conversation. “You’d be surprised how often the same hymn is selected in GA worship,” Patierno said. “When that happens now we will go to the worship leaders and find out whose heart is set on using this hymn. Whose sermon depends on it?”

The team will also encourage worship leaders to incorporate the theme of GA, “Love Reaches Out,” into their services. “We’re doing this in much the same way that congregations engage with ministry themes.”

Stringer said he talked with Patierno numerous times while preparing the Sunday service. “She’s been a wonderful gift to my process. It’s such an honor and privilege to present worship at GA, but the enormity of it doesn’t dawn on you until you start to plan an entire service. It’s been good to have a colleague there, rather than me having to figure the entire thing out on the spur of the moment.”

He added, “I also know that because of all this coordination the services will fit together. I know I’m not going to be redundant in terms of liturgy I might use. That’s really a great comfort.”


See sidebar for related resources. Photograph (above): The Rev. Natalie Fenimore at the Council on Cross Cultural Engagement worship service, 2013 (© 2013 Nancy Pierce/UUA).

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