“I am tapping out of the fake fights that distract us!”
Youth sing “Gather the Spirit” during the Sunday worship service at the 2016 General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio. (© Christopher L. Walton)
The Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd, Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout, and the 180-person General Assembly choir led thousands of Unitarian Universalists in a music-filled worship service Sunday morning in Columbus, Ohio. The service, with energy peaks and valleys, brought attendees to rise up, in body or in spirit, on repeated occasions, especially during McDonald Ladd’s sermon.
“Sunday morning worship is always one of the most amazing worship experiences of the year,” said UUA President Morales, following the upbeat, ten-minute opening music medley. Rideout and the GA choir led the hall in “I’ve Got Peace Like a River,” and “Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind Stayed on Freedom),” among other hymns. Worship attendees clapped, sang, and tweeted their enjoyment.
“Whether you’ve come from across the ocean or across town, your presence is a blessing,” Morales said, to extend welcome to the guests at the worship, one of a handful of open-to-the-public events at GA.
The hall was the fullest it’d been all week, with only a relative handful of seats open in the back, and youth caucus and young adults at GA seating sections were packed as well.
Youth leaders and recent “bridgers” into adulthood Alison Butler-Córdova and Nelson Moroukian played feature roles, leading the offering, a call to support the Horizon Prison Initiative, and delivering pre-sermon readings. “The prison system is broken,” Butler-Córdova said, before listing Horizon’s efforts to change that system and assist prisoners.
McDonald Ladd, Rideout, and the choir held worship space that wove together music, poetry, ritual, and words for several minutes. “With a woven will, we can make sacred work out of this moment,” Rideout said, a line that resonated with UU social media users. “May there be love with no labels and binary and arithmetic and no limit,” McDonald Ladd added.
Rideout also shared his poem “afterall,” a reflection on the nature of God.
“God is no noun and certainly not an adjective. God is at least a verb,” Rideout said. “God is waiting to be unshrunk.”
“We can make community even in the most ‘conventional’ space,” Rideout said, to appreciative laughter, before leading “Gather the Spirit” in the Greater Columbus Convention Center. During the hymn members of youth caucus linked hands with those around them, starting a trend that spread throughout the convention hall.
McDonald Ladd’s sermon lamented the “fake fights we waste our time on,” like “what color to paint the church bathroom,” as others struggle against injustice. McDonald Ladd’s words repeatedly brought cheers and ovations from the crowd as she weaved together personal narrative, humor, and her vision for a Unitarian Universalism focused on “real struggles and real battles” and not “confined by the smallness of our loving.”
“The world does not need another place where like-minded liberals hang out and fight about who is in charge," McDonald Ladd said, leading hundreds to stand or otherwise roar their approval.
McDonald Ladd also spoke of the strength of her call to ministry and that she “does not back down” in the face of those who think women should not be ministers or are otherwise less capable. “I offer a withering stare and a string of $10 words that make it very clear that I do not bow before the patriarchy,” McDonald Ladd said, drawing another thunderous round of cheers.
The worship ended with a particularly spirit-filled rendition of “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand,” capping a worship experience long on music, time, and energy. Adrian L. H. Graham, a UU from Baltimore, said on Twitter, “The choir is just wow. The music during this #UUAGA has been particularly touching for me. Thank you all.”
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Kenny Wiley was a UU World senior editor from 2015 to 2018. His writing has also appeared in the Boston Globe, the Houston Chronicle, and Skyd Magazine.
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