First in a series: short overviews of typical elements of Unitarian Universalist worship services. Later note: This series morphed into a more comprehensive review of post-Christian worship. Link.
My real interest in examining the various elements of a typical worship service is to determine the theological significance of each element. My assumption is that we truly live out our theology in our liturgy, in actual living worship services. If we want to know Unitarian Universalist theology is really (as opposed to what people say it is), let’s look at Unitarian Universalist worship.
And let’s begin with announcements.
On a practical level, announcements are useless:– someone stands up, gives a rambling announcement that no one listens to anyway, and at the end gives a name and phone number to call, as if anyone in the congregation has pen and paper ready to take down all that information. One or two announcements given by a worship leader from the pulpit might be marginally effective. Least effective is when anyone is invited to stand up and give any announcement at all. Printed announcements in the the order of service work well because people can take the announcements with them and act on it later; but practically speaking spoken announcements aren’t effective.
If announcements are useless on a practical level, why do they persist in our congregations? Announcements provide an opportunity for people to stand up in front of the congregation and be heard; it may be the only place where certain people feel they have an opportunity to be heard. Thus, while on the surface announcements give a false impression of a congregation that values community, in actuality a congregation that values announcements is likely to: silence minority viewpoints, avoid conflict, show active dislike towards ministers and other authority figures, and/or tolerate irrational behavior. Such an environment is not conducive to open, mutually-enriching conversations about theology.
From a theological perspective, then, the presence of announcements serves as a reminder that all too often Unitarian Universalist congregational life may not include time and space to discuss theology. I have been in congregations that devoted ten to fifteen minutes to spoken announcements, which seriously reduced the time for other more explicitly theological elements in the worship service. Which is what spoken announcements in the worship service do: squeeze the theology out of our religion.