Ingathering water ceremony

The following words were given by Rev. Dan Harper at the annual ingathering water ceremony. As usual, the text below is a reading text. Copyright (c) 2005 Daniel Harper.


It has become the custom in many Unitarian Universalist congregations to hold an ingathering water ceremony each year at the close of summer.

The water ceremony started in the 1970’s, when Lucile Shuck Longview, Carolyn McDade, and other strong feminists wondered about creating a worshipful ritual which would recognize the strength and power of women. They created a ceremony where women got together, each woman bringing a small amount of water to represent some part of her life; and then the waters from each woman were gathered into one communal bowl to symbolize that we are all connected, that we are all a part of life.

Each person here this morning will have an opportunity to come forward, and add a small amount of water to this bowl. Perhaps you read the newsletter or the announcement in last Sunday’s order of service and brought water from some place that is important to you, or from some place you visited this summer. Or perhaps you brought a memory, or an idea of a place that is important to you, and you will use one of the small cups of water up here to symbolize water from some place that is important in your life, or from some place you visited this summer.

One by one, we will pour water into the communal bowl. Each of us is an individual, each of us is important to this community: even if this is your first time here, this morning you are as important to this worshipping community as someone who has gone to this church all their lives. Our worshipping community is made up of the hopes and dreams and aspirations that each of us brings here this morning. We symbolize that by pouring a bit of water, a bit of who we are, into this bowl.

And water connects us with the wider world as well. When it rains, the water tha falls on this church drains into the harbor just down the hill from where we sit, and flows into Buzzards Bay, and out into the stormy Atlantic Ocean: so rain becomes oceans, oceans become clouds, clouds become rain –– become us become the world. Water connects us with each other, and with the whole world.

The original ingathering water ceremony was created in protest and in anger, and some of that remains as we gather together today. Bodies of water around the world are threatened by pollution and misuse. Our own New Bedford harbor is a Superfund site due to years of pollution with PCBs. Fresh water sources are getting contaminated, or overused. Water ties us to everything around us, and so this ceremony also represents a responsibility and a commitment for making the world a better place.

If you would like to add water to the communal bowl, please come forward now, and line up over there (point to my right). One by one, walk up and put your water in the bowl. If you would like to tell us where your water came from, please say your name first, and speak clearly into the microphone. And please limit yourself to one or two sentences, so everyone can have an equal chance to speak –– and so we’re not here all afternoon.

I’ll begin: My water comes from the Fox River in Geneva, Illinois, where I lived up until month ago. The Fox River is a quiet little Midwestern River currently suffering from a severe drought….


So we have mixed water from different places, water of memories and thoughts and emotions. So we come together again as a worshipping community. Rivers and oceans run though us….