rituals

Festival of the Ancestors

Introduction

As the harvest season comes to an end, it is a time of both fruition and death - fruits such as apples lay heavy on the branches and squashes such as pumpkins are at their full weight, but the leaves are turning and falling off baring branches and the vines are whithering.  The days are shorter and there is a chill in the air. It is a time to think of ancestors.  Indeed, several cultures Coming six months after the Festival of the First Fruits, and being its mirror image, let this be a time to celebrate our members of the community who have passed into ancestorhood during the previous year.


Personal

 If a loved one has died within the past year, use today to honor them.  If no one close to you has died, you can use today to honor someone who has touched you spititually or honor your ancestors in general.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask folks (beforehand) to bring photos/momentos of loved ones who have passed into ancestorhood over the previous year.  (For folks who forget, you might want to have a notepad and pencils on which to write their names so that they can be included.)  Also, for the potluck dishes, ask folks to bring a favorite dish of their departed.  The ancstral icons and food should be placed on the altar as usual, but ask folks to hold on to their icons *of the newly departed* until after the ritual starts.  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the following:

Today we honor those who have joined the ranks of the ancestors this past year.

Invite folks to state the names of the recently departed, and as they do so to add the photo/momento of the recently departed among the icons of the older ancestors.  Ask them also to state their loved one's favorite food, being shared today.  When finished, turn to the altar and say:

You who have passed on into glory,
Your memories still live in our hearts and your spirits still guide us.
Through Love we are never alone.

Water Communion

Introduction

It's the Atumnal Equinox and fall is in the air.  Daylight is receding, harvests are being brought in, and folks are coming back from summer vacations - it is a time of ingathering.  The UU ritual of Water Communion is preserved here.  While the rituals before and after this, Blessing of the Loaves and Festival of the Ancestors, focus on harvest and other aspectsof fall, the Water Communion is not really seasonal in and of itself.  We will use the autumn equinox as a time to focus on ingathering - that is, a time for community.


Personal

The communal aspect of Water Communion obviously cannot be replicated as a personal ritual.  However, since the Water Communion is about interdependency, that aspect addressed.   


Communal

Have a large empty basin, near the center of the altar table, but leaving room for the offering plate.  In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask folks (beforehand) to bring a small amount of water from a place that is meaningful to them (which could include their home).  Ask folks to place their potluck dishes of seasonal foods on the communion table as usual, but to hang on to their water.  (You might want to have a bowl of water - perhaps from last year's water communion - and some small containers on hand, in case anyone forgets.)  After lighting the chalice but BEFORE the invocation of the ancestors, insert the Water Communion. (You want to do it before so that the water is consecrated along with the communion food.)

Communion leader (or someone else for this part) lights the chalice and says:

Just as many little streams join into rivers which join into the oceans, their waters intermingling,
So to do we voluntarily join together as one.
Alone we are small; together we are powerful, as wide and as deep as the oceans.

Invite participants to come up and pour their water into the basin.  This can be done silently or with a very few words as they are pouring, whichever works best for your congregation/group.  When all are finished, commence with the rest of the communion ritual.  If desired, you can use some of the water from the water communion bowl as the libation for the ancestors.  Many congregations boil the water communion water afterwards to sterilize it, and then use it in their child dedication ceremonies throughout the year.  In addition, when new congregations are starting up, many congregations will send some of their communion water for the new congregation.  In that way, there is a continuous stream of transimission from established congregations to new ones. 

Some congregations include as part of the ritual a recognition that not everyone has access to water, so essential to life.

Blessing of the Loaves

Introduction

Remember the Blessing of the Seeds back in the beginning of spring?  This is the mirror image ritual six months later as we begin autumn. the first wave of harvests.  I don't expect many folks to grow their own grains, mill their own flour, and then bake bread, but this again is to remind us of our ties to the land.  However, in many agricultural cultures, this is the time when people start harvesting grain.  And while the grain eaten may vary from culture to culture, the importance of grain itself is pretty ubiquitous, whether wheat, rice, corn, millet or others.  Moreover, the making of bread requires many different steps - planting the grain, tending, harvesting, milling, the making of other ingredients - all go into a loaf of bread.  Thus, the Blessing of the Loaves gives us an opportunity to recognize these things.


Personal

Whether you bake or not, this ritual can be performed on a personal level.  You will need some bread.  Light your chalice or candle. Hold the bread, breaking off a piece, and say:

Seeds planted in spring and tended over the summer have come to fruition.
This sustaining food, whether baked or bought, is the tangible result of my efforts.
But even so, I know that I could not accomplish this alone.
I give thanks for the fertile earth, the sun and rain,
I give thanks to those who grew, tended, harvested, milled, and baked.

Eat, thinking both of what you've accomplished and what you owe to the help of others.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask folks (beforehand) who do bake to bring "bread."  (Interpret "bread" *loosely.*  This can include tortillas, steamed buns, cornbread, whatever. In fact, there should be something present without gluten in it for those with sensitivities.)  Those who do not bake should being seasonal dishes as usual.  (If no one bakes, you will have to buy some bead.)  Place the food on the altar table as usual.  Make sure that everyone has washed their hands before this ritual because there is going to be touching of food involved.  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the Blessing of the Loaves.

Take a large loaf of bread turn towards the group and break the bread, saying:

Seeds planted in spring and tended over the summer have come to fruitiion.
This sustaining food, whether baked or bought, is the tangible result of our efforts.
But even so, we know that we could not accomplish this alone.
We give thanks for the fertile earth, the sun and rain,
We give thanks to those who grew, tended, harvested, milled, and baked.

Give half a loaf each to pre-designated people on each side.  Invite folks to form lines to come up and tear off a piece of bread from the halves, but ask them not to eat it yet.  Depending on how many people are involved and/or there are people with gluten sensitivities, you might have to take a second, different type of loaf, and break that in half as well, giving each half to two more pre-diesignated people.  Make sure that someone is still holding bread for you.  When everyone has a piece of bread, finish the communion blessing by breaking off some bread from the person still holding it and placing it on the plate.  Pour the libation, etc.  Break off a piece of bread for yourself from the person still holding bread.  Then invite everyone to eat, thinking both of what they've accomplished and what they owe to the help of others. If there is a variety of different kinds of "bread," invite folks to try something they don't normally eat during the potluck communion meal.

Day of Reflections

Introduction

Summer solstice is the longest day/shortest night of the year.  It is the sun at its greatest strength but also the mark of its decline.  From this day forth until the winter solstice, light wanes into darkness.  There is still a lot of growing yet to do but now in the heat of summer things start to slow down a bit compared to frenetic spring.  Now is a good time to take stock of how the year is going and make any necessary adjustments.  The word "reflection" can refer both to light, as in reflections in a mirror, and to thought, as in self-reflection.  So this ritual plays on the double meaning of reflection as we celebrate the peak of light. Also, as the winter solstice ritual represented light expanding outwards, this summer solstice ritual represents light contracting inwards.  (Note: I'm not against bon fires, either today or for any of the other holidays.  They just don't work well indoors.)


Personal

For this ritual, you will need a hand mirror.  Light your chalice or candle.  And say:

Once more around the sun.
Even though the days are bright, from this point on the light dims.
May I be mindful of the time I am given.

Tun away from the chalice and hold up your mirror.  You can either look at your own reflection or the chalice light, whichever makes more sense to you. Enter a moment of reflection.  How is the year going?  Are you where/who you want to be?  Are there changes that need to be made?  When you finish your reflections, turn back around, facing the chalice.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask folks to bring a small hand mirror or anything reflective, one for each participant.  (You might want to have some extra mirrors on hand,to be loaned, so that those who forget are not left out.)  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the following:

Once more around the sun.
Even though the days are bright, from this day on the light dims.
May we be mindful of the time we are given.

Invite participants to turn around, facing away from the altar and the lit chalice, and hold up their mirrors.  They can either look at their own reflections or the chalice light, whichever makes more sense to them or is more feasible.  (Some people may not be able to see the chalice from where they are.)  Invite them into a moment of reflection.  How is the year going?  Are you where/who you want to be?  Are there changes that need to be made?  As they finish their reflections, they are to turn back around, facing the altar table and chalice.  When everyone has turned back around, say:

Festival of the First Fruits

Introduction

This ritual gets its name from the Jewish festival of Shavuot, the Feast of the First Fruits. This is traditionally the time when the first harvests occur and are celebrated.  While spring is a hopeful time of new life and new begnnings, it is also a more tempestuous time when late and/or unseasonal frosts still happen.  By the time we get to late spring/early summer there is more certainty that what has grown is firmly established and even beginning to bear fruit.  Coming six months before the Festival of the Ancestors, and being its mirror image, let this be a time to celebrate new members who have been born into the community during the previous year.


Personal

 If a loved one has been born/adopted within the past year, use today to celebrate them.  If no one close to you has had a birth, you can use today to honor the children in your life in general.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask participants to being their babies!  Hopefully people have been bringing their children all along, as these rituals are meant to be intergenerational.  But on this day in particular, bring your infants who have been born during the previous year, and other children who have joined the community within the past year.  If for some reason that can't be done, then encourage folks to bring a photo or momento.  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the following:

Today we celebrate those who have joined our community this past year.

Invite folks with infants to name their babes.  Let participants be free to show their appreciation, as they feel comfortable, as each name is called.  When finished, turn out towards the people and say:

 

Flower Communion

Introduction

It's the Vernal Equinox, spring should have sprung by now, and nothing screams spring more than blooming flowers.  The UU ritual of Flower Communion is preserved here.  While the rituals before and after this, Blessing of the Seeds and Festival of the First Fruits, are about new life and fertility, the original flower communion is not really about that (although flowers are the plant's sex organs).  The way that I interpret the Flower Communion is that it is a celebration of diversity. And that serves as a nice balance to the Water Communion (six months later), which is about unity - the many flowing into one.


Personal

Depending on your culture, spring cleaning - a thorough cleaning of your home - would be done either before today or before the start of spring (about six-1/2 weeks prior). 

If you are not at the moment part of a UU community, you can perform a flower ritual by yourself.  Create a small bouquet of flowers, preferably from your own garden (but not necessary), making sure that there are enough flowers for each person you wish to honor.  Light your chalice or candle and say:

Nature loves diversity.
Although we are all one, we come in many shapes and sizes, colors and talents.
Just like these flowers, no two are alike yet all are beautiful.  All bring their unique gifts to augment the whole.
May I respect and cherish these different gifts. 

Then touch each flower thinking of the person it represents as you do.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask participants (beforehand) to bring a flower, one for each person participating, preferably from their own gardens.  (You might want to have some extra flowers on hand, perhaps available for a nominal fee, so that those who forget are not left out.) Have two vases on the altar table and invite participants to place their flowers in the vases.  (Or use the number of vases appropriate for the number of participants. Someone should be in charge of making sure that the number of flowes in each vase is balanced.)  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the Flower Communion.  Communion leader (or someone else) says:

Nature loves diversity.
Although we are all one, we come in many shapes and sizes, colors and talents.
Just like these flowers, no two are alike yet all are beautiful.  All bring their unique gifts to augment the whole.
May we respect and cherish these different gifts. 

Invite participants to line up to each take a flower that is different from the one they brought. (The nunber of lines should match the number of vases.)  Optional: Have smaller containers on hand in which participants can place their selected flowers to enjoy while they share the communion meal. But remind them to take their flowers home! 

Blessing of the Seeds

Author: 
Kat Liu
sprouting seeds, AndreusK via Getty Images

Introduction

There may or may not still be frost on the ground depending on where you live, but this is traditionally the time of year when we look forward to spring (hence the Groundhog Day ritual), and new beginnings. Chinese New Year is celebrated very near this time, where offerings are made to the gods for a prosperous year, including bountiful harvests.  In the Christian tradition of Candlemas, this is supposedly the day that Jesus was introduced at the Temple and such wisdom coming from someone so young impressed the old rabbis.  (In Catholic Ireland, this is the Feast of St. Brighid, a Gaelic fertility goddess.) Seeds planted at Tu B’Shevat become the "bitter herbs" eaten at Passover. In many agricultural cultures, this is the time when people start preparing for the spring planting.  The seeds of the past year and even agricultural tools are consecrated/blessed for the coming year. 


Personal

Depending on your culture, spring cleaning - a thorough cleaning of your home - would be done either before today or before the vernal equinox. 

If you are a gardener and depending on where you live, this may be the tme of year when you are starting your seeds - planting them in temporary small pots to let them sprout indoors before they are planted outside in the ground.  If you have a personal altar, do this in front of your altar.  But you need not have an altar to perform this simple ritual.  Light your chalice.  Take some a seed and some of the soil in a starter pot and hold them in your hands.

A seed is a new beginning.
A seed is new life from what has come before.
As I nurture and tend this seed in the coming seasons,
May it and all others reach their fullest potentials.

With that, plant the seed in the starter pot.  Now would be a good time to remind yourself of what you wish for the coming year (your resolutions from winter solstice).  If you are not a gardener and do not start seeds, you can still perform this ritual by lighting your chalice or a candle (remember Candlemas) and thinking of the seed figuratively.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask folks (beforehand) to bring any seeds they may have saved from last year's harvest, labeled.  If they plan to exchange/share seeds afterwards, the seeds should be divvied up into small paper packets. (You might want to buy a few packets of seeds in case no one brings any.  Also bring some extra paper in which to fold seeds and a marking pen in case folks want to share and did not come prepared.)  Ask folks to place the seeds preferably below the icons of the ancestors but above the food.  (If that can't be done, then place them where it makes the most sense.)  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the blessing of the seeds.

Picking up and holding some of the seeds in your hand, say:

These seeds are a new beginning.
These seeds are new life from what has come before.
As we nurture and tend these seeds in the coming seasons,
May they and all others reach their fullest potentials.

After the ritual, people who have brought seeds can either retrieve them or exchange them with others who have brought seeds or give them away.  Now would be a good time to encourage folks who have been thinking of gardening to give it a go!  Let experienced garderners share tips over the communion meal.

Day of Resolutions

Introduction

Winter solstice is the shortest day/longest night of the year.  From this day forth until the summer solstice, light overtakes dark, the sun returns.  Hence, it is generally thought of as the beginning of the solar year.  The Jewish new year, while it occurs during a different season, is a time for atonement of past wrongs.  In the Chinese tradition, winter solstice is around when the Kitchen God ascends up to heaven to report the deeds of each family for the past year, for which an accounting must be made.  And of course there is the practice of New Years resolutions.  The word "resolution" means both the satisfactory end of a pre-existing condition and the firm determination to achieve a new one.  Winter solstice is also a time to celebrate as the sun and the light return.  The winter holidays are often marked by fire and light (Hanukkah, Christmas, Yule).


Personal

If at all possible, do not go into the new year with old wrongs that have not been made right.  Before the new year arrives, seek out those you have wronged, name the wrong, and apologize for it (but do not ask them to forgive you, as they may not be ready to do so).  Consider those who have wronged you, even if they have not apologized to you, and decide whether or not you can forgive them.  The fewer resentments you carry into the new year the lighter the load.  But it's ok if there are ones you of which you are not ready to let go.

Now think of the positive things you wish to accomplish this year.  The personal ritual is simple.  Light your chalice or candle. And say:

Once more around the sun.
Even though the nights are long, from this day on the light grows.
May my aspirations for the new year grow with it.

Hold in you mind what you wish to accomplish/grow for the coming year.  If you have several resolutions, feel free to light a candle for each one, naming them as you light them.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask folks (beforehand) to bring a small candle and holder, one for each person participating.  Do not use tea lights as they will not work well during the transfer.  (You might want to have some extra candles on hand, perhaps available for a nominal fee, so that those who forget are not left out.)  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the following:

Communion leader (or someone else) says:

Once more around the sun.
Even though the nights are long, from this day on the light grows.
May our aspirations for the new year grow with it.

Have 2-4 people closest to the chalice (including yourself) light their candles from the chalice.  Have them light the candles of 2-4 people closest to them.  And so on, moving outwards. until every candle is lit.  As each person lights their candle and passes the flame to the next person, have them hold in their minds what they wish to accomplish/grow for the coming year.  If your congregation or group has a covenant or mission statement and it is not too long, now, while all the candles are lit, would be a good time to repeat and reaffirm the covenant/mission statement. If you do not have something specific to your congregation/group, then have the participants repeat the (adapted) words of John Murray:

Go out into the highways and byways of your land.
Give the people something of your new vision.
You may have but a small light, uncover it, let it shine.
Use it bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of people.
Give them not hell but hope and courage.
Do not push them deeper into their despair, but preach kindness and Love.

Let folks set their candles by where they will eat so that they light the communion meal.

Consecrating the Communion

Author: 
Kat Liu

Introduction:

Please don't let the word "communion" put you off.  I'm not proposing that we be serving the blood and body of Christ in our UU congregations.  (Tho obviously if your congregation wants to do that, that's fine too.)  I'm using the word "communion" because it has the same etymological root as to commune.  Or in community.  In other words, the ritual of communion serves to reinforce a sense of shared identity.  We repeat this ritual together, mindfully recognizing that by taking part we affirm ourselves as part of UU community with each other.

But how would UUs consecrate communion?  As congregationalists, we reject spiritual hierarchy.  Even if we have ministers, we don't think of them as being "more holy" or "closer to god(s)", and many of our congregations do not have ministers.  (And many UUs don't believe in god(s).)  Yet the act of consecration is important.  It's what separates communion from, well, just sharing food. 

The answer that I am proposing came from a combination of two things. The first is one of the few genuine rituals that we UUs have and practice, the laying on of hands when we're ordaining a new minister.  I was struck by the symbolism of the new minister standing in the center of their community, with everyone else laying their hand on the minister or on the person in front of them such that everyone is ultimately connected to the minister, conferring *their* blessing.  In UUism, the community blesses the minister, not the other way around.  Thus, our community can bless the communion too. The second is an ancient practice among many different cultures, the presenting of offerings to our ancestors (and/or gods).  In some cultures, everything that is eaten is first offered to the ancestors (and/or gods) and in other cultures this is only done on special occasions.  You might or might not believe that our ancestors are still with us - that is up to each person to interpret.  Regardless, the act of invoking our ancestors - both biological and spiritual - reminds us of who we are now and what we stand for. 


The Ritual:

The actual ritual is very simple.  Invite those participating to place icons representing the ancestor they've chosen to invite/acknowledge on the raised area of the communion table(s).  Also, to place the food they've brought for the communion meal on the table, in front of the ancestors. 

When the table(s) is ready, invite folks to gather round the table, leaving room for whoever is leading communion to move.  Those who are closest to the table each place one hand above or on the table; those behind them each place one hand on the person in front of them. The communion leader makes a plate of food, taking a sampling of what has been offered by the community.  Place the plate, now with food, back in its location, next to the cup of water and the receptacle.

The communion leader lights the chalice while saying:

We know that we are not self-sufficient.  This food that we eat, the clothes we wear, we owe to the work of others. 
We know that we are not self-actualized.  All of what we do, and fail to do, impacts those who come after us. 
We know that we are not self-made. All that we are, who we are, we owe to those who have come before us. 

Participants each murmur the names of the ancestors they brought with them today, as well as whomever else they wish to acknowledge.  (Participants can now remove their hands.)

[Insert seasonal ritual here, if any.]

The commuion leader then pours some of the libation (water) from the offering cup into the receptacle, while saying:

To our ancestors, of blood and of spirit, named and unnamed, we offer our thanks. 
May our gifts of these foods and dink be pleasing and nourishing. 
May our actions as we walk this world be worthy of your memory. 

Commence with the potlucking! (Leave the offering plate in place for the duration of the meal.)


Preparations:

You will need:

  • a communion table (or tables), large enough to hold icon representing the ancestors (and/or deities), plus the food and libations. 
  • a table cloth (or cloths) to make the communion table looke nice. 
  • boxes or something to raise the icons higher than the food.  If the table is against a wall, the raised area should be against the wall too, towards the back of the table, with the food placed at the front.  If the table is in the center of the room, then the raised area should be in the center of the table with the food placed at the edges. 
  • serving utensils
  • a plate and cup for the offering, and a receptacle (cup or bowl) into which to pour the libation.  These items should be placed on the table at the front of the center, easily accessible to whomever is leading communion.  Fill the cup with water but leave the plate empty until the ritual starts.
  • a chalice (don't forget the matches).

Ask participants to bring an icon representing one of their ancestors.  The ancestor can be biological or spiritual.  They could be a grandparent or a mentor who has since passed.  Or they could be a spiritual leader or deity of personal significance.  The icon can be a photo or some other memento that reminds/represents the ancestor.  This is one of the ways in which we're making room for expression of the diversity that is in our communities.  So (unless someone is bringing a picture of Hitler or the like) there should be no judgements as to who is a valid "ancestor."  The only restriction: do not bring photos or other representations of people who are still alive.

Also, ask participants to bring food for the potluck.  Ideally, the dish would be made with seasonally available ingredients and/or relevant to the culture from which the participant comes.  Here again, is an opportunity for expression of the diversity that exists within our communities. 

Ask participants to bring their own reusable cups, plates, and cutlery.  Reuseable plastic dishes are lightweight and can be used in subsequent communions. I know that this is a tall order to ask of folks, both to buy these items and remember to bring them.  But we are making a commitment as a people towards more sustainable practices.  Invite folks to think of these items as their communion plates, cups, etc.

You should also have extra plates, cups, cutlery on hand for folks who forget to bring their own, as we don't want to bar folks from participating simply because they forgot.  However, some kind of nominal fee should be charged as an incentive to remember to bring these items next time. 

Clean up should be relatively straight-forward if participants take their serving dishes and their personal communion dishes back home with them.  The food that was on the offering plate should be composted, if at all possible.

Blessing the Bills

Author: 
Rev. Meg Riley (excerpted from a longer sermon)


This used to be me, paying the bills. I would sit with my checkbook, pen clutched tightly in my hand, with the bills piled next to me. “Water and garbage: $50.00. What’s with that! That’s ridiculous! I hardly even have any garbage—why do they charge so much? Electricity: 78.00 SEVENTY EIGHT DOLLARS!!! What the heck!??!”

I resented the bills for existing! I sat watching my money disappear dollar by dollar, as if it was being siphoned away from me by a huge sucking vacuum cleaner, leaving me with very little to spend on things I actually WANTED to buy—plane tickets, good books, meals, trinkets. One day I complained to a friend about how my bills ate up all my money. I picked this particular friend because I knew she had even less money than I did, so I figured she would commiserate.

But to my surprise, when I described my experience, she said, “I used to feel that way too. Then I decided to bless the bills.”

BLESS THE BILLS?

Yes, she said. While she paid the heat bill, she thought with gratitude about how lucky she was to have a warm home, and how much she enjoyed coming in from the cold.

When she paid the phone bill, she remembered gratefully all the people with whom she connected on the telephone.

Rather than resentfully seeing her money slipping away into an abyss, she blessed it on its way, grateful that she was able to pay the bills.

This friend, as I said, made considerably less money than I did. She was actually struggling hard to make ends meet. But when I heard her describe the process with which she spent her dollars, and I compared it to the way I spent mine, I knew that, of the two of us, she was infinitely richer. I vowed then, some twenty years ago, to bless the bills. It is a practice I have used since, and it has gotten me through the toughest times.

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