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Wayne Arnason and Kathleen Rolenz, co-ministers at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church near Cleveland, Ohio, embarked on an eighteen-month sabbatical road trip in search of the cutting edge of innovation in worship culture. They attended services and interviewed worship leaders at thirty congregations of diverse sizes and traditions. This book--the result of their research--is a challenge to all Unitarian Universalists who care about the services in which they participate. A guidebook for revitalizing our worship life, Worship that Works provides practical, specific advice to improve the key elements of the service and increase the spiritual resonance of worship through symbols, music, cultural sensitivity, inclusion and more. Includes a critique of UU worship as a central spiritual practice and offers tips gleaned from the authors' visits to thirty transformative worship services from a variety of religious traditions, four of which are described in detail.
Praise for Worship that Works:
"Arnason and Rolenz reveal liberal worship as central, formative, exemplary, beautiful and expressive of our every desire for justice and right relation. They root their observations in a high vision, but for the benefit of all, they move from vision to practice. This might prove to be a turning point in how Unitarian Universalists understand and practice worship."-Mark Belletini, senior minister, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, Ohio
"The authors clearly distill the current wisdom on incorporating word, music and ritual from diverse cultures in a respectful and non-oppressive manner."
-Elizabeth Norton, president, Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network
Review by Rev. Thom Belote, UUMA:
While reading Wayne Arnason and Kathleen Rolenz's book on worship I compiled on the blank inside cover a list of all the people I thought should read their book. This list included my worship committee, members of the lay worship leadership class I lead, music leaders in the congregation I serve, and the list kept going from there.
Worship that Works: Theory and Practice for Unitarian Universalists is the product of a sabbatical taken by Arnason and Rolenz, co-ministers at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church near Cleveland, during which they criss-crossed the country in search of transformational worship experiences. The authors visited a variety of congregations including Unitarian Universalist, mainline Protestant, and orthodox Christian churches as well as evangelical mega-churches like Rick Warren's Saddleback and congregations that are a part of the Emergent Christian movement. Ambitiously, they squeeze what they learned into a 170-page book. Somehow the books turned out to be rich without being overly dense.
Worship that Works will appeal to a readership of lay people who are involved in worship and want to deepen their understanding of it. It will also be a valuable resource for clergy looking to help those in their congregations to become more informed and articulate about worship.
Perhaps taking a page from Scott Alexander's book The Relational Pulpit in which Alexander made a case for "spacious preaching," Arnason and Rolenz seem to favor spacious worship. On the perennial question of "joys and sorrows" they refuse to take a pro- or con- position. Rather, they insist that the practice can "work." Similarly, in their exploration of non-UU worship services, the authors lift up "spacious" liturgical developments like the multi-station worship experienced in many Emergent churches and other liturgical practices that stress active congregational participation.
Ultimately, their book raises questions of subjectivity and objectivity. Is the difference between worship working and not working found in the eye of the beholder? Rolenz, who practices Christian spirituality, and Arnason, who engages in Buddhist practice, approach their various experiences of worship with open hearts and open minds. But, what works for them may not work for others. And, who is to say that forms of worship that do not work for them won't work for others?
Despite this criticism, there is much to be gained from their analysis of worship practices. Their open-minded, functional approach to worship will hopefully inspire more in our Unitarian Universalist movement to probe the worship lives in their congregations and perhaps allow more space in their worship for the spirit of transformation to move. I know I plan to share their book with many in the congregation I serve.
Additional resources for this title are available at no charge on the Skinner House Companion Resources page.