Did you know that Unitarian Universalists are live-tweeting from worship services in order to share our faith with the larger world? They are using #UUSunday to share their experiences and our faith. You can see photos and quotations and reflections from worship services across the country.
Some will think live-tweeting is an awesome development. Others will be horrified. Still others just won’t care. Wherever you stand, it can be a tricky matter because it can cause cultural norms to clash.
At our Youth Sunday service in November, two Unitarian Universalist adult guests were live-tweeting their experience of worship. They were proud to be sharing the day with a larger audience. They believed they were doing good. A member asked our guests to turn off their phones. S/he too believed s/he was doing good by upholding our phone policy in worship. The guests complied. Later, at Social Hour, the member and the guests had a conversation where both tried to explain their point of view.
Live-tweeting is an exciting method for seeing Unitarian Universalists in action. It also creates more ways for individuals to connect with our faith in meaningful ways. Moreover, for some of us, our phones have replaced our paper and pencil. We wouldn’t be offended or distracted if someone had an “Aha!” moment and wrote it down on paper. We would think they were engaged. Live-tweeting also requires you to listen carefully to the message (what is happening in worship and within yourself) and share it…succinctly. While it may appear as if those tweeting are distracted, they too are engaged.
That said, at UCS we ask that cell phones be turned off so that its noises don’t disconnect us or disturb the people around us. Our worship culture asks us to disconnect from our phones, at least for an hour, to be present to our inner lives and the message. Although many may not realize it, preaching is also a participatory sport. Our faces and body language communicate with the preacher. I’m not sure how great my preaching would be if I looked out onto a sea of people on their phones. Finally, as it occurred on Youth Sunday, we must take into account our youth culture, which asks that we disconnect from our phones so that we can be fully present to one another.
The conversation between guests and member did not end with understanding on both sides. Even though both had good intentions and good points. The conversation actually left both parties uneasy. This is a moment, as Quaker Parker Palmer teaches, to “turn to wonder.” I believe that if we are to lean into living our mission statement, it will lead us to uneasy moments like this one that force us to turn to wonder.
Instead of staying stuck in uneasiness, turning to wonder invites us to bring our curiosity and wonder to the matter. How can our phones and its tools like Twitter aid us in worship, in feeding our spirit? What distractions are we willing to welcome because there is a larger value at stake? (For instance, children can be distracting, but I wouldn’t want them to be excluded from our worship.) At the same time, what are the places where we are encouraged and expected to detach? At what point do our phones hinder us from being present to our inner lives and the community present?
In the coming months, we – ministers, staff, leaders and members – will be reflecting on these questions (and others). Together, as a community, we must determine how we want to be in worship. Our decision may be difficult for some. Other communities might make a different decision. Nevertheless, the process will help us determine who we are in worship and how we want to gather.
Isn’t that what covenanting is all about? A shared understanding of how a community wants to be and a promise to abide by it?
Looking forward to the conversation,