Traditions and Celebrations
Throughout the year at Heritage, we gather to celebrate as a community the many cycles and seasons that comprise our lives.
As an integral part of our worship tradition, we celebrate the many stages of this life – from the dedication of babies, to the “age of reason” in elementary school; from the “coming of age” of adolescents, to graduations from high school, college and beyond; from the marriage of two adults who are entering into a lifelong covenant with one another, to the memorial service that finally honors and celebrates a life well-lived.
Another aspect of our worship tradition is the inclusion of annual and seasonal celebrations – from the boisterous “Ingathering Sunday” in early fall, to the contemplative candlelight of the Christmas Eve service; from springtime observances of the renewal of life such as Easter and “Flower Communion,” to the fiery dance that marks the Summer Solstice. In between, we have rituals and celebrations to welcome new members, to mark holidays and to recognize rites of passage. We gather every Sunday morning and at other times throughout the year in an ongoing creation and re-creation of our open, affirming religious community that honors the diverse spiritual paths represented within our congregation.
The Seasons of Life
When babies are born, we welcome the new life among us in a ceremony of child dedication, either during a Sunday morning worship service, or at another time and venue convenient to the family. In this ritual, we affirm our belief that people are born, not in sin, but in beauty – with inherent worth and dignity, and the potential to help change the world for the better. Water that has been gathered from, literally, all around the world by the members of our church community is incorporated in the ritual, to symbolize the common human bond we share with the child; a white rose is used to represent the unfolding of life in wonder, mystery and beauty.
As our children grow older and enter elementary school, they naturally begin to ask questions – questions about life and death, meaning and existence; questions about their church, and how it fits into the larger religious community. During the springtime of their second or third grade year, they are invited to participate in a program called “The Age of Reason,” in which these questions are addressed, and – in keeping with the free religious tradition that is Unitarian Universalism – the children are encouraged, with adult guidance and assistance, to explore for themselves, and develop the beginnings of answers that they will carry with them for a lifetime. The culmination of this program is a Sunday morning worship service in which the children share, with the congregation, their emerging thoughts and beliefs.
Recognizing the significant passage that is adolescence, we offer a similar program for our ninth graders called “Coming of Age.” At this pivotal time in their development, teenagers are beginning to assert their independence and truly learn to think for themselves. Our Coming of Age class allows them to explore and experience their Unitarian Universalist heritage more deeply, while engaging them in dialogue and discussion that will result, by the end of the year, in the development of a personal “credo” or belief statement which, again, is shared with the congregation during a special Sunday worship service.
Unlike many of our brother and sister faiths, Unitarian Universalism recognizes the right of all committed couples to enter into marriage, and have the union they have chosen be blessed by their spiritual community. Thus, our ministers are happy to meet with couples to plan and perform their wedding ceremony, regardless of church membership or religious affiliation, previous marital status, gender, or any of the other impediments to marriage offered by other sacred and secular institutions. We hold weddings in our sanctuary, on our grounds, or at other settings, as desired by the couple.
At the end of one’s life, it is fitting that we celebrate as well as mourn. A Unitarian Universalist memorial service is one in which we honor the deceased by lifting up the many ways in which he or she has touched our own lives – and the many ways in which he or she continues to live on, in our lives and in our hearts. Unitarian Universalists recognize that no one knows what will happen after we die; therefore, we choose not to make pronouncements about the afterlife. Rather, just as we do when babies are born and dedicated in our church, we affirm the beauty and goodness of life, while acknowledging in awe, the mystery which is beyond our ability to know.
Seasons of the Year
At Heritage we celebrate not only the seasons of our life, but also the seasons of the year. The natural cycle of which we are a part is cause for wonder and reverence.
Each fall, on the Sunday following Labor Day, we mark the return to hearth, home, and church community (after the vacations and slower pace of the summer), with a Water Ceremony that is one of the highlights of our church calendar. Members and friends are invited to collect small amounts of water from a place that held spiritual significance for them over the summer; the collective waters are poured into one common vessel, and – by our intention and our blessing – we thus create the “holy water” that is used at baby dedications and memorial services throughout the coming year. The water literally comes from every corner of the globe, and its “gathering in” each September represents the deep connection we feel with our church community, and the deep connection share with our natural world.
Each year we celebrate two winter traditions at Heritage – Christmas Eve, and the Winter Solstice. In our Christmas Eve service, we sing traditional carols, contemplate the miracle of birth, and light the candles that illuminate our glowing faces and reflect our joyous community. Our wonderful Choir, which sings and rehearses throughout the year, provides special music. On the night of the Winter Solstice (most commonly, Dec. 21), we gather outdoors to breathe in the crisp winter air, to chant together, and to circle the fire that lights the darkest night of the year. Back inside, in the warmth of our Great Hall, we share food, drink and companionship. As always – but perhaps particularly at this season of hospitality and hope – all are welcome to worship with us.
In the springtime, as flowers burst forth, leaves return to the trees, and grasses grow, we celebrate the cycle that is represented, all around us, in the renewal of the earth. Each Easter Sunday morning, our worship service features choral music and a message of universal rebirth. One special Sunday in the spring is reserved for our traditional Flower Communion ceremony (often, but not always, held on Easter) – in which members and friends bring a fresh flower to beautify our altar, and share with one another. Many years we set aside a worship service to commemorate Earth Day, and remember our responsibility for the stewardship of our natural world. And, of course, our children look forward each year to an Easter egg hunt, while the adults eagerly await a chocolate festival!
The rhythms of the church calendar slow to a more relaxed pace in the summer, as children get out of school and families travel near and far, yet each Sunday morning, we join together in our sanctuary to continue our celebration of this life. One of the highlights of this season is the celebration – sometimes offsite, at a church member’s home – of the Summer Solstice, as we mark the longest day of the year by once again gathering ’round the fire to lift our voices and spirits in recognition of the timeless cycle of nature.
In addition to these seasonal ceremonies related to the elemental forces of water, air, earth and fire, there are many other celebrations and traditions throughout the year at Heritage. We mark special occasions such as St. Francis Day with a Blessing of the Animals, and Halloween with costumes and candy. Thanksgiving Sunday (celebrated the Sunday before Thanksgiving) allows us to reflect on the many blessings of our lives, and offer our gratitude for those gifts.
Martin Luther King, Jr., is honored on MLK Sunday, calling us year after year into ever more committed social justice work. Earth Day is another such call, for environmental justice. Members are frequently encouraged to walk or ride their bikes to church on Sunday mornings using the new Anderson Bike Trail.
In late spring, on Memorial Sunday (the day before Memorial Day), we commemorate all those people – both military and civilian – in our lives, who have passed away during the previous year. Names are read aloud, memories shared, and comfort offered in this moving service.
Also in May, the members of Heritage Church gather for our Annual Congregational Meeting, in which the official business of the church is conducted, elections are held and budgets adopted. Even this “business-oriented” meeting is an opportunity to celebrate community, as we break bread together in an all-church potluck, and continue to live out the legacy of religious freedom and congregational independence and autonomy that has been bequeathed to us by our Universalist and Unitarian ancestors.
HUUC Pagans is a dedicated community of members and friends of the church who have an intrinsic reverence for the Earth. With the Vision and Mission of Heritage in mind:
• We celebrate life by creating and performing rituals that honor the interdependent web of all existence. In these rituals we draw from an eclectic range of neopagan practices including, but not limited to, Native American, Wicca, Druid, Heathen, Celtic, and reverence for the Goddess.
• We provide additional opportunities for spiritual practice to deepen and enrich the congregation’s relationship with the Earth through seasonal celebrations, rituals and worship.
• We hold at least one event each season.
• We create community by providing a home for members and friends of Heritage who identify their spirituality as pagan and earth-centered.
• We seek justice by advocating for the earth and for balancing between the sexes, male and female, Goddess and God.
Heritage Church Labyrinth
Just outside our sanctuary, Heritage offers a simple but beautiful outdoor labyrinth, composed of bricks inlaid in the ground in a traditional pattern. A labyrinth is simply a spiritual tool. The labyrinth is a metaphor for path or journey. You may find the labyrinth is a metaphor for the twists and turns of your own life. Out labyrinth is a twelve circuit Chartres style, based upon one of the original religious labyrinths in the great cathedral of Chartres, France.
The labyrinth is not a maze; there is but one continuous path toward the center and the same path brings you back out. At the center you are invited to remain for a while. It is a time for meditation, reflection, focus, quiet song or prayer. When you are ready to resume the journey, leave the center and retrace your steps through the same path you entered. This is an important reminder that one does not remain in the center, but returns to life one’s life in the ordinary world. Walking the labyrinth is often offered as a worshipful experience; please respect the meditative, prayerful state of others.
Remember that though the labyrinth always stays the same, your experience each time you walk it may be different. You are encouraged to stay on the path and walk it again and again. You may find what you need at the center.