Contributed by The Rev. Sarah Person
“Can we be like drops of water/Falling on the stone/Splashing, breaking, dispersing in air/
Weaker than stone by far but be aware that/As time goes by, the rock will wear away.”
-Holly Near, “The Rock Will Wear Away”
Every tradition and every ritual starts somewhere. They start with people who want to express something deep; something that connects the real with the sacred. We light altar candles. We ring chimes or beat drums or burn incense. We sing songs that come from the heart to praise, to bless, to cry out our joy and our fear and, most of all, our hope. Many of these rituals are hundreds if not thousands of years old.
Although Unitarians and Universalists have been around for centuries, one of their most popular rituals around the world, the Water Communion, is less than forty years old. At a conference in Michigan, the women who attended felt that what they did in worship did not mean much to them spiritually, or make them feel connected to one another. They asked Carolyn McDade and Lucile Longview to create a ritual for the conference that spoke to women and nature and the environment and the power to do justice. (Eliza Blanchard, The History of the Water Service)
So McDade and Longview had all the women sit in a circle and each of them poured water that they had brought with them into a bowl. For each woman, the water symbolized aspects of life; birth, the cycles of the sun and moon and seasons, the water that surrounds us and makes life possible. The first Sunday service of every Autumn, in congregations all around the world, women, men and children bring vials of water that represent a place where something important and memorable happened. By mingling our water, we combine our stories – remembering that each one of us is precious and unique, yet, by virtue of the life we share, connected and dependent on one another. We praise the gift of life, and affirm our commitment to alleviate the suffering of our brothers and sisters for whom water, like other basic necessities, is a precious commodity too often denied. At the conclusion of the service, some congregations conserve the water to be purified and used for rites of passage. Others, like our church in Middleborough, invite the children in the congregation to pour the water out over our Memorial Garden. In this way, we link our past, our present and our future together as a Beloved Community.