24 July, 2012

Elemental Lessons Service

The sermon/theme of church this week was "Elemental Lessons," and the visiting minister was my high school drama director. I arrived two minutes before the start of service, but they had already begun, so I missed the opening song and any announcements that happened. I got in and sat down (not the latest person, mind you, there were others) just before the main event.

The chairs had been rearranged into a circle of three rows, with four aisle breaks creating a section at each cardinal direction. I sat in the south, consciously choosing my sun sign's element. The minister--I will just call him Rev. for this post--explained that there are many different associations for elements and directions depending on the culture or practice, but that he would be using the Celtic alignments as he researched them. However, he did not go over each element in circular order, but chose the order to go over them based on how they would relate to the usual service structure.

For each direction/element, Rev. explained a bit of what it is associated with, gave some quotes or had us or just the choir sing a song, had us experience the element in some way if possible, and then had a microphone passed around for anyone to share their experiences of the elements.

We started with North and Rev. passed around four bowls of rich earth gathered from his compost pile several days prior. There was even a pill bug (potato bug, roly-poly) in the bowl I got! He encouraged people to look closely at the soil, smell it, or touch it. We sang "Earth was Given as a Garden." Several people talked about their gardens, weeding, or the difference of soils in different places they've been.

Then we did the Chalice Lighting, bringing us to Fire and South. Rev. shared a few quotes about fire and encouraged us to watch the two flames at the center of the room (one which was our Chalice, the other which was lit to represent Fire). People shared experiences of bonfires and candles, and then people came up to the center for the usual Silent Lighting of Candles. The choir sang a song during this.

Next, Rev. had us do something I learned at Leadership Camp years ago, called "Rainstorm." Everyone sits in a circle and does different noise-making motions in a certain order that, overlapping each other, sound like rain. Then we sang "Shall We Gather at the River" and passed around the microphone for people to talk about water. One man said that his first thought was that water is tranquil, but after thinking about his personal experiences with it, he changed his mind. When his basement was flooded, it wasn't very tranquil. And when their unevenly set above-ground pool toppled over with the weight of the water, he didn't feel tranquil either. Others offered stories of watching waves coming in and out, or leaving some ice water outside for the mailman on these past couple hot days when he came to deliver the mail.

Then the offering baskets were passed and "Spirit of Life" was sung. Rev. read some quotes about Air and we sang a traditional Scottish song called "O Brother Sun."
The song bothered me because each verse/line starts with Brother or Sister something (such as Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Mountain, Sister Earth) until the very end when it switches to Sister of Death and God of Life. I just think if it couldn't be Brother of Life, it should also say Goddess of Death. It's not a very positive connotation of the Goddess for those who don't know her, but it still bothered me that all of a sudden the word God was used without Goddess, where the rest of the song had been balanced between siblings.
Then we all took up fans, if we had them (Rev. had put some out for people to take, and I had my own) to share the air. When the microphone was passed, only a few people had anything to say about Air, so I chose to share an experience I had recently. I told them that I had refrained from speaking so far because of another Wiccan saying (several of the quotes had been from Wiccans or Wiccan sayings) which says "Speak ye little, listen much." But I wanted to share, though they were the first people I was telling about it, so I did. After that, no one else raised their hand to speak, so I felt bad for having talked too much.

To close, we sang "The Earth, Water, Fire, Air" which is a lot like a chant I know, but the words were in a different order and the tune was slightly different. The one I knew was "The earth, the air, the fire, the water, return, return, return, return." This one's lyrics were the order of the title but otherwise the same except slight differences in the tune. Then we did the Bond of Union (holding hands and saying the words) as usual, and for the postlude, the choir sang "Alleluia in 6/4" and it was absolutely beautiful.

Afterwards, several people came up to me and said what I shared was a perfect way to end, so no one else said anything. One woman waved me over to a small group and said, "SO you are of the Wiccan..." she searched for a word, and I said "Persuasion?" and they laughed. She said it was great that I shared because not everyone there knew many Wiccans. I hadn't said that I was Wiccan when I spoke, mind you. I had just offered a Wiccan saying and shared my elemental experience, but they knew. A few minutes later I turned around and was greeted by a young looking woman in a long dress who held out her hand to shake mine and said, "Hello, Fellow Wiccan, nice to meet you!" Then she introduced me to her oldest child and pointed out her other kids and their friend*, and she told me all about how the kids loved doing circle with her and loved coming to the church. She had been going there since 1999, and she told me she "wanted a community that didn't make me feel like I was going to burn" and this was it. I went over to ask the pianist what the opening song had been and she happily gave me the sheet music, asking "So, are you Wiccan?" with a sweet smile. She was with a young girl at the time, a student from the congregation who was in class instead of at the service, but I said "Yes, but I'm not an initiate." I don't think either of them would have known what that meant, but I wanted to put it out there. Another woman said she really liked what I had said, and was impressed with how well I spoke. "I always thought that speaking without thinking is like shooting without aiming," she said, "But I think you aim." On my way out of the church, another woman complimented my small contribution, saying that she thought I would make a good minister.
*More on this in another post.
Overall, another good experience. Even though I was late, I was there for the important parts. And I was afraid to share anything because although I know these are accepting people, I didn't want to say "Hey I'm a Wiccan and this is what I think," and I wasn't sure how coming out just then would be since I'm a fairly new member. But it was received very well, with appreciation and solidarity. Next week is also an environmental topic and I'll be going back and probably being an official member soon. I'm glad to know there is at least one other Wiccan there, as well.


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