Micro-alterations in liturgy

One of the principles I brought into my morning and evening prayer practice is that I would read the prayers as printed until became accustomed to them. I would borrow their voice and let it become mine as I learned the internal logic of the services. I refused to be trapped by my own sensibility: a sensibility evoked with the joke about Unitarian Universalists reading ahead to see if they agree with the words of a hymn. Being a Unitarian Universalist is, too often, questing after fixing things whether they need fixing or not.

So I took time to listen. Now that I have a sense of this voice and rhythm, I’ve begun to make alterations. Very small one. (I’ll write about a replacement soon.) These are the micro-alterations that a person or congregation, familiar with a liturgical text, will make, possibly without planning and likely without notice. An appeal less to change, but a flexibility that keeps the prayer from drawing too much attention to itself.

  1. Small changes to gendered language. “All men” become “all.” Or “men” become “people.” Matriarchs join patriarchs. But I leave the “he” pronouns for God. Changing them would pull me too far out of prayer; instead, I pronounce these pronouns softly — more like”ee” — and keep going.
  2. Pacing some items — less timely, less resonant prayers, say — faster than others. You can always slow down when they’re needed.
  3. Inserting petitions into collects. That’s a blog post of its own.
  4. Stopping, and sometimes repeating, a prayer.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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