Our Worship

Home Our Worship Legacy

 
We celebrate on Sundays at 11 a.m. and topics are announced Saturday Erie Times religious section.
Our services are simple, yet dignified, and always offer music and an opportunity to respond and discuss the minister's address.  Refreshments following the service giving us an opportunity to get acquainted and deepen our connections to one another.
 

For those interested in joining us in worship, here is a sample format of the way we conduct the service. 

We offer you in a moving and challenging enlargement in the worship of the Divine. At First Universalist Church of Girard (Unitarian/Universalist) we are creating new services that give openings to the great world religions. Today we desperately need freedom, equality, and peace among the religions and in the world. We want to start this process, so long overdue, with worship that actually does this, creating respect, understanding, and appreciation of all.

Christianity has always taken Judaism seriously and the Hebrew Scriptures are used by all churches. Yet Islam has been ignored especially in America. Hinduism, Buddhism and earth-centered traditions are also part of the world’s great religions, and billions have found depth and spiritual insight from them. Increasing numbers in America are using the deep insights about the divine and human found there, and it is important to acknowledge their greatness and relevance to our lives.

The congregation in Girard is a small church and struggling to keep going. But it is a beautiful historic building and has friendly people concerned about our world. Small churches have their strengths. Each person counts.

We believe in both head and heart for religion, but along with the Founding Fathers of the USA the head takes precedence. It is interesting that Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and Lincoln were Unitarian and Universalist in theology. Today we are faced with growing world-wide aggressive fundamentalism that disfigures the historic faiths. We need to know why this is happening, to try to heal our divisions and not destroy our connections. Among other things, we can reinvigorate the faith of our fathers and apply it to our divided and distraught world. We want to apply our findings to local problems of poverty and community life as well.

If you are unable to come, do hold us in your thoughts and prayers as we try to do our little bit to understand the world’s religions and make our own more workable.

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Why bring the religions of Abraham together in worship?

 

For too long the children of Abraham – Jews, Christians, Muslims – have been at odds with each other, and confronting each other they cause much anguish. The consequences are still with us today affecting the peace and prosperity of the whole world.

 

Yet this need not be. Instead of all hell breaking loose, heaven should break in. There are many examples of love, understanding, and justice between Jews, Christians and Muslims. If we emphasize our essential unities as well as common causes and concerns instead of trying to put the other down, we can go forward. If we don’t do this, the world we live in could explode unless we learn not only to tolerate each other but also appreciate and enjoy each other as well.

 

One way to do this is to worship God through the prophets Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad that can be used for God’s praise and work for good causes. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have similar emphases on salvation, forgiveness, morality, and freedom from oppression.

 

The common sources are the stories of Abraham and Moses in Genesis and Exodus. God calls us through Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah to be his own and form great nations. At various times when the going got tough with slavery in Egypt, bondage to Rome and bad religion, and Arabian economic and legal oppression, God brought deliverance through Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. In turn God demands trust, obedience, and repentance. The major commemorations of the three faiths enshrine these beliefs – Passover, Easter, and the Hajj are celebrations of liberation. Yom Kippur, Lent, and Ramadan are times of atonement and forgiveness. The weekly worship of each faith includes these central elements and it is possible to combine them into one service.

 

For America, the search for freedom was the most powerful motive for the founding and reference was often made to the exodus traditions. Motifs from the exodus were also used in the fight against slavery and the work of Martin Luther King Jr. Many of these dramatis personae were Mosaic figures and were called so by their friends. To ask God to intervene in difficult situations, and to hinder self-righteousness, Congress proclaimed national days of repentance.

 

Worship can be held anywhere. Symbolism could include a menorah, a cross, and an Islamic crescent. It might be helpful to show central texts such as the Ten Commandments [Jewish version], the Beatitudes, and The Opening Sura 1. Prayers, Canticles, readings, and music from the three traditions can be used. The choice of texts from the Scriptures will vary but there should be something of the good news of God’s liberation in them, and not just moralisms. I will work on a lectionary in due course.

 

The congregation or common interest groups could discuss current issues related to the texts of the day and act together on matters of justice, human rights, and peace. Doing this within the framework of worship adds depth and breadth to the thoughts, plans, and actions.

 

Where am I coming from? Having been involved in religion for 35 years at ‘the home of lost causes’ [Oxford, England] as a teacher of theology, chaplain to the University, activist in interfaith activities, and minister of a village church all concurrently, I want to present some ideas partly developed there but re-formulated at the Institute on the American Dream at Penn State Erie where I also teach college courses on Introduction to Islam, Jesus of Nazareth, and Religion in American Life & Thought. I am helped too by the Girard PA Universalist/Unitarian Church where I take services. Let’s hope this isn’t another lost cause.

 

 
 

 

QUESTIONS AND SOME ANSWERS

 

  1. Why do bad relationships happen when the three faiths stem from common sources? Trouble often comes when there are rejections, or inflexibilities, or exclusivities. More often than not, the three faiths have not even tried to get along, and have refused to see the similarities and parallels that are there. Little effort has been made to walk in the others’ shoes. For example, America hasn’t much of a clue why Islamic terrorists attack us and why so many others hate us. It is even considered unpatriotic to ask by some.

 

  1. Isn’t treating Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad as equals just another political correctness? It is true that since 9/11 many of us have been introduced to Islam existentially and some of want to ask if Christian exceptionalism might be a source of trouble. To find links and points of connection seems to me a loving and just activity and to assert that God has made his prophets equal parallels the intent of the Founding Fathers in their Declaration of Independence that all are created equal.

 

  1. But isn’t Jesus the Son of God? Israel and others were called that too. The phrase doesn’t necessarily mean corporeal descent. The Koran states that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, as Adam was without a human father. Some have used the assertion of divinity of Christ to dismiss other faiths. Within Christianity there have been many views on the divinity of Jesus and the New Testament itself is not of one mind. It was the emperor Constantine who pushed the church to accept the Nicene Creed in 315 which states Christ is one ‘substance’ rather than ‘likeness’ with God.  This privileges the John/Paul view over the Matthew/Mark/Luke understanding. Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, and Lincoln were in fact unitarians who considered Jesus a great moral leader.

 

  1. Doesn’t this lead to syncretism – a mush of faiths? We are not seeking to found a new faith or church, nor do we want to ‘sheep steal’ but we welcome visitors. We produce occasional acts of worship that are inclusive and honor each other’s traditions and life today. What we desire is synchronism not syncretism – meshing and not mushing.

 

  1. What about the sincere believers who condemn interfaith efforts? There will always be people who do this, and they can be the cause of a lot of trouble in the world. They need to be challenged on biblical, Koranic, and humanitarian grounds. It is time liberals stood up to the narrow fundamentalism in all faiths that is causing so much pain and heartache. The best of the American experience has been its openness and acceptance of all peoples. We understand when we are at our best, that freedom, equality and peace are basic to the American Dream. We must reject those things that keep us apart as a nation and as believers and strive toward working, living, and praying together.

 

  1. Why not include Hinduism, Buddhism, and Native American religions? It is a start for us in the West to try to get our family of religions working together. Ultimately we are looking for one world, but not one faith just as in human families we want to appreciate and work with those who are different from us. We rejoice in differences that God has made and not mold others into our way of being. We honor all major religions especially the Native Americans because we share a common soil and we whites have decimated them in the past. They will find the exodus tradition very useful for themselves as they attempt to right past wrongs and find their feet again as the Hebrews did those many centuries ago. The exodus tradition is liberating and still we need that badly in the USA.

 

  1. Yet another experiment in religion is being tried on Pennsylvanians? William Penn called our beautiful state ‘the holy experiment’ and it was the first colony to extend a welcome to all Christian denominations. But he didn’t allow atheists, agnostics, and was rather wary of bizarre types like Rogerines and others. Nonetheless he considered the attempt a failure because the Presbyterians, the Anglicans, and the Quakers yelled and brawled over the search for power. Yet PA SHOWED THE WAY and equality in religion began. In this little northwest corner of the state we have the opportunity to do a second ‘holy experiment’ and sure, the Christians, Jews, and Muslims will try to outdo each other and grab power when they can just as they have done for centuries. As my teacher Reinhold Niebuhr said, the only religious doctrine with empirical proof is Original Sin. In that sense it will be a failure. But maybe, like the first experiment in the southeast part of the state, something could come of this too - perhaps in a few centuries. As another teacher Paul Tillich said, love can shake the foundations and can be the root of profound change. We need experimenters in this corner of Penna so come and join in if you can.

 

 

Rev. Charles Brock      cjb16@psu.edu                    814/868-3724

 

Emeritus Fellow & Chaplain, Mansfield College, Oxford University, UK

Senior Research Associate in Religious Studies, Penn State Erie

Director – Institute on the American Dream, Penn State Erie

 

 

Directions to Girard Universalist Church: Myrtle Street one block south off Main Street (Route 20) at the Main Perk