Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Water Communion 2020

A couple of weeks ago, despite the pandemic, my congregation managed to celebrate our annual Water Ingathering. Also known as 'Water Communion,' we use this as part of the kick-off for our church year which begins in September. Congregants bring water either from someplace they went over the summer break, or from home (or really from anywhere that suits them), and in a ceremony we pour the waters together. Here's a bit about the practice from the UUA website:

The Water Communion, also sometimes called Water Ceremony, was first used at a Unitarian Universalist (UU) worship service in the 1980s. Many UU congregations now hold a Water Communion once a year, often at the beginning of the new church year (September).

Members bring to the service a small amount of water from a place that is special to them. During the appointed time in the service, people one by one pour their water together into a large bowl. As the water is added, the person who brought it tells why this water is special to them. The combined water is symbolic of our shared faith coming from many different sources. It is often then blessed by the congregation, and sometimes is later boiled and used as the congregation's "holy water" in child dedication ceremonies and similar events.

Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit, where I am a member, has been doing this for over 20 years, and each year a bit of the water from prior years is added to the mix. This time around, because of the need for social distancing, we held the ceremony in two parts. First, we met in several parks, so as to distribute people widely enough to be safe, and poured our waters together. Second, representatives from each group took the water that had been gathered and poured it together into a vessel at the meeting house. The image above is a panoramic shot I took at the Maplewood Park event that my son and I attended. The video below shows the closing ritual, which was recorded and played during the following (online) Sunday service.

Is this a 'made up' ritual? Oh absolutely. But then all rituals are. It's just a question of how long they've been practiced. Baptism (immersion in water) began as ritual baths prior to the spawning of Christianity from Judaism. The Lord's Supper (aka 'Communion' or 'the Eucharist') started out as communal meals in the early gatherings of the Christian church. The way each has been carried out has evolved considerably over the years. The objections from significant segments of contemporary Christianity notwithstanding, I doubt that Christians of the first and early second centuries of the Common Era would recognize either the christening of infants or the pomp and circumstance of a high mass as the same as their rites.

Unitarian Universalism only came together in 1961, and the traditions that preceded had only been distinctive within Christianity for about 200 or fewer years. Those forerunner traditions held essentially the same ordinances as the wider Christian faith, but over time they faded as they became less relevant to our theology. Of course, there are still Christian churches within the Unitarian Universalist Association that celebrate traditional sacraments, and that's just fine. For most of us, though, they just don't work. And so they've been replaced with new ways of honoring time and our place in the world. Aside from Water Communion we also have Bread Communion, Fire Communion, and Flower Communion. There are also less common but cherished practices, such as Cornbread and Cider Communion, in specific congregations or regions. 

We humans are social, meaning-making creatures. In Water Communion all we're literally doing is combining water molecules. Symbolically, we're doing something more. We're recognizing our interconnectedness and celebrating our reunion to join in seeking what is true and working for a more just world.