I won't get into the issue of whether Joys/Sorrows should ever be in a service. People on both sides, strong opinions, absolutely convinced they're right. All I'm saying is that it wasn't working for us. Same three people standing up or occasionally one member who would hijack the service, which led to no one wanting to share.
On top of that, we had several members wanting a quiet beginning to the worship service, as opposed to a chatting, gabbing entry into the sanctuary.
Enter, "Morning Blessings."
Here's how it works:
15 minutes before the service begins, those who want to, gather in the sanctuary. There is an usher outside the doors to gently shush anyone coming in and explain the ritual. We have a small table upfront with tealight candles in holders. One "lighting" candle is lit, so that members may use a long match to catch the flame, then light a candle. The facilitator, in a modulated voice:
So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, of those who partake. I've had one person say she misses joys/sorrows in the service (her complaint is that she wants 'critical mass' to be present), but I've had many more say that they love morning blessings, that they normally wouldn't say anything in j/s, but since they know that the only people present are those who want to be there, they feel comfortable speaking. And several who enjoy the quiet before the service begins.
Good morning. Welcome to this time of community and contemplation, where we may share the joys and the sorrows going on in our lives.
Enjoy the experience of sitting in restorative silence until you are moved to speak. Please allow a few breaths of silence after a person speaks, so that we may focus our attention and energy on his or her concern.
(some people get up and light a candle. Some light a candle and speak. Some stay in their chair and speak.)
Let us pause to dwell inward. Spirit of Life, please meet us where we are, in our struggles and challenges, our happiness and sorrow. It is right that we pause to remember everyone, known and unknown, including ourselves, who need love and support; who are ill or in pain, either in body or in spirit; who are lonely or have been wronged. Let us open our minds and hearts to a place of quiet, to a silent prayer for the healing of pain, and the soft, gentle coming of love. Let us observe a moment of silence and let our thoughts be with those who have spoken or been spoken about, here this morning. (We wait about a minute, then close with Amen, Blessed Be, etc.)
So, it's still too early to call ... but so far, it seems good. And in general, once someone comes for Morning Blessings, they keep coming. So the challenge now is to convince members to get up 15 minutes earlier ...
*For those not familiar with the term: Joys and Sorrows or Joys and Concerns refers to the time in the worship service when members are invited to stand up and share the major events in their lives.