This past Sunday was the Water Ingathering Ceremony, or water communion, for most Unitarian congregations in Canada. Unitarian Universalists don’t have many rituals and I cherish the times when our services go beyond words to being. The water ingathering, with people bringing water from their backyards and their trips around the world, is a welcoming way to begin the congregational year. Each person pours their small cup of water into the great bowl of our common life so that it brims to overflowing with all the gifts we bring. I love that fluid and flowing sense of return, of beginning again together in community. I think of the folksong which points out that the ocean refuses no river, that we try to accept all people who seek to join our chalice community. The offerings of everyone come together to create the whole; the whole that we depend on for sustenance.
The water ceremony is a relatively recent tradition, evolving from a ritual created by Carolyn McDade and Lucile Shuck Longview for the 1980 Women and Religion Conference in East Lansing, Michigan. They wanted their service to speak to the worship needs of women, which some felt had not been widely included in UU life. They wanted to focus on a sense of nature and of community. This “celebration of connectedness,” as McDade called it, was intended to empower women instead of offering the traditional religious notion that women should serve others. The water symbolized the birth waters, the cycles of moon, tides and women, and all the waters of this small blue planet. Since 1980, the water communion, with evolving meaning, has become the fall welcoming ritual and spread across most North American congregations. Most keep some water back from the ritual – well boiled – and use it to begin next year’s ritual.
Given that we Unitarians like to talk, I love the rituals that allow us to move, share and simply be together in moments that are beyond words. This past Sunday I got to be at my home congregation for the first time in a few years, to share in the water ingathering. Lively music, beautiful images, seeing old friends, it was good to be welcomed home. I’ve had the image of a canoe in my head these last couple of weeks, as I paddle towards the final step in my ministry journey (the interview with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee in Boston). It’s good to know that even in stormy times, there is a safe harbour nearby.