10:13 p.m. MDT

One of my favorite parts of a worship service is sitting and listening to the postlude after the worship service. I like hearing good music (tonight we’re getting something from Handel’s Water Music), while all the people around me are talking about the service, talking among themselves, talking about their families, heading out of the worship service and back to normal life.

10:11 p.m. MDT

The last of the professional religious leaders being recognized head off the stage. “Give ’em a last round of applause,” says Beth Miller. The congregation erupts in applause.

10:07 p.m. MDT

The recessional hymn is one of my favorites, “For All the Saints,” with music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. (I still say he’s the best writer of hymn tunes of the 20th century.) Another hymn that sounds particularly good when two thousand people sing it.

9:59 p.m. MDT

Mary Harrington’s voice is very soothing. Her voice is creating an almost meditative state in the congregation here — very much in line with part of what she’s saying in her sermon, which is that we all need to take time for quiet and reflection and awareness.

9:40 p.m. MDT

“The Bible often refers to sheep, and having personally raised sheep, I can assure you this is not a compliment,” says Rev. Mary Harrington, our preacher this evening. She gets a surprised laugh from the congregation.

“It is easy for us to tune out what is most important in life,” she continues. Yep, let’s not be sheep. Tune in.

“Sometime I think it would take a pickaxe to get my attention,” Harrington admits. Thank goodness it’s not just me who doesn’t pay attention to life!

9:33 p.m. MDT

It happens in every worship service: someone falls asleep, a well-dressed white man with gray hair. He’s sitting a few rows back from me, chin down on chest. It’s a moving worship service, Bill Sinkford and Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh are reading a moving poem, and we all want to stay awake. But let’s face it, General Assembly is exhausting, and sleep can overcome even the best intentions. As for me, I had a cup of coffee before I came in to worship.

9:26 p.m. MDT

It’s time for the offering. The money goes to the Living Tradition Fund, which provides grants to ministers who are buried under debt from seminary, and retired ministers who have inadequate pensions. “We need to raise $200,000 tonight from you,” says Rev. Richard Nugent, director of church staff finances at the UUA. Times are tough for ministers and seminarians, many of whom are economically marginal (says the blogger, speaking from personal experience). The baskets being passed behind me are piled with checks, pledge cards, and what look like twenty dollar bills. GA delegates do tend to be generous in their giving.

(You can donate, too, if you’re following GA from home. Here’s the Web page — and no, they don’t yet take PayPal or credit cards online.)

9:18 p.m. MDT

I’m seeing a much greater diversity of clerical garb among the ministers being recognized at this Service of the Living Tradition. Most ministers used to wear traditional black robes or academic robes. But this year, I’m seeing several white robes, several blue robes, suit and tie, blue blazer, dark shirt open at the throat, white blouse with ruffled collar, and more.

9:03 p.m. MDT

As I’m listening to the names of the ministers who are completing service and retiring this year, I’m struck by how many of them are women.

Now comes the litany of appreciation for the ministers who are retiring. Two thousand voices behind me saying: “We rejoice and give thanks for the gifts of your heart.” And the words we in the congregation are saying are heartfelt.

Applause for the retiring ministers, growing in volume.

8:56 p.m. MDT

A moment of silence for the ministers who died in the past year.

When you’re sitting in the middle of it, the sound of two thousand people in silence is almost overwhelming in intensity.

(((…transcendent moment…)))

Can’t be described adequately….

8:48 p.m. MDT

I’m such a child of the Web — I’m watching the streaming video of the Service of the Living Tradition, at the same time I’m watching the actual Service,a nd watching the video that’s projected on the big screens on either side of the stage.

You should be watching the Service on streaming video, if you’re not already. Go to:
Click on the big link in the upper right corner of the Web page. Make sure your browser is set to allow pop-up windows, because the video is going to appear in a pop-up window.

8:41 p.m. MDT

Rev. Beth Miller, director of ministry at the UUA, tells the congregation to applaud all the ministers, religious educators, and music directors who are now on stage, and going to be recognized tonight. Cheers, clapping, people waving their hands over their heads, people standing — and all those on stage grinning big happy grins.

8:39 p.m. MDT

There they go, processing past us, the ministers, religious educators, and music directors who are going to be recognized. One person was carrying a small video camera and recording his point of view as he walked in — hope he posts the video to YouTube (if you know him, tell him to post a link to his video in the comments). We’re all singing the traditional hymn for this processional, “Rank by Rank Again We Stand.” Gives me the shivers every time.

Update: The person with the video camera has uploaded his video. You can watch it here.

8:34 p.m. MDT

I just wandered back to the hallway outside the hall. The ministers, religious educators, and music directors who are going to be recognized during the Service of the Living Tradition are all lined up outside the door. Some of them looked giddy with pleasure; some of them were still and centered; and some of them were just talking with the people next to them.

8:27 p.m. MDT

Kenneth Ewan, the music director for this worship service has the whole congregation singing in three-part harmony: a bass drone, a lead part, and a high descant part. So here I am surrounded by more than a thousand people singing in harmony. The hair on the backs of my arms is standing up….

8:17 p.m. MDT

The house lights went all the way down, for some unknown reason — this while people are still streaming into the hall. It’s a problem, as people come in out of the brightly-lit hallway in a crowd, and can’t see. But as I stood at the back of the hall, it was also really magical — dim shapes of scores of people casting long shadows behind them as they walked forward towards the brightly-lit stage.

8:10 p.m. MDT

Outside, it’s pouring rain, and we can occasionally hear the thunder here inside the convention center. People are streaming into the hall, trying to get the best seats possible for the Service of the Living Tradition. Lots of people greeting old friends in aisles, lots of talking all through the hall.

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dan harper


  1. Rex Styzens

    Just a comment to express my appreciation for your considered reflections on events. I am about to go see if the Service of the Living Tradition video is up yet. In my day, I was able to tolerate snoozers more easily than babies crying. One can assume the former are concentrating deeply on what they hear; the latter’s protests leave no doubt what they are concentrating on.

  2. Jeremy D. Nickel

    Hi, I am the guy who was holding the video camera on the way in. It is a bit shaky, but here is the link:

    Enjoy, I sure did!

    Jeremy D. Nickel

  3. Rex Styzens

    Saturday afternoon. Long Beach, CA. I finally was able to get response online for the SoLT video. However, the transmission is very uneven (lightning striking the transmision tower?); video breaks up within 20-30 seconds but audio resumes. Added to the unhappy plodding delivery our clergy are used to, which works in pulpits but not on video, I shall wait for a better connection or the printed version that usually follows.

  4. Dan Harper

    Rex Styzens @ 1 — Baby was very quiet, and Mom took him out when he started to get fussy. And the fellow who was sleeping wasn’t snoring. So everything worked out fine!

    Jeremy D. Nickel @ 2 — How cool! I’ll put the link up in the body of the post. Thanks a million!

    Rex Styzens @ 3 — I’ll pass your comments on to the video staff. Thanksf or the feedback.


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