First Parish congregation attending Sunday Service

First Parish Sunday Services at 10:00 am


In November 2014 the Worship Associates conducted a a survey of the congregation's 's worship preferences. Rev. Marta Flanagan preached a sermon about those preferences. Click here to read Marta's sermon "Worshiping Together"

Our services vary in format but the following are typical elements:

The Prelude: The first notes of the music we hear in the prelude are our cues to turn our hearts toward the service. Quiet talking ends as we settle into our seats and give our attention to what is being played and/or sung to nurture our souls.

Ringing the Bell: The sanctuary houses the historic bell from the steeple of our fourth meetinghouse, which burned to the ground in March 1975 as the congregation was preparing for the nation’s bicentennial. Though the bell cracked when it fell and could not be rehung, we ring it inside the church each week as a way to honor our connection to those who came before us and to create an atmosphere of reverence.

Lighting the Chalice: The flaming chalice is the symbol of our Unitarian Universalist tradition. Originally the symbol of the Unitarian Service Committee during World War II, it was adopted by the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1961 during the time of the merger of the Universalist Church in America and the American Unitarian Association. As in other traditions, fire symbolizes the warmth, fragility, beauty and power of our lives as individuals and as a community.

Intergenerational Sharing: We value the young people in our congregation and the opportunity for them to be in worship with us. Most weeks, we engage the chldren with a story, song or other activity relevant to the theme of the service. At the end the intergenerational sharing, we sing the round “Go Now in Peace” as they leave for their age-specific Sunday School programs for grades K-6.

Sharing of Celebrations and Concerns: As the young people leave for their programs, congregation members have the opportunity to light “candles of celebration and concern” in recognition of matters significant to their lives. These may range from remembering a deceased loved one to announcing an engagement to showing solidarity with people in other countries. Whatever the content, the intention is to allow time for members and friends to share what’s in their hearts with others in this beloved community.

The Collection: First Parish collections both sustain the congregation and raise money for important causes. Our Giving First program devotes 50% of our non-pledge Sunday morning offerings to a different charity each month.

The Sermon: Sermons are delivered mostly by our minister, Rev. Marta Flanagan. Marta preaches on a wide variety of topics, ranging from forgiveness to immigration to how to live a meaningful life. First Parish occasionally has guest preachers as well. Check out audio recordings of past sermons in our Worship Services Recordings section.

The Benediction: The closing words of our service were written by our Minister Emeritus, Rev. Dr. Barbara Whittaker-Johns, and are a simple prayer/meditation: “May faith in the Spirit of Life, hope for the community of Earth, and love of the sacred in one another be ours now, and in all the days to come.” We join hands as a way of offering our warmth to one another, and to remind us of the first Unitarian Universalist principle that affirms and promotes the “inherent worth and dignity of every person” – including ourselves.

The Postlude: We return to our seats at the end of the service to give ourselves the gift of wonderful music once more as we make our transition from the worship hour back into “ordinary time.” The postlude is an excellent opportunity to quietly reflect on the blessings of being in this place at this time.

Friendship/Coffee Hour: As important as anything that happens in the Sunday Service is the opportunity to make new friends and connect with older ones, all of which builds the bonds of our community. This mostly happens in the Vestry, which is what we call the “Community Room” to the rear of the Sanctuary. Originally, a vestry was where clergy would put on their robes or vestments. Today, it is often a room used for church meetings and classes.

Note that our children's Religious Education program happens simultaneously with our Sunday services. On most Sundays, children spend the first portion of the service in the sanctuary with their families and leave for the children's program after the intergenerational sharing time. Some Sunday services are intergenerational and children remain with us for the entire service. Childcare is available on Sunday mornings for children younger than the 4-year-olds in our pre-kindergarten class. Babies often stay with their parents during the service. The service is broadcast in the Vestry if more freedom of movement is needed to keep a baby content.


Copyright 2017 First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington

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