Unitarian Universalist Music

Several readers have asked about what kind of music Unitarian Universalist services use. Of course, the quality of the music varies from one UU congregation to another. I’m lucky — my local congregation has pretty good music.

UUs have their own hymnal, with a mix of songs in it. Most are hymns I’ve never heard before; some mention God in one form or another, but most don’t. Instead, most focus more on universal themes like nature, personal growth, love, and peace.

Here are some examples:

Gather the Spirit

Gather the Spirit; Harvest the Power
Our separate fires will kindle one flame
Witness the mystery of this hour
Our trials in this light appear all the same

Gather in peace, gather in thanks
Gather in sympathy now and then
Gather in hope, compassion and strength
Gather to celebrate once again

Gather the Spirit of heart and mind
Seeds for the sowing are laid in store
Nurtured in love, and conscience refined
With body and spirit united once more

Gather in peace, gather in thanks
Gather in sympathy now and then
Gather in hope, compassion and strength
Gather to celebrate once again

Gather the Spirit growing in all
Drawn by the moon, and fed by the sun
Winter to Spring, and Summer to Fall
The chorus of life resounding as one

Gather in peace, gather in thanks
Gather in sympathy now and then
Gather in hope, compassion and strength
Gather to celebrate once again

And this one:

For All That Is Our Life

For all that is our life we sing out thanks and praise
For all life is a gift which we are called to use
To build the common good
And make our own days glad

For needs which others serve, for services we give,
For work and its rewards, for hours of rest and love;
We come with praise and thanks
For all that is our life.

For sorrow we must bear, for failures, pain, and loss,
For each new thing we learn, for fearful hours that pass:
We come with praise and thanks
For all that is our life

For all that is our life we sing out thanks and praise
For all life is a gift which we are called to use
To build the common good
And make our own days glad

Some hymns, though, are ones familiar from my youth. But what’s interesting is that the UU version of these hymns is often slightly changed. Let me give an example. Last week we sang Joy to the World. Instead of the traditional words, though, we sang this:

Joy to the World

Joy to the world! The word is come:
Let earth with praises ring.
Let every heart prepare a room
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! Now gladness reigns:
Let hearts their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground
Let righteousness its glories show
As far as love is found
Far as the love is found,
Far as the love is found,
Far as, far as, the love is found.

The UU version of Joy to the World is perhaps edited more than most, but it’s a decent example of the way those who compiled the hymnal went about “universalizing” classic Christian hymns.

It should also be remembered that UUs are not constricted to using songs in their hymnal. My local UU choir, for instance, frequently sings songs that aren’t even religious in nature, including classic rock songs. I love this ability to draw form a variety of sources, perhaps in part because it’s so different from the hymn-and-praise-chorus music of the evangelical megachurch where I grew up.

Anyway, I hope that helps answer the question about UU services and music. If you’re a UU yourself, feel free to leave a comment regarding the sort of music you sing in your local congregation!

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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