As I shared in a 2013 post, the Unitarian Universalist ritual of Water Communion can be more than a recitation of where people spent their summer vacations, if we give it careful attention. Dozens of comments on that post and responses in other forums have revealed that many congregational leaders are doing just that. Another change we’ve made in our Water Communion in Palo Alto is the timing, and I’m wondering if other congregations have made a similar change.

As in most Unitarian Universalist congregations, our Water Communion service is also our Ingathering service: the official start of the church year. (We have services every Sunday–no “summer off”–but there is still a rhythm to the liturgical year; the circle of the year has a beginning and a closing.) A few years ago, our Minister of Religious Education, Dan Harper, noted that due to changes in the local school districts’ schedules, our church year was no longer in sync with the school year, and proposed that we re-align it. We have done so ever since, and this year’s Water Communion will be August 21, the first Sunday after the beginning of the school year for most of the children in the area.

In most Unitarian Universalist congregations, the church year has long aligned with the academic year. That in itself might reveal an upper-class bias if it were only about post-high-school education. But in U.S. secular life, there are two major beginning-times: January and the start of the school year. Not surprisingly, therefore, these are some of the peak times for visitors to check out a new church.

People move house most often in the summer. Children begin new routines such as extracurricular activities when they settle in to the new school year. If a parent is contemplating introducing a child to religious education, the chances are they think about it in coordination with secular school. So the first few weeks of school are a natural time for church-shopping. In Palo Alto and neighboring towns, that no longer means the week after Labor Day as it once did, but mid-August. Until we made the switch, our church year, including the Sunday School year, began almost a month after the first day of school.

If you have an Ingathering service, is it timed to coincide with the beginning of the church year? Is your Ingathering service a Water Communion Sunday, or are they different days? Do you have an Water Sunday at all?

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