UniversalistChristian.net down for rebuilding

My UniversalistChristian.net site — one of the places I stash Universalist Christian documents — got infected and so rather trying to clean it, I have completely take it down.

I’m really long past giving my documents sites a collective scrub, so I plan on doing that, with other security updates besides. I’ll appreciate your patience.

Lay centers service book: first thoughts

Returning to the Service and Hymn Book for the Unitarian League of Lay Centers, I wanted to share my process of understanding it. I think that starts with getting the texts of this hard-to-find book public. A searchable text also makes it easier to annotate, which then gets us closer to understanding how these early twentieth-century Unitarians viewed the liturgy, and from that their religion.

The “services” are really opening sequences, with a pastoral prayer: in a sense an abbreviated morning prayer before the hymn-framed sermon. It’s a familiar format. There are two forms here: the first two services are more elaborate, and for general use. The last three — Righteousness and Peace, A Service of Thanksgiving and a Commemorative Service — outside the sequence of numbered services are more elaborate, perhaps for use on civil holidays … or civil crisis.

The ten numbered services in the middle are an exended responsive reading matched to what might be called a “pastoral prayer.” That is, that kind of page-long, non-topical general prayer so often found in print in that era, and which continues as the most common genre of prayer in Unitarian Universalism (and elsewhere I bet.) A good period Universalist source of this genre, is Charles Hall Leonard’s 1915 Light and Peace and I bet many of my readers will also think of Rauschenbusch’s Prayers of the Social Awakening. My point is this: even without composing new prayers, it would have been easy for a local lay leader to match up extra prayers and extra responsive reading (they were commonly published in their own volumes, too) and club together new opening sequences, even if that meant obliging the members to buy a second book, or using a job printer. An appealing thought that.

Back to our text:

I thought it would be easier to dictate the text — around 9,500 words — into Google Drive and edit it from there, than to try and straighten all the photos of the pages and OCR them. I’ve included links to the page photos, and the “before” and “after” of the text editing below. (When I publish this page, I will not have started on the editing.)

Photos of the first (liturgical) part of the Lay Centers book

Lay Centers book as dictated

Lay Centers book as it be being edited

A Unitarian Te Deum

I’m looking to find liturgical elements in Service and Hymn Book for the Unitarian League of Lay Centers drawn from contemporary Unitarian works — and there were several. I thought it would be helpful to see what family of resources and what influences were in play.

The American Unitarian Association Book of Common Worship (1913) — only responsive readings — begins with, of all things, the late antique hymn of praise, the Te Deum, under the appropriate title “Praise to God.” It’s unusual because it’s hardly the most unitarian of texts, and so I include it here.

We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting.

To thee all creatures cry aloud, the heavens and all the powers therein;
The vast array of thy creation continually doth worship thee, holy, holy, holy. Lord, God of the universe;

Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory.
The glorious company of the apostles praise thee;

The goodly fellowship of the prophets praise thee;
The noble army of martyrs praise thee;

The holy church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee, the Father of an infinite majesty:
The everlasting Light of all that live, Spirit of grace and truth, the Comforter.

Thou art the King of glory, O Lord; thou art the ever blessed God our Father.
When thou lookest upon us in our low estate, thou dost not despise our humble prayer.

Thou settest us free from the bondage of sin, and dost open the kingdom of heaven unto all the faithful.
Thou callest upon us to enter in and to dwell with thee for ever.

We believe that thou art Judge of all the earth.
We therefore pray thee, help thy children, to whom thou hiast revealed the knowledge of thy love;

May we be found faithful in the keeping of thy law.
O Lord, save thy people, and bless thy heritage.

Govern them, and lift them up for ever.
Day by day we magnify thee, and we worship thy name ever, world without end.

Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us.

O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us, as our trust is in thee.
O Lord, in thee have we trusted; let us never be confounded.

Revisiting the Lay Centers book

More than three years ago, I wrote about a Unitarian effort about 110 years past for the creation of “lay centers” that in many ways anticipated the post-WWII Fellowship Movement. (This was itself called for ten years prior.)

There’s little said about this episode, and little evidence of it apart from a few articles and a small worship guide. I intended to say more about the book — famous last words — but it is fragile and rare enough that I did not want to subject it to a flatbed scanner.

2014-04-02 21.13.36

So I’ll pick up where I left off, and using my phone camera hope to find some efficiencies in bringing the contents of this book to light.

In the meantime, review those past articles:

Twenty years in fellowship, and now what?

I was going through notes and files on my computer, and see that I received fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association, through its Ministerial Fellowship Committee, twenty years ago two days ago; that is on July 7, 1997.

It’s a nostalgic week for several reasons — some personal — but seeing old classmates report on Facebook their experience of the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and this anniversary are particularly poignant. (I went to Brite Divinity School, a Disciples seminary, and also graduated in 1997.)

Would I do it all over again? Probably, because my happy life would be so much different without it. I met my husband while serving in my last pastorate, so we would have never met without this journey in ministry. My character has been improved in ways I can’t fully express by it, and have many good friends in the ministry without whom my life would be poorer. But those are not the usual reasons for entering and continuing in the ministry, and hardly good ones seen from the outside and all the costs counted. So much of my writing and secular non-profit work is to put flesh on dry bones,

But this is not a complaint or lament, but rather a word of thanks for those I have served with and near, and who have helped me put some context into what ministry means in these fast-moving two decades.

The bit of Jewish liturgy hidden in plain sight in the red hymnal

For reasons too long to go into now, I was tracking down threads in the Classic Reform tradition of Reform Jewish liturgics a couple of weeks ago. Suffice it to say that it was in parallel with some of the liturgical developments in Unitarian churches in the late nineteenth century. There were some friendships crossing the divide, or at least cooperative parterships. It’s hard to tell how far or wide without a deep dive.

So, I was reading the Adoration ending sequence from the Sabbath evening service in the Union Prayer Book, in wide use in Reform temples through the early 1970s. This is the Aleinu, for those familiar with the traditional Hebrew name. I thought, “this looks familiar.”

As well it should. Capitalization aside, the first part of the Aleinu was dropped in almost verbatim as the Exhortation — that is, a beginning sequence — of the First Service of the Services of Religion, the services prepended to the 1937 joint Unitarian-Universalist Hymns of the Spirit.

So, it reads:

Let us adore the ever-living God, and render praise unto him who spread out the heavens and established the earth; whose glory is revealed in the heavens above and whose majesty is manifested throughout the earth. He is our God and there is none else; wherefore in awe and wonder we bow the head and magnify the Eternal, the Holy One, the Ever Blest.

That’s the same hymnal that has the Jewish text translated by a Unitarian minister, “Praise to the Living God” as its first hymn.

And if you’ve read this far and are at the UUA General Assembly in New Orleans, you may be interested in Shabbat Worship, presented by Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness on Friday, June 23, 5:00 pm in the Hilton Riverside Windsor Room.

Cross-posted to HymnsoftheSpririt.org

Making the most with what you have

This brief blog post exists to frame the one that will follow in a day or two. It will be a tutorial to use newly-released features in some free software to make print items — I’m thinking orders of service and newsletters — more attractive and professional-looking.

I’ll do this because there’s so little cost (time or materials) difference between something that looks ratty and something we can be proud of, and this tool can make one step closer to pride.

But ratty too often wins. I can’t do anything about over-long announcements or pointless minister’s columns written out of necessity on deadline. Or grammatical errors that appear seemingly out of nowhere. (Actually, I could have, because I have done all of these.) But when a task needs to be done, sometimes the only good thing you can say about it is that “it’s done now.”

As churches have to make do with less money, fewer people and less cachet in the community, this tension between “must do” and “it’s not great” will become more pronounced and painful. Surely, some customs may vanish, perhaps the print newsletter. Others may be helped by outsourcing and automation. (Churches are not immune to this, and volunteer time has value.) And some will be improved by better tools and training to use them.

But the goal is not so much the better appearance, say, for print pieces; but greater pride for those who produce and read them.

What I thought of while watching “Wonder Woman”

A version of this post was originally created as for the June 10 newsletter for the Universalist Christian Initiative.

I don’t think it is a spoiler to state the the film Wonder Woman (link plays audio) has been re-set to take place in World War One, and that is has scenes of wartime fighting. (She’s been around seventy-five years as a heroic Amazon warrior-princess and was introduced in the Second World War.)

I like the film very much, and if you like action films you should see it; it includes themes that I can’t discuss without giving away the plot. It was it in mind that I afterwards started reading John van Schaick’s The Little Corner Never Conquered, an account of the work of the American Red Cross in Belgium in World War One, and immediately thereafter. It’s available at Archive.org here.

Picture of Red Cross officers including John van Schaick

The “little corner” refers to that part of northwest Belgium unoccupied by the Germans, west of the Western Front, but though unoccupied was still atacked, creating refugees, and maiming and killing countless numbers of people. Van Schaick (pronounced “van skoik”) was a Universalist minister, and indeed a ministerial predecessor of mine in the Washington parish, known since 1930 as Universalist National Memorial Church. Even now, the parish parlor is named for him, his wife Julia and her parents. But van Schaick was not there in a ministerial role — he took a leave of absence — serving with the American Red Cross; he and Julia and the others were there to help those who could not help themselves, and did so with humility worth emulating. They accepted constraints (still not universally held); they did what was needed by taking the lead and cue from Belgians. They were there to support, not to control. All of this starting a hundred years a few weeks ago…

It’s a thrilling read, but not an adventure story; understatement hides horrors. John repeats Julia’s work as a nurse’s aide — a matter-of-fact list, from a day book? — caring for wounded American soldiers behind the lines:

Took down records of the wounded American soldiers, four papers for each. Collected patients’ letters, took them to censor, who was a wounded officer on top floor. Translated a letter written in Italian into English, so censor could pass on it. Got the passes for the slightly wounded going out. Fed soldiers helpless through wounds in hands or arms, or very ill. Gave out newspapers, fruit, matches, cigarettes and writing paper. Handed out uniforms for men going out for the day and other clothing like socks and underwear. Washed feet. Prepared special soup on alcohol lamp. Bathed very ill men on head and hands with cologne. Put into English lists of surgical appliances and material the French surgeons were asking of the American Red Cross. Attended funerals of the boys who died and was the only woman at the grave of some of them. Got the wreaths for these funerals, tied them with our colors and put them on the casket. Brought back the American flag from the grave. Wrote to families of the dead boys. Prepared little boxes in which boys could keep bullets or pieces of shell taken out of them. Helped an American sergeant entertain his French sweet-heart and her mother who had come to visit him. Telephoned. Sorted, counted and sent out dirty linen. Got men ready to take motor rides. Wrote letters for men. Interpreted for doctors, nurses and patients. Mended clothes. Picked up trash. (p. 52)

How horribly maimed must have the “very ill” been? The thought of Julia Romaine van Schaick’s care, as an stand-in for all those who risked health, safety and life humbles me. She was not there in a religious capacity, but her humanitarian care looks a lot like the soul of ministry to me. Remember them, too, in these centennial years — and remember those who put themselves at risk today in your charitable giving and, if the opportunity opens, with your talents. And remember: stories like these call us to higher service, if we would listen.

Want more? Yesterday I visited the National Postal Museum. A new exhibit on World War One opened. If you can’t make it to Washington, D.C., see highlights on their website.

My Fellow Soldiers: Letters from World War I

Happy Desert Mothers Day

In brief, the Desert Mothers were third- and fourth-centry acetic, monastic women who took to the Egyptian desert. They, and the Desert Fathers, often developed a reputation as spiritual teachers. Their wisdom continued as an oral tradition and later set down.

Here are two sayings from particulary well-regarded Mother Syncletica:

Do not let yourself be seduced by the delights of the riches of the world, as though they contained something useful on account of vain pleasure. Worldly people esteem the culinary art, but you, through fasting and thanks to cheap food, go beyond their abundance of food. It is written: “He who is sated loathes honey.” (Prov. 27.7) Do not fill yourself with bread and you will not desire wine.’

She also said, ‘Those who have endured the labours and dangers of the sea and then amass material riches, even when they have gained much desire to gain yet more and they consider what they have at present as nothing and reach out for what they have not got. We, who have nothing of that which we desire, wish to acquire everything through the fear of God.

(Apophthegmata Patrum: The Sayings Of The Desert Fathers, Sr. Benedicta translation)

Painting depicting Syncletica of Alexandria, from the Menologion of Basil II (c. 1000)

Reflecting on Neoliberalism

I was telling some friends that I thought the biggest un-talked-about story in Unitarianland is the discussion of Neoliberalism that came up during the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches early in Holy Week — not the best time for ministers overseas to take note, to be sure.

Andrew Brown, the minister to the Cambridge church, wrote about this at the time (“Neoliberalism’s Destructive Influence Both Inside and Outside the Modern Unitarian Movement, ” April 13,  Caute) and so I would recommend you read that; I’m running down the links he suggests and going to find that George Monbiot book I bought and never got around to reading. (We’ve all done that, right?)

What made me think this was important was the how sungly most of us are within a Neoliberal worldview and how that undercuts our faithfulness; limits our ability to use it effectively where appropriate; and (getting back to the issues that were captivating American Unitarian Universalists this Holy Week) distorts the ways we speak with one another.

I was going to write up this beautiful analysis, but by the time I did that (if I ever did that) the moment would be lost. Instead, I recommend the above article — and that we keep it on our radar.