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:

Sources of prayers: an English book from 1903

The services before the Hymns of the Spirit include prayers and litanies from various sources, including the 1903 Devotional Services for Public Worship, by John Hunter. He was the minister of King’s Weigh House Church, then a Congregational church, in Mayfair, London.

You can read it at

I’ll see if there’s any commonalities, and if so I’ll note them below.

Crossposted at

Book give-away

I’m spending part of my summer clearing out books. Duplicates. Those I’ll never read, or never read again. Those that hae a marginal interest to me but might mean more to others.

If you read this blog, and live in the U.S., drop me a note through the contact form stating that you’d like to browse the list of books I’m offering, once it’s done. Note if you’re a seminarian (and where) — I’ll give you first dibs.

UniversalistChristian domain updates

I have two closely-named domains that I’m trying to make better use of. Here’s an update.

  1. started out as a mirror of the historical documents I kept at — I’ve been having problem with that domain; to be fixed — and thus is the clearest continuation of the websites I started in 1996. I’ve made it a bit cleaner, and, in time, want to give it a better typographical presence as outlined by Matthew Butterick. I’ll also be cleaning up typos in the worship section and adding new content.
  2. was most recently (and until yesterday) a sandbox for the new UU WordPress theme. But that’s a waste of the domain, so I’ve taken it down and am reserving it for a companion project to, and in so doing, will give them proper names.

Volunteer time is valuable

There are lots of reasons named for why churches are changing, such a more secular culture, wider social options and the rise of the Internet. But reasons related to resources make the most sense to me. Is this thing — an organized religious life — worth money to me? And time… is it worth my time? Increasingly, the answer is no.

Time to attend services — and commute to them. That’s a problem for Unitarian Universalists outside Massachusetts, who are usually organized at the municipal or multi-country level. And it means that the volunteer time we ask of people should be valued very highly. Perhaps so highly that some labor-intensive activities need to vanish.

They can be retired, left to starve from disinterest or (worse) be resented for the precious labor they demand. Volunteers deserve to be treated as scarce and valuable resource; if not, others will do a better job tending to them and the churches will really be strapped.

Value of Volunteer Time Up 49 Cents in 2015” (Philanthropy News Digest)