“Universalist Register” copies found online

A handy set of links for those researching Universalists.

The Universalist register and almanac

The Universalist Companion, with Almanac and Register

The Universalist Companion, with an Almanac and Register

The Universalist Register

I would love to see Universalist posters

Five Principles poster
Over the years, I’ve run across smallish, say 8×10 posters, with the Universalist “Five Principles” (click the link to download a copy) on them, clearly intended for domestic use and personal inspiration. And I know the Universalists were not opposed to the use of religious art in the home, and particularly with children, and particularly if the art was was sufficient quality. But more that this, apart from t-shirts, we lack the elements of material culture — the stuff — that develop a sense of belonging.

But this was an expensive endeavor, and I can imagine a publications manager, some decades ago, having masses of unsold, faded and dog-eared prints hauled to the landfill. Inspirational poster art has withered away among the Unitarian Universalists, probably everywhere else, too. But there’s no excuse for it.
NASA Mars "travel" poster

Anyone on Facebook knows there’s a market for it, it’s never been cheaper or easier to create the images, and print it. Or, for the first time, practically ask people to have it printed locally.

NASA just released a set of imaginative retro-futurist travel posters which could act as a model for a revived poster project. Or at least as an inspiration…

Does worship belong to the church? (Or, a logical conclusion)

From whence comes the right to worship? Is it a Christian liberty that individual Christians have, or is it a grant to the church, that stands as Christ’s beloved and is delegated to individual Christians as a benefit?

I ask this because I wonder about the nature of the church. The former is the more ‘protestant’ approach, and the one that sits better for Universalists, no matter how churchly. (Post-Christian formulations have their own logic, but we’ve not really resolved the question: can Christians worship indefinitely in a non-Christian setting.)

Universalists, at least in their earliest phase, were an awfully anarchic group. The Winchester Profession, the foundational and yet minimal theological standard, is a double witness to this anarchy. First, it was developed in response to civil action challenging organized Universalism’s departure from the Congregational standing order. Second, it makes that explicit mention in its three short articles that Christians “ought to maintain good order” — the kind of recognition that reads more as a grudging concession than a core, heartfelt value. Otherwise, why would such a common assumption be written in?

But if the early Universalists were anarchic, their late nineteenth-century heirs, whose influence continues to today, were not and are not. If anything, we’re saddled with institutional responsibility, professionalized standards, good manners and stifling inertia. We have more money than our ancestors could have used, and yet ache under shortfalls. We have plans and processes, but no new congregations.

Reading Universalist newspapers in the antebellum era, hardly a week would pass — and certainly not a month — without news of a new society cropping up. How is that possible? We are not the same country then as now, and each era has its own benefits, but correctable difference in inescapable: that the early Univeralists were encouraged to form societies to meet a local need, rather than to serve a common, national brand. There was an objective, if minimal standard, that if met all but promised recognition. The self-organized societies (later known as parishes, to distinguish themselves from secular organizations) could organized empowered conventions that could (and did) seek national recognition. Many of these effort perished while small and new, but you could say the same of secular organizations and businesses. Anything worth doing is worth failing at. Or, the lack of failure is also the lack of attempting. There’s no shame in trying and failing.

Back to the question of who “owns” prayer. If the mandate for worship rests on the individual Christian, then the purpose of the church is in some sense the activation of that mandate. That is, to provide encouragement and resources. It is a means, not an end. As we remind ourselves, we could, should we wish, worship alone. Could, and perhaps out. But one role of the church is to stand for Jesus, that we may ask, “teach us to pray” — and be sure there was someone there to teach us.

 

Universalist retro wall plaque

While I writing my blog post about Bible-quote wall hangings, I recalled a small “suitable for framing” poster of the 1899 Universalist “Five Principles” a former (now deceased) church member gave me.

Five Principles poster

I had made a scan of it to share, but can’t find that I had ever done. Over the years, the odd attack and data failure has taken it toll. Or I never put it up.

Let me remedy that.
Five principles poster (PDF, 4.4Mb)

Here’s the text:

Our Universalist Faith
The Universal Fatherhood of God; the Spiritual Authority and Leadership of His Son Jesus Christ; the Trustworthiness of the Bible as containing a Revelation from God; the Certainty of Just Retribution for Sin; the Final Harmony of All Souls with God…

In memoriam: Mary and Wells Behee

Some very sad news this week in the death of Wells and Mary Behee, lifelong Universalists and church servants. I never met them, but knew much about them from Derek Parker, a friend and ministerial colleague (and successor) to the couple. I asked him to share his remembrances — lest this long-serving couple’s contribution be forgotten — and he’s graciously agreed.

Mary grew up in the Universalist Church of Lynn, Massachusetts.  She was the daughter of a long standing Universalist family in that community.  Following World War II she enrolled at Saint Lawrence College, to study religious education with Angus MacLean.  It was in theological school that she met Wells.

Wells grew up in Medina, New York.  His family attended the First Universalist Church of Middleport, New York.  During World War II, Wells served in the Navy.  His military service included both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of combat, including the Battle of Iwo Jima.  Later in life Wells would frequently comment that the only thing which kept his sanity at Iwo Jima were his repeated praying of the Washington Avowal of Faith.  Following World War II, the First Universalist Church of Middleport sponsored Wells to study for the ministry at Saint Lawrence College.

Mary and Wells served together in ministry.  While Mary was never ordained, she was sometimes licensed to preach.  This was a ministry she seldom exercised, preferring to work with young people in classroom settings.  Together they served the Universalist Church, Dexter, New York; the Universalist Church, Woodstock, Ohio; the Universalist Church, Eldorado, Ohio; and the First Universalist Church, New Madison, Ohio.  Aside from her work in Universalist religious education, Mary also worked as an elementary school teacher in different rural Ohio school systems.  Wells also enjoyed an additional career as a high school instructor of public speaking, Shakespeare and English composition.

Both Wells and Mary were gadfly critics about the Unitarian and Universalist merger.  While their opinions were sometimes abrasive to colleagues, the core of their criticism rested on three points:

  1. That post-merger redefinitions of Universalist theology and traditions were not faithful to the evolving traditions and spirit of Universalism,
  2. The post-merger closure of Universalist institutions like the Jordan School, and the theological schools at Tufts and Saint Lawrence.  Mary and Wells were of the opinion that the Tufts and Saint Lawrence theological schools should have merged.
  3. They expressed concerns about the lack of support for rural churches, and about the post-merger preparation of ministers to do relevant liberal ministry in rural settings.

In retirement Mary became involved in causes related to the humane treatment of dogs.  Wells also dedicated himself to a late life ministry of advocacy on behalf of combat veterans.  Following the beginning of the Iraq War, he would volunteer his time to provide a pastoral ear to young combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.  He would also preach on issues related to the extreme psychological cost combat service takes on armed service members.  One of his sermons, “War Never Ends,” was given to a Dayton, Ohio gathering of the American Friends Service Committee.

In retirement Mary and Wells also nurtured the religious vocations of a number of Earlham School of Religion students with Unitarian Universalist, Quaker and Brethren backgrounds.  The mentoring was not always requested, and sometimes made friendships difficult.  But the offer to buy seminarians dress shoes were real and sincere.

Noted advice to seminarians included:

  • “When you are preaching in many churches,  your feet are at eye level with the congregation.  Invest in professional looking shoes.  Anything else is a distraction to the congregation.”
  • “A good sermon is like a good play.  It has a beginning, middle, climax, and an end.   If you give people anything less than this, it is like giving somebody a hot dog, no bun, and a cheese danish; and then calling it a balanced meal.”
  • “Let me show you how to preach without a microphone and amplification.  Seminaries don’t teach that any more.  But how do you think we preached in those big buildings after World War II.  Without a microphone!  If the power goes out, or the sound system blows a fuse, you will need to know this.”

Mary Behee died Tuesday, December 13, 2011 from an automobile accident on a rural Ohio county road.  Her husband, the Rev. Wells Behee, was a passenger and sustained less serious injuries.  He died in his sleep at Heartland Eldercare of Eaton, Ohio on Thursday, December 15, 2011.  Mary was 85 and Wells was 86.

At their own instruction, Wells and Mary chose for the cremation of their remains.  The family will hold a private internment of Wells’s ashes in his boyhood town of Medina, New York.  Mary’s ashes will be scattered on coastal Cape Cod.  A public memorial gathering is tentatively scheduled for summer of 2012, in rural western Ohio. Wells and Mary are survived by their children Kris, Cathy, Carol and Emerson and a number of grandchildren.

  • Wells’s website, including sermons and the page of the New Madison church.
  • "Universalist Conventions and Creeds" source online

    As Google Books and other scanning projects bring the works of past generations within easy reach, formerly obscure works in Universalist history and theology become so easy to acquire that they deserve to be reviewed fresh.

    As late as the late 1990s, I used interlibrary loan to borrow microforms of Universalist periodicals, to print pages and transcribe important passages. Indeed, some of my earliest work on the web was to share what I had found.

    One such resource was Richard Eddy’s multi-part essay series, published in the Universalist Quarterly and Review called “Universalist Conventions and Creeds.” I’ve excerpted parts from that series at my UniversalistChurch.net site. At one level, he was doing in part what I have done: preserve documents from earlier sources. And now, you can read most of his series within a single (1875) volume of Universalist Quarterly and Review.  See this page at Google Books for the volume and an automatically generated table of contents.

    Note: the 1875 volume does not contain the whole series, and the reference to “article I” means the first article in volume, not the series. If I find the installments that come before or after 1875, I’ll link them from this blog post.

    Statements of faith Universalists have professed

    So what do Universalist Christians believe, today and historically?

    The Rob Bell controversy has brought out some affirmations of universal salvation on the ‘net, both within and (largely) outside the Unitarian Universalist Association. And with it — as if we returned to antebellum America — sharp and untrue denunciations of Universalism, and claims about what universalist do or don’t believe, and whether universalism is a fundamental heresy.

    You, constant readers, know where I stand. But since we’ve returned rhetorically to 1835 or 1870, it makes sense to list some of the important statements of faith.

    So, for the record, here are key documents. Links will take you to the full enacting resolution or supporting documents:

    The 1790 Philadelphia Articles of Faith

    Section 1. OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES We believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to contain a revelation of the perfections and will of God, and the rule of faith and practice.

    Section 2. OF THE SUPREME BEING We believe in One God, infinite in all his perfections; and that these perfections are all modifications of infinite, adorable, incomprehensible and unchangeable Love.

    Section 3. OF THE MEDIATOR We believe that there is One Mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ, in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; who, by giving himself a ransom for all, hath redeemed them to God by his blood; and who, by the merit of his death, and the efficacy of his Spirit, will finally restore the whole human race to happiness.

    Section 4. OF THE HOLY GHOST We believe in the Holy Ghost, whose office it is to make known to sinners the truth of their [this] salvation, through the medium of the Holy Scriptures, and to reconcile the hearts of the children of men to God, and thereby dispose them to genuine holiness.

    Section 5. OF GOOD WORK We believe in the obligation of the moral law, as to the rule of life; and we hold that the love of God manifest to man in a Redeemer, is the best means of producing obedience to that law, and promoting a holy, active and useful life.

    The 1803 Winchester Profession, the standard profession of American Universalism

    Article I. We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament contain a revelation of the character of God, and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.

    Article II. We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.

    Article III. We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.

    The 1899 “Five Principles” (“Essential principles of the Universalist faith”)

    The Universal Fatherhood of God; the spiritual authority and leadership of His Son Jesus Christ; the trustworthiness of the Bible as containing a revelation from God; the certainty of just retribution for sin; the final harmony of all souls with God.

    The 1935 Washington Declaration, the theological portion of the bond of fellowship

    … we avow our faith in God as Eternal and All-conquering Love, in the spiritual leadership of Jesus, in the supreme worth of every human personality, in the authority of truth known or to be known, and in the power of men of good-will and sacrificial spirit to overcome evil and progressively establish the Kingdom of God….

    There are also local adaptations — almost always interpreted as an interpretation of the Winchester Profession — from the nineteenth centuries and later. (The newest of these was adopted by the Universalist National Memorial Church.)

    Two worth particular note are:

    1865 Rhode Island Convention Catechism

    We believe in one God, the Creator of all things, and the Father of Mankind; in Jesus Christ his Son, who is the true Teacher, Example, and Savior of men; in the Holy Spirit, the Comforter; in the certainty of retribution; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of all men from the dead; and their final holiness and happiness in the immortal life.

    An 1903 unofficial Universalist Creed

    I believe in God, the Father Almighty and Universal; and in Jesus Christ his Son, the true teacher, example, and Savior of the world. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the quickener and comforter of men. I believe in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as a revelation of righteousness, truth and love. I believe in the Holy Church Universal; in the communion of saints; in the certainty of punishment for transgression; in the forgiveness of sins; in the life immortal; in the final triumph of goodness and mercy; and in the union and harmony, at last, of all souls with God.

    Interesting worship tidbit from Chicago

    This is a follow-up from that post about posts that I intended to get around to — so I’ll keep this brief and get it out the door. Last June, I noted that two more Universalist worship books appeared at Google Books.

    St. Paul's Universalist Church, Chicago 1927 builiding
    St. Paul's Universalist Church, Chicago 1927 builiding. Now a school. Photo: reallyboring (Flicker, BY-NC-SA Creative Commons license)

    One, from 1891, is from the then long-defunct St. Paul’s Universalist Church in Chicago. The interesting thing is its use of creeds and a catechism, which I doubt much impressed the “Western” Unitarians headquartered in the same city.

    The answer to the first question of the catechism anticipated the Universalist “Five Points” Declaration adopted by the Universalist General Convention, meeting in 1899 in Boston, but proposed at the 1897 convention in . . . Chicago. It reads:

    I believe in one God, the Creator of all things, and the Father of mankind; in Jesus Christ his Son, who is the true Teacher, Example and Saviour of men; in the Holy Spirit, the Comforter; in the certainty of retribution; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of all men from the dead; and their final holiness and happiness in the immortal life.

    And as for creeds, the worship book included two biblical ascriptions, the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed.

    Really.

    A must-download for church planters

    If you’ve planting a church, or somehow responsible to someone who is, go ahead and download “The Church Constitution Guide” (PDF, 350kb) published by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Yes, you heard me.

    There are two good reasons:

    1. It has a to-do timeline that we would probably benefit from emulating. Taking five years to grow a congregation of 30 does nobody any favors.

    2. It helps conceptually integrate the three documents we’re OK with — corporate articles, constitution (or bylaws) and covenant — with one we don’t integrate well: a theological statement, whether that be the UUA’s Principles and Purposes or a Universalist avowal.