Married, Universalist style

When I commented at my “Wedding
in the Universalist Tradition” site [link down: 21 April 2005] that the 1839 Menzies Rayner service has “little to commend itself for use today” I was clearly mistaken. Ths evening, I will officiate the marriage of two church members with an abridgement of this rite, which you can read here.
The couple really liked the service, in part, I’m sure because it leaves open a ring ceremony at the solemnization service I’ll lead overseas. Feel free to use it if you like it. Perhaps I can even get a photo online later. (Send yours, too, if you use the service!)

A psalm (or canticle) to sing

For a while now, I’ve been looking for a modern set of metrical psalms and canticles — Biblical psalms and songs rearranged so they can be sung to “hymn tunes”; in fact, many of today’s hymn tunes startes for psalms, like Old 100th — and have now found a source:
A New Metrical Psalter by Christopher L. Webber. New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1986.

(Link)

Definite Christian worship?

Is there a definite form of Universalist or Unitarian Christian worship?

Note I wrote, definite because I won’t venture into the troubled waters of
figuring out if there is a definitive form.

But the more I compare orders of Christian worship from the Universalist and Unitarian
traditions, the more unity I see, especially in those works composed after the
first glimmerings of American ecumenism. These, in turn, look conspicuously like other
denominational liturgies from that period to the present. That’s a good thing, since
today’s Unitarian Universalists seem to revel in being peculiar independent-minded.

My earlier mistake in trying (and failing) to find a common thread was in comparing Communion orders from too broad a time frame. There is something about the Communion liturgy that brings out the eccentric in just about everyone, but even there there is more in common than one might think.

First, there seems to be more familiarity with what most people call “liturgical worship” than is seen today. The past is littered with liturgies: some Unitarian, some Universalist; some for Sunday school, some for congregational worship; some for churches with ministers, some for preaching stations that waited for ministers and needed to worship with lay leadership.

The Book of worship: for the congregation and the home from the Church of the Disciples, Boston, is a Unitarian liturgy to pique your interest:

search MOA here for “worship.”

When to wear clericals

Back from Peter Boullata’s ordination, which went well, with a sermon from UUA President Bill Sinkford, a charge from Weston First Parish’s senior minister, Tom Wintle; the imposition of hands, led by WFP’s associate minister, Sue Spencer; and a wonderful choir. May Peter’s years of pastoral ministry be long and prosperous.

A small ecclesiastic matter.
When I returned home, I discovered an email where
a colleague asked others “wither the clerical collar?” OK, that’s my take on it.
The discussion is confidential, but here’s my reply.

As many of you know, I am a collar-wearer, and this is where I wear it:

1. Any place I exercise pastoral ministry, including worship and meetings of the communion of the churches, like UUMA

[Unitarian
Universalist Ministers Association, or here, the local chapter
] and GA.

[General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association] (Sometimes I’ll skip it for a lunch meeting, though.)

— example, I wear it when I preach at someone else’s church, but not if I go on a Sunday off as a congregant.

2. When I travel, as a public ministry to worried travellers. (That might be more of a Washington post-9/11 thing.)

But when I wear it, I’m “on.” So when I wear it, I informally plan how to get out of it.

The right hand of fellowship

This afternoon, after worship is over, I’ll head to the airport and fly to Providence. From there, a car to suburban Boston, to the
First Parish Church in Weston where my friend
Peter Boullata will be ordained to the Christian ministry. I’ll offer him the right hand of fellowship.

I’ve seen people try to get clever with the right hand of fellowship, and it never
seems to work. The reference is to Galatians 2:9. Here it is, with the verse following:

And when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.

(NRSV)

Certain themes are clear: commission, affirmation, unity. These are appropriate for someone
entering ordained life, of course. The act reminds us of the different labors that
ordained ministers might find in their vocations. It also reminds us that none of us is commissioned
to save the world, but that we can and must share the task.

But recall, too, that it is — or at least, is ours by right — our practice to welcome
new members, the overwhelming number of whom are not ordained, by the right hand of fellowship. And with
it, more than a handshake, they too receive a commission, affirmation, and a sign of unity.
And a share of the mission.

Ascension Day

This has been historically an important day for Universalists because of Christ’s promise that “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32, NRSV)

THROUGH thy most dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who, after his most glorious resurrection, manifestly appeared to all his apostles, and in their sight ascended up into heaven to prepare a place for us; that where he is, thither we might also ascend, and reign with him in glory. Therefore with angels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious name;
evermore praising thee, and saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Glory be to thee, O Lord, most high.

Proper Preface for Ascension with Sanctus from the 1894 Universalist prayerbook

No Ascension Day service this year at UNMC, so I’ll trundle over to the Church of Ascension and St. Agnes, a Rome-leaning Anglo-Catholic Episcopal Church that has a reputation for “doing” Ascension well. (They should.)

Build a Profession, part one

In his Universalist’s Book of Reference (1901 ed., “revised and enlarged”) E. E. Guild was able to identify twelve distinct theological propositions in the Winchester Profession, though I’m not quite as hopeful as he was, neither would I call all twelve essential to Universalism. Indeed, I believe the first edition of Guild’s work come out in 1853, and I’ve seen versions of his twelve principles that reflect other stages in his thinking. For your reflection, one of these stages — the ten point “Bible Creed” — is found at
the True Grace Ministries website.

Without a doubt, the sine qua non of Universalism is the
belief that all persons (variant: all sentient beings, if one believes in angels or, nowadays, alien intelligences) will be, in time, saved; that is, we will be “holy and happy” in this life and hereafter. There was a great reluctance to say how this happens, or when, or exactly how: indeed, pick that too hard and you would have found how many ways Universalists diverged on these matters.

This essential principle was, by 1901, described by E. E. Guild in part by the twelth proposition on his list:

That the DESTINY OF MAN, IN THE PURPOSE OF GOD, IS HIS ATTAINMENT AND ENJOYMENT OF HOLINESS:

God’s plan with regard to man was formed before creation was begun. It was shadowed forth in the promise and prediction given after the first transgression, and was often announced with more or less
distinctness in the Old Testament; but its most complete revelation is made in the Gospel. (Titus 1:2; Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 2:2; 45:22-25; John 3:35; 6:37-40; Acts 3:19-21; Galatians 3:8; Ephesians 1:9,10;
Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:19, 20; 1 Timothy 2:1-6.)

In announcing God’s purpose the inspired writers do not ignore the presence and power of sin, ignorance, or perversity, but declare that none of these can be insuperable barriers. Nor is there any hint that the operations of divine grace are confined to this life; but on the contrary, that whatever Jesus has to do by the appointment and purpose of God for men living upon the earth, that he has also to do for those whom we call the dead, and that in his name all shall be subdued and won. (Jeremiah 32:17; Romans 8:18-25; 11:25-36; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 8:10-12; 1 Peter 3:18, 19; 4:6; Revelation 4:9-13; 5:9-13.)

(A word about the appearance of supercessionism in the above: I don’t think it is there, but rather that God’s promise begins with one nation (Israel) and is unfolded through the Gospel to all nations. Israel is not negated. Indeed, concern about the salvation of Israel seems to lead some people, first to Paul, then to universalism. See Jan Bonda’s The One Purpose of God for an elaboration.)

Whew! How we can sensibly put these beliefs into words is part of my long-term work. Until then — look! — after about a week and a half we have a glimmer of sun.

What to profess?

I never thought so many people would take an interest in this humble blog. Thank you.

Some of the well-wishing inquiries came with the question, “how do I get one of my own?” I’m not using any web-logging software; just this CSS (thanks, free-of-charge, to Firda Beka at bookofstyles.org [site defunct], modified a bit).

In time, I hope to “power it” with MovableType, but that’s a learning curve I’ve no time to climb.

Much after Sunday worship.

I read a section from Leo Tolstoy’s My Confession in worship, and led it with
a review of Adin Ballou’s influence on him. I should have gone to Friends of Adin Ballou first! This site keeps growing, and is clearly one to watch.

What to Profess? My friend Derek Parker, an Earlham seminarian and the lay pastor of the Universalist Church of Eldorado, Ohio asked me (and I post here with his permission)

If you were building a new Universalist church from the ground-up, what are 3 or 4 essential theological convictions you would like to see in a contemporary Universalist profession? Or would you just repeat the Winchester Profession with updated language?

What a tantalizing question, and one that I hope to spill into this blog and the pulpit in months to come. But first things first. I wouldn’t reject, update, or adopt wholesale the Winchester
Profession in a new church, no matter how much I love it. (And I do.)

Instead, the Winchester Profession deserves its role as the foundational theological standard for Universalism, and one can build on it.

I have sometimes been criticized for not “correcting” the gender language of the Winchester Profession. For the record, I’m trying to uphold the letter and the spirit of what the 1803 Convention asked of future generations in its adopted Plan of the General Assocation:

Section 10th. The Association reserves to itself, under the direction of that divine wisdom which was to accompany the followers of Christ to the end of the world, the right of making hereafter such alterations of this General Plan of the Association, as circumstances may require. But there is no alteration of any part of the three Articles that contain the Profession of our Belief ever to be made at any future period.

(You can see the whole document and much more at www.winchesterprofession.org/eddy1876.html.) [22 April 2005: I let that site lapse in 2003.]

The 1899 and 1935 documents (a “declaration” and a “avowal” respectively) recall “encapsulated” that which came before it.

Thus the Winchester Profession had official standing, not just pious sentiment, until the Universalists consolidated with the Unitarians.

But there are examples — I’ll have to see if I can dig them up — of local churches and state conventions before 1899
(and perhaps after) adopting theological symbols for the fellowship of ministers and churches (locally, I assume the members, too) which stated more but never less than the Winchester Profession. (Of course, there is also the 1903 composite creed, which though it had no official standing, did make it into a denominationally published
prayerbook for more than a generation.)

This might be the theologically appropriate approach to composing a new theological symbol for Universalists. But this also begs a reading of the Unitarian Universalist Association bylaws:

Section C-2.3. Non-discrimination. The Association declares and affirms its special responsibility, and that of its member congregations and organizations, to promote the full participation of persons in all of its and their activities and in the full range of human endeavor without regard to race, color, sex, disability, affectional or sexual orientation, age, or national origin and without requiring adherence to any particular interpretation of religion or to any particular religious belief or creed.

Section C-2.4. Freedom of Belief. Nothing herein shall be deemed to infringe upon the individual freedom of belief which is inherent in the Universalist and Unitarian heritages or to conflict with any statement of purpose, covenant, or bond of union used by any congregation unless such is used as a creedal test.

So, what constitutes a creedal test? And who decides?

Henry Noble Couden

Well, it seems I’ve been quoted in the Washington Post, too. Nice.

Before Sunday worship.

Part of the reason (and in addition to what I wrote yesterday) I’ll be using military allusions in the sermon, naturally enough, is because Monday is Memorial Day. If this never-ending rain and glum lifts — even if for a couple of hours — I’ll go visit the grave of Henry Noble Couden. He was a Universalist minister and for a quarter-century the chaplain for the
House of Representatives
. A Union soldier, Couden was blinded at Vickburg.

He, his wife, and one of his two sons are buried at Arlington National Cemetery . (His other son, the Rev. Will Couden was the interim minister here in Washington during the First World War.)

After Sunday worship. A few church members asked about the Commission on Appraisal report mentioned in the press article. Here’s that commission’s website, too.

Victory?

A colleague — he doesn’t use his name on the blog that I saw; perhaps that’s an emerging blog convention — linked to me, and I’ll point you to his, too: Across, Beyond, Thought.
I wonder if there are more of us sharing online.

Of course, I’m thinking about the Sunday sermon; it is entitled, “The Victory that Conquers the World.” Or, as I promoted it in the church newsletter:

Memorial Day reminds us of the sacrifices others have made in the field of battle. But what do we make of the “conquest of faith,” where the battlefield is our own soul?

The principle reading
— I follow the Revised Common Lectionary — is 1 John 5:1-6, focusing, of course, on verse four:
“for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.” (NRSV)

There is an understandable aversion to conquest language. Need I mention the Crusades? the Latin American conquest?
I think a sharp line needs to be made between conquests of human beings against one another, and our victory in God in Christ against that threat against every person: personal death, and by extension, the end of existence, even the love we have. Victory (to use one military concept) comes through participating in God’s army (another military concept.) Except here the fight is participation in God’s living, loving, and responsive Spirit. This creates for the person
a second life which is not destroyed with the body. But what about “those who don’t choose”? It would overstate the power
of the atomistic view of freedom for one to opt out of creation as an act of will. At a foundational level, to be alive is to participate with God. Faith, as John Murray understood, is the confirmation of this second life, and with it, comfort and confidence in the face of personal death. In life, too, this is the sense that “I’m not alone,” all indications of malice, oppression, or hatred notwithstanding.