Palm crosses: the result

Home and work life will be busy this week, so the blogging will be necessarily light. I hope y’all had a stirring Palm Sunday, and great prayers for Holy Week.

Here are the palm crosses I made yesterday afternoon from the palms I got at church. Typical 30-32 inch strips, once trimmed of the very thin top pieces, made crosses about 4 inches tall. The one on the left came from thinner and — by the time I got to it — dryer material, so it split lengthwise while folding.

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More thoughts on the scalable service

A moment to think about the British Orthodox Church, a small culturally-British Coptic jurisdiction. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that it is very small, but is able to create new church missions, and that should draw our positive attention.

Is it because it has a surplus of clergy? It doesn’t seem so. Or cash? Again, no evidence. Or because it’s tapping into a populist consciousness? You’ll forgive me if I suggest the appeal speaks more to a deep past and hopeful future than being of the moment. (That’s is surely an appeal to some, but let’s leave that for now.) And it’s not to say that all of the missions are super-healthy. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. First, they have a stated goal:

We are seeking to plant at least two new missions each year to fulfill our vision of a community in every county.

And what the British Orthodox Church — and other churches — have is a model that makes worship possible, approachable and above all scalable.

The key is the daily office, and particularly the services of matins (morning) and vespers (evening), also known as “raising of incense” or the Coptic name for the daily round of services, the Agpeya, And it’s a good choice, too. Don’t know about the British Orthodox in particular, as it applies to public worship, but the daily office also belongs to the laity, so perhaps a member of the lay faithful could lead it. Or perhaps someone in minor orders (a concept Protestants don’t have) or certainly a deacon, thus expanding the pool of who can lead worship in missions.

But more importantly, it’s a service with lower barriers than the Liturgy (Eucharist, Mass) and therefore more welcoming. To review, two takeaways:

  1. Broader pool who can lead the service.
  2. A service that’s more welcoming by its nature.

And it’s short and stable in content. Say, 20-30 minutes. I think spoken prayers, followed by some refreshment and a training or discussion — as indeed, is prepared monthly in some of these missions — is pretty darn achievable, particularly as they meet in Anglican churches at times (even Saturday mornings) that the host parish doesn’t meet. To review:

  1. A stable, predictable service. Not too long.
  2. Some kind of enrichment activity.
  3. Setting a time to be accessible, not conventional.

And know that elements can be added or removed as conditions demand.

  • Sermon or none
  • Instrumental music or none
  • Hymns sung or not
  • Candles lit or not, and so forth



Prayer for the Coptic martrys

I’ve not blogged much this week — lots going on at work — but one news story keeps rolling in my mind: the beheading of twenty-one Egyptian Coptic Christians fishermen by ISIL militants in Libya. They were targeted because they were Christian, in the context of wider persecution of Copts. That puts them among the Christian martyrs, and so, as a Christian, makes them a special focus for prayer and concern. But what prayers shall we say over the bloody water, or with those who wail in grief? Sometimes borrowed words say what the soul means.

If you have a copy of Hymns of the Spirit, join me in praying the commemorations in the shorter communion service, page 151. It is described as “composite, based on Greek Liturgy.” But it seems dependent on Frederic Henry Hedge’s liturgy, which was used by Unitarians, Universalists and others, and that was particularly drawn from the Liturgy of St. James, one of the ancient liturgies of the church. But that is clearly tied to the sacrament in a way the composite prayer isn’t. (If you don’t have a Hymns of the Spirit, much of the same text can be found here, starting “we remember the fathers….”)

It seems fitting to use an old prayer that our forebears prayed and that has echoes with prayer the Copts may still use, to remember those poor slain men and to build bonds of spiritual communion and solidarity.




Ash Wednesday resources

I was talking to a friend about Ash Wednesday services. They’re not my favorite — the ashes can be ostentatious, and it reflects a particular Western Christian piety that I don’t care for — but the service has become more widely observed in the last couple of generations, so I’d like to revisit three blog posts that might help those who conduct it.

A mind to Free Catholicism, and choices

For many years — thirty? — I’ve been trying to find my place within Unitarian Universalism. It has been my most constant companion, and it has lead me to strange places.

Today, I am happy as a Universalist Christian, and content to labor thus. Even if it means being orthodox among the heterodox. and thus heterodox myself. But it’s not all about religious opinions and never has been.

I muddle through because I have friends in the ministerial college and outside it. And because I’m happy in the church I’m a member of. And because I don’t pretend the reception is warm elsewhere.

I’ve not settled on an ecclesiology or a mode of churchmanship, but the insights of the Free Catholic movement among late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century English Dissenters, and the earlier catholicizing movements — including the Mercersburg movement — in American Protestantism are interesting and compelling. These were reforming and corrective movements to Protestanism’s insular, sectarian and anti-intellectual excesses, many of which have not vanished. And the Free Catholic approach eschewed dogmatism and accepted compromise.

I intend to investigate it, and what might convey to the twenty-first century. I’ll post what I’m reading.

Your church options in the Antarctic

We had a bit of unexpected warm weather yesterday afternoon in Washington, D.C. but fear not for the cold weather is returning! Which made me think of very cold weather. As in polar.

More than a decade ago, I wrote about the churches of remote northern Greenland, so it’s only fair to go south. Fortunately, others have had the same idea. There are several churches and chapels in the Antarctic. Most are Catholic, two are Orthodox and one (American, in case you wondered, at McMurdo) is multi-faith.

This page reviews the chapels, in English, to plead for a chapel at the Italian base Terra Nova.

This page, in Spanish, has better photos. (“Las iglesias de la Antártida, las más meridionales del mundo.“)

All are fascinating in their own way, but the chapel at Belgrano II — well depicted at the second link — is made of ice and has a special beauty.

"This week we pray for…"

You may have noticed that there’s a widget on the right-hand column called “This week we pray for” that has a date, a list of nations and a picture. This links to a prayer resource from the World Council of Churches, focusing on a different region of the world each year.

Each resource page features a photo, thanksgiving and petitions, prayers, links to information about the churches in those countries, and sometimes other resources. The idea is to stimulate intentional prayer for the people of the world.

To get the code to share on your site, go to

A source of daily readings

I’ve shortened my morning prayers and vespers to make them more appropriate for use alone, and brief enough to read before and after work.

I’ve take out the provision for readings and all but the fixed psalms (and after looking for a portable New Testament and Psalter!) so I can use the one book. But a little more scripture — to hang my thoughts on, to reflect on, to find guidance in — would be right.

I’ve subscribed to Moravian Daily Texts, which I get by email each day and which they’ve been printing since 1731! Two, very brief readings. Just about short enough to post on as the Community Wayside Pulpit or perhaps even to tweet. “Little chapters” if you pray the breviary.

R&E Newsweekly: Expulsion of Iraqi Christians

It’s been a hard week in the news. Central American children in the borderlands. The deaths in Gaza. The Malaysian flight downing. Frightening news — let’s hope not all true — from ISIS/ISIL. You’d be forgiven for being overwhelmed.

But please spare a prayer for the Christian minority of Iraq, and particularly of Mosul
, an ancient community that’s been extirpated. Remember them, as they take refuge, mainly in Iraqi Kurdistan.

This interview on Religion and Ethics Newsweekly is of Syrian Catholic (that is, in union with Rome) Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan.

A review of the daily office in 500 words

So many thoughtful and talented people have written so well about the development of the daily office, or the Christian duty of daily prayer, that it’s folly for me to do so in brief. Indeed, you may want to stop here and get a copy of George Guiver’s 2001 Company of Voices: Daily Prayer and the People of God instead.

My job here is to get Unitarian Universalists (and similarly Protestantly reformed sorts) to the doorstep. Inside the house is ninteenth and twentieth century works from our tradition that themselves have roots in the daily office. Together we might make something for the twenty-first.

Christians adopted the practice of praying at different times of the days from Jews, and both made extensive use of psalms. Seven services a day for monks three of which were short and at midday, but we will not be retuning to these. In late antiquity, the peoples’ versions would be twice daily, but mainly praises and prayers, with some other scripture: partipatory and jubilant.

In the eastern Mediterranean, say in the seventh century, these prayers were popular among everyday people, as opposed to the priestly work at the altar. Some of the rhythms and text choices laid down then continue to this day. But the fullest development in the West, with the seven service, came in the monastaries, which may have had hundreds (even more than a thousand) monastics, either women and men. Much liturgical material was written in this period. Additional services, say, for the dead plus commemorations of the saints crept into medieval, monastic practices, greatly complicating it. Outside the monasteries, literate (and wealthy) laypeople might have vernacular, practical works of piety and prayer (called primers) while the travelling Franciscans used a reduced and one-volume service book, aptly called a breviary. Onward development often meant simplification.

In 1549, the Church of England adopted its first prayer book, simplifying and formally compressing the services of (overnight) matins and (pre-dawn) lauds into morning prayer, and (after sunset) vespers and (bedtime) compline into evening prayer. Later, elements from (mid-morning) prime was prepended to morning prayer. In each case, transitions persisted, like the breaks between a rail car. (We will examine the contents of the parts, what happens at the breaks and needed reforms later.)

Ideally, this meant morning prayer (with the litany, a long prayer of intercession with alternating parts between the minister and people three times a week) and evening prayer everyday, and communion after morning prayer on Sundays. In practice, the laity did not welcome communion, relegating it to the margins of piety, and the typical Sunday service become morning prayer, with sermon, the litany, trailing into communion but ending halfway.

Colonial Unitarians and Universalists had simpler worship, with heavy doses of preaching, prayers and singing. (The first denominational hymnal in the United States was Universalist.) The King’s Chapel (Anglican then Unitarian) and the Menzies Raynor (a New York Episcopanian minister turned Universalist) offer early witnesses to the influence of morning prayer for the Sunday service. When mid-nineneeth-century Unitarian and Universalists (the former influenced by James Martieau) adopted service books, they assumed the standards described in the paragraph above, and these practices influenced others that didn’t use the books.