Universalist Register 1912: Dining with the Universalists

Selection_006The 1912 copy of the Universalist Register I wrote about had illustrations and advertising in the back. Such fun. One of the images was of one of the locations of the Universalist Publishing House, then on Boylston Street, very close to the Arlington Street Church.

The building is still there, perhaps incorporated into the building next door, thus throwing off the street numbers. And I gather the street-front cafe is this restaurant: Parish Cafe.

Can any Boston readers confirm? Have any eaten there?

Photos from inside First Universalist, Providence

I’ve been to First Universalist Church in Providence a few times over the years, but never so long as over General Assembly, when the church hosted morning prayer and vespers, and the usual Sunday service with a special observance of Holy Communion.

Here are a mix of photos, taken after the services in the sanctuary, lounge and dining room, with a focus on interesing tidbits. You know I’m going to make something of that Universalist Comrades (men’s group) emblem.

Order of Universalist Comrades charter

Cross on pedestal

Sanctuary, from a transcept

Scott Wells
Gratuitous selfie before Sunday service. (I helped distribute communion.)

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Rhode Island Y.P.C.U. banner
Y.P.C.U. is the Young People’s Christian Union

poster
1899 “Five Principles”

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R&E Newsweekly: making use of church buildings in decline

This segment, from this week’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, pushes one my buttons: the experience that churches with just enough space are the ones that tend to survive. A recession following a big building campaign, or a congregation with unaffordable maintainance costs often leads to closure.

That, and once a religious building is lost in an expensive, built-out city (New York, Washington and Boston come to mind) it is very hard to build one later.

Innovation and mixed use is one answer.

A modest thought: standing for worship

Something lighter today. In some old Universalist baptism rites, we hear this traditional question with Satan taking on a new guise.

Renouncing, therefore, the fellowship of evil, will you endeavor to learn of Jesus Christ, and co­operate in the study and practice of his religion?

Fellowship of Evil? Sure I’ll renounce it, especially if it means I don’t have to move folding chairs. Members of fellowships will get that one.

I hate folding chairs. I hate moving them and having them bang my shins. I hate the noise the metal ones make. I hate time it takes. I hate how uncomfortable they are. But they’re pretty darn common for new churches (and some old ones) and I want to make operating a new (and probably small) church as easy as possible.

Here’s a radical thought. Do without them and stand. OK, a few chairs for those (no judgements) who need to sit; perhaps already in the borrowed room. A few wingbacks or the like in the Garden Club room the congregation rents, say.  Plus prime reserved space for wheelchair users. Cushions for small, collapsing children? (No need to wrestle with strollers!) Everyone else, up.

Not so strange a thought. In my experience, people often stand for an hour or more after the service to enjoy one another’s company and a cup of coffee. And we Protestantish types do have standing services, though we don’t often think of them as such: graveside services, small weddings, devotions at campgrounds.

But we think of church and we think of seats, if not pews. Why? Many Orthodox Christians don’t, of course, so perhaps that’s the influence of reading Orthodox missological works lately. (More about that soon.)  But as I’ve written before, it was only a few generations back that owning or renting “a sitting” was highly identified with church membership itself. And those days are over. Of course, you would grow weary in the second or third hour of worship, and would want a rest, but again those days (for Unitarian Universalists) are past.

Provided people are warned, a standing service has some advantages:

  • a wider variety of meeting space available
  • time and volunteer labor saved moving chairs; perhaps a saving of fees, too.
  • standing worshippers take less space
  • freedom of movement fights fatigue
  • standing worshippers can, as a group, better shift to accommodate newcomers. (Think of how people self-organize in an elevator.)
  • likewise, they can better shift to focus attention away from how few there are in a large space

It is, however, strange. And there would be pressure to keep the services briefer than usual. (Is this bad?) But it’s worth an experiment. And I’d like to hear if anyone has tried this.

Please don't worship in the round

Small congregations, or small groups within congregations, have the tenacious habit of pulling a set of chairs into a circle for worship. The idea is that this is intimate, thus warm and friendly. Thus good.

But there’s another way of looking at worship in the round that argues against it.

1. The circle is invariably closed. It needs to be broken open to admit participants, which is awkward for newcomers or latecomers. It is fixed in size, meaning it literally must be deformed to accommodate more. Both requires the cooperation of others, who will be strangers if you are new. And draws attention.

2. If the service has one or two speakers, up to half of the group will get a rear or sharp side view, and most people will be twisted in their seats.

3. Not a problem for everyone, but you will watch people pray, or make an effort to not do so. And others will watch you. No room for a private thought, a private tear.

It’s worth remembering that newcomers may not be there too meet you in worship. Even for small groups, sitting in rows has its well-deserved place.

New 24

I took this picture of 24 Farnsworth, the future home of the  UUA, yesterday after arriving at Boston South Station. A former industrial area, reminds me a bit of lower Georgetown,  in the District of Columbia. More food options nearby than 25 Beacon, too.

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If you don't have millions to buy a Bay Psalm Book

This week one of the eleven surviving copies of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in English North America, sold at auction.

The owner was Old South Church, Boston, and the sale reminded me of all the old Unitarian communion plate that was sold to keep the staff paid, the furnace stoked or the roof on.

Though I respect our history, I respect the institutions more. And there’s something sad when a communion cup or psalter becomes so valuable as an artifact that it loses its intended use; it’s like the Velveteen Rabbit in reverse. As treasure, the silver and the printed pages become less real. They were real because they were instruments of praise and thanksgiving. Better then, I think that they can be sold, conserved and placed on display, as indeed the new Psalm Book’s owner, David Rubenstein, intends to do. (He owns two of the eleven.)

Better still to keep the Great Thanksgiving at table, and our praises in song. And if you want to pray from the Bay Psalm Book… well, then thank God: you can read it online, in this 1903 facsimile reprint.

Exterior work at Universalist National Memorial

A few people — including some of my dear readers — know I’ve been attending Universalist National Memorial Church regularly for a few months after having not been after the end of my pastorate (2000-2003) there. It feels good and it feel right; it is also the best church experience I’ve had in Washington in years, and I’m enjoying my time in the pew.

They’re doing some noteworthy things which should bear fruit, but more about that later. Suffice it today to note exterior masonry repairs which (I gather) should put some damage right, both to correct bad past repairs and more recent earthquake damage.

Scaffolding on tower at UNMC

Hymnboard

I was in Philadelphia yesterday. Stopping by First Unitarian, I had the pleasure of touring the building, where I saw this lovely hymnboard. It, and the rest of the furniture in the Joseph Priestley Chapel I gather came from a now-lost Unitarian church in Germantown.