Universalist Conventions and Creeds, republished

Years ago, I learned that the best way for me to read an obscure bit of Universalist theology or history was to transcribe it for the web, thus my twenty years of creating web sites. Following on my last post, about Universalist distinctives, I decided to revisit Richard Eddy’s landmark series “Universalist Conventions and Creeds“, an institutional history of early American Universalism. Though I first found parts of it (on microfilm) in the 1990s, I had never found (thus never read) all of it.

Recently, too, I wrote a page that posted the locations of all know copies of the journal Universalist Quarterly and General Review in which Eddy had published this work. Since then, I discovered this index that is complete. Ignore my list.

Now I can read all of “Universalist Conventions and Creeds” — which means I’ll transcribe it. Full circle. I’m about two-thirds the way of an initial clean up, but the extensive footnotes make a challenge for web publishing. So, I’ll probably make a PDF too. I’ll be over a hundred pages long…

But one more thing. In Google-ing around about the Philadelphia Convention (1790-c.1809), I discovered no only that the documents that Eddy quotes still exist, but that they are at Harvard, but that they too have been digitized and may be read online. I nearly swooned.

Examining the Universalist theory of worship

So, what makes Universalist worship Universalist? What keys do we have, if we want to build on a tradition?

It turns out that it’s harder to say than in other denominational traditions, including the Unitarian. The problem may date to the beginning, by which I mean the 1790 Philadelphia Convention, where the assembled delegates claimed, “as we have no rules laid down in the word of God to direct us in our choice of a mode or form of public worship, it is recommended to each Church to use such modes and forms of prayer, and to sing such psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, as to them shall appear most agreeable to the word of God, or best suited to promote order, and spiritual edification.” Not a sense shared by many of their contemporaries! Whether this was an act of liberality, or a politic act of evasion, I will leave for you to decide.

Universalism was made up of different streams, united by a common hope in a common salvation. Other doctrines were a matter of liberty — one reason theological unitarianism had a place — and so much for liturgy, too. As such, the various hymnals and worship books had denominational sponsorship and could be widely adopted and still be entirely optional.

After the Civil War, institutional Universalism congealed around a common program and denominational governance. The theologial schools and denomintational press were growing in influence, and yet there was little discussion about how this new structure applied to worship. Prayerbooks could go out without a preface; liturgists, like Charles Hall Leonard, could write the works, but scarcely say what they intended.

So, where to look for clues? Private papers? Articles in the weekly papers, as yet little digitized? But it may be as subtle as examining the more popular texts themselves, and see what was used, discern what the source documents were — the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer and the prayerbooks of James Martineau, surely — and see what they thought to change…

What I’m reading: history and theory of liturgy

I’m working on some Universalist liturgy projects and have been keenly feeling both the generations of lost ecumenical interchange, and the lost reasoning that lead to the texts we do have. So I decided to read some older works to fill in the missing pieces with the goal of working towards the present.

I happened across “The Reform of Liturgical Worship Perspectives and Prospects” (The Bohlen Lectures 1959) by Massey Hamilton Shepherd, Jr.

This gave me a sense of the development of American Episcopalian liturgical development from the Ritualists to his own time, halfway between the prayer book revisions of 1928 and 1979.

And it it, I found a reference to the 1867 The Book of Common Prayer: as amended by the Westminster Divines, A.D. 1661, also known as the Presbyterian Book of Common Prayer by Charles W. Shields, but particularly the appended essay Liturgia Expurgata which fills in for that work a lineage that I wished the contemporary (1866) Universalist A Book of Prayer for the Church and the Home had. Indeed, I wonder if it was on the desks of those Universalists, especially Charles Hall Leonard, who developed the longer-lasting tradition of Universalist prayer books that ran in successive editions and abridgments through the 1950s.

Key to Universalist Quarterly and General Review online

I was reading a part of Ann Lee Bressler’s The Universalist Movement in America, 1770-1880, when I ran across this:

Until it ceased publication in 1891, the Universalist Quarterly supplied a forum for those thinkers who, like the neo-orthodox theologians several decades later, objected to the increasingly pervasive theme of continuity between the present world and the divine, “the major positive principle of the liberal mind.” (p. 144)

I have long read the Universalist Quarterly and General Review, first for background for my never-written master’s thesis, and later for Richard Eddy’s multi-part “Universalist Conventions and Creeds.” But you don’t have to read them on microfilm any more. Several volumes have been scanned and may be read online or downloaded. It’s a good read, and is a counter to the oft-repeated trope that Universalists were unsophisticated.

Note: some of these are misnumbered. This is not the scanner’s fault, but the original publisher’s.

Alsos, not all volumes are online, but I’ll keep looking and filling in missing volumes.

“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

Introductions to Universalism

A nice chat with other member of Universalist National Memorial Church after services today, over coffee. As sometimes happens, the matter of books came up, which merged with another comment about Hosea Ballou, and from there to books about Universalism.

I recommended two smallish, straight-forward books and a documentary history, if with reservations. Both are institutional histories, and both are irenic towards Unitarianism, positing Universalism as a close relation rather than a religious tradition on its own terms. Fine as denominational works, but also a bit unsatisfying for informing a faith, particularly a Christian faith. Of course, theological universalism is hot now — in evangelical circles, and so many of the faith-forward works are better for evangelicals. And the academic works are good for academics.

There’s room for a primer. In the mean time, here are those three books.

  • The Larger Faith by Charles A. Howe
  • American Universalism by George Huntston Williams
  • Universalism in America: A Documentary History of a Liberal Faith, ed. by Ernest Cassara

All three are from Skinner House, but only the first two are available at the UUA Bookstore.

Transcription workflow notes

So, it’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post, but I’ve not been inactive. And since I have the day off today, I thought I’d catch you up. Over the next couple of days, I’ll be putting up two chapters from the 1946 Parish Practice in Universalist Churches as text; I’ve previously posted it as a scanned PDF.

I want to discuss my workflow. I can do the odd report, but I’d like to see more Universalist and other documents transcribed, and to have typographic errors discovered and corrected. I shouldn’t be the bottleneck.

In the past — going back twenty years or so — I would photocopy a book, carefully crop it into a single column, rephotocopy these onto letter size and take them to a central computer center where they would be processed by Optical Character Recognition (OCR). I’d get a file back, and then edit it.  Later, I would use a flatbed scanner at home and OCR software at home, but some documents required the images being edited to one column. These processes were very time consuming. Sometimes, transcribing by keyboard was more efficient!

Image capture and OCR software have improved markedly. Today, instead of scanning, I take a picture with my phone, and use a graphical front-end to powerful OCR software to process the text. It’s not always clean — a second snap and process is sometimes necessary — but the improvement over twenty years ago is striking.

In particular, on my Ubuntu Linux (14.04 LTR) machine, I use YAGF — “Yet Another Graphical Front-end for cuneiform and tesseract OCR engines” with the tesseract engine.

Universalist polity document from 1951

Since I earlier opined that some of our conflicted Unitarian Universalist polity is the product of Universalist and Unitarian inheritances, I thought it best to “show my work” — or rather, some original documents.

1951 Universalist Laws of Fellowship, Government and Discipline

Some carryovers are obvious, and some fixes necessary. I recall a senior minister telling me of how a General Convention in the 1950s ground to a halt, as it was the final court of review. Can you imagine a General Assembly stopping in its tracks over a MFC matter? Well, I can, but I wouldn’t want to… But I also think there are protections lost from over-correction. What other continuations do you see? Things you’d like to see come back?

I’m also reorganizing and cleaning up the my documents site — UniversalistChurch.net — a bit, and will add more documents as time allows.

One day later: I’ve edited and put up the set from 1946. http://universalistchristian.net/…/1946-universalist…/

Noteworthy changes 1946 to 1951: higher standards for parishes and the education of ministers; easier to deactivate or sidestep under/dysfunctional state conventions. Note sure it’s germaine, but the 1946 set was job printed and bound, and the 1951 set was mimeographed and stapled. But the laws would go through three more revisions, until 1958, which should be seen less as Universalist than as pre-UUA.