So, who’s going to General Assembly? Who’s following from home?

Just a check in. And a roll call.

So, who’s going to General Assembly in Portland, Ore.? Who’s following from home? I’ll not be there in person, and I’m not sure how much I can watch: I may need to rely on bloggers and twitterers using #uuaga.

And a request for those who will be on-site: more photos. On Flickr, posted to Twitter or what-have-you. It helps those who can’t be there get a better sense of General Assembly.

Economics of Ministry, 1856 edition

Before the #sustainmininstry thread fades (presumably to revive at General Assembly) I wanted to meditate on how our ancestors coped. In my last blog post, I opined that ministerial shortages were practically a tradition. So is coping with meagre funds. This theme cropped up continuously when I worked on my never-finished master’s thesis — golly — about a quarter century ago. But those lessons learned over microfilmed antebellum newspapers made an impression.

  1. Have a sideline. Perhaps seasonal. Perhaps not farming.
  2. Your sideline? Call it media production. There was a reason why there were so many Universalist newspapers. (Which inspired me to create my first websites.)
  3. But don’t expect to get paid. Those minister-editors had a terrible time getting their subscribers to pay.
  4. Seminary may not be in reach, but an apprenticeship may be.
  5. If you can’t get a minister full time, perhaps you can be in a circuit. Some little societies only saw the minister every few months. But it was consistent. Ish.
  6. Be ready to pool your resources to memorialize a dead minister, or to support surviving dependents. But people may still mumble and grumble about the expense…
  7. Plant churches to make better use of public transportation. Who can afford a carriage, horsed or horseless?
  8. And follow migration patterns. When church members move, start a church where they go.
  9. Inactivate churches when there’s no minister, leadership or money. Call them dormant, but don’t lose contact with with a would-be reorganizer: it may be re-started.
  10. Use home hospitality at conventions. Well, I guess that one never really went away.

Embedding an book

I got an aside from a Well-Respected Minister who liked “that little book video insert piece” in my last blog post. It’s the BookReader of Internet Archive, the source of the book.

I think it’s the best desktop or laptop interface for reading books, and since the Internet Archives has a large number of public-domain Universalist and other works, I will sometimes read books this way, even if I have the actual book. But you can’t just drop other books into it.

Now, here’s how to share the books they do have on your site. First, of course you find one, like this 2003 Massachusetts Conference of the UCC directory.


When you click on the page, not only does it become larger, but you get added controls. I’ve pointed out the “share” link, which looks a bit like a sideways V. Click that.


Now you have links for sharing and embedding. The fault imbed is one page at a time, and the first page. I usually want it to look like a book open to the title page, so I select that, as in this example.


Now you might say, surely that directory isn’t it the public domain? True. Some libraries and collections have contributed their own works with permission. And many of them are religious. (And Boston-based for that matter.)

Wouldn’t it be helpful and useful if the Unitarian Universalist Association could host its old Commission on Appraisal reports, Board minutes, classic guides, and pre-consolidation AUA and UCA directories the same way. Our twentieth-century history is hard to access first hand, unless you’re old enough or well-connected enough — or close enough to Boston — to get paper copies of what you want.

How could we make that happen?

The automated ministry

The prospect of job automation is more than a bit scary. Everyone likes a bit of help, provided that bit doesn’t help them out of a job. NPR ran a feature (“Will Your Job Be Done by a Machine?,” May 21)

Selection_135While some professions will almost certainly be automated to some degree, there’s only a 0.8% chance that the clergy will be automated.

This made me think of a particularly odd episode in Universalist history where it wasn’t the clergy that was to be automated, but the works of divinity.

To be fair, John Murray Spear had left the Universalist ministry in 1852 for Spiritualism, which was intensely popular (and controversial) among Universalists.

In Lynn, Massachusetts, he gathered a group of followers to “[create] the ‘New Motive Power’, a mechanical Messiah which was intended to herald a new era of Utopia.” [citation] Like made of machinery.

It didn’t work. But it is an intensely weird and wonderful episode that deserves a read. (One version of the story.) But in re-reading the story today I discovered that Spear channelled Universalist founder (and namesake) John Murray, and published his revelations in Messages from the superior state: communicated by John Murray.

“Important instruction to the inhabitants of the earth”? That’s something I’ll have to read!

Notes on the 1925 Congregationalist-Universalist unity statement

I just published the 1925 “A Joint Statement on Interchurch Relations from the Commissions of the Congregational and Universalist Churches” but didn’t want to clutter that document with thoughts. Indeed, I’ll want to review some of the standard denomination histories to see why the Universalists aren’t a part of the United Church of Christ today. Partnering with the Unitarians wasn’t the foregone conclusion so described today.

Union was in the air, then. Indeed, contemporaneously, the Congregationalists were making overtures to the Christian Church, leading to a merger. Most of the Congregational Christians then merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church (itself merged) to create the United Church of Christ. The Universalists were also talking to the Unitarians; years ago I published a Universalist report from the same commission in 1927. And now I want to see what else they reported out.

Some loose thoughts:

  1. I’ve heard it suggested that the relative size of the Congregationalists would have made organic union an absorption, rather than a merger.
  2. It makes the later, if minor, Universalist participation with the “continuing” Congregationalists make more sense.
  3. There are words the joint statement that echo in the 1935 Universalist Washington Declaration, namely in the second paragraph. “The kingdom for which he lived and died” for instance.

I hope this sparks interest in the history of Universalist polity…

A Joint Statement on Interchurch Relations from the Commissions of the Congregational and Universalist Churches (1925)

Printed in Christian Union Quarterly (1925), p. 431ff.

A Joint Statement on Interchurch Relations from the Commissions of the Congregational and Universalist Churches

The National Council of Congregational Churches and the Universalist General Convention, at their sessions held in October, 1925, referred to the Congregational Commission on Interchurch Relations and to the Universalist Commission on Christian Comity and Unity certain proposals looking toward closer fellowship. The members of these commissions, after fraternal conference and discussion, join in issuing the following statement:

We believe that the basis of vital Christian unity is a common acceptance of Christianity as primarily a way of life. It is faith in Christ expressed in a supreme purpose to do the will of God as revealed in Him and to co-operate as servants of the Kingdom for which He lived and died. Assent to an official creed is not essential. Within the circle of fellowship created by loyalty to the common Master, there may exist differences of theological opinion. With that primary loyalty affirmed, such differences need not separate; rather, indeed, if the mind of the Master controls, they may enrich the content of faith and experience; and if it does not control, theological agreements will not advance the Christian cause. “Religion to-day does not grow in the soil of creeds.”

The unity of a common loyalty to the Christian way of life is already a fact, to which the high task in which we are now engaged is witness. Not only Congregationalists and Universalists, but multitudes of other forward-looking Christians, share this unity of faith and endeavour. It is not something to be artificially formed, but a growing relationship to be recognized and afforded ways of practical expression. None of us would advocate, as none of us could enter, a fellowship that would compromise loyalty to the truth as any one of us may see it, or would stifle freedom to bear testimony to its worth and power. What appeals to us is the challenge of a great adventure to prove that a common purpose to share the faith of Christ is a power strong enough to break the fetters of custom and timidity and sectarian jealousy that hitherto have put asunder Christian brethren who at heart are one, and who can better serve the Kingdom of God together than apart.

The Protestant churches of America are learning to work together. By so doing they honour their heritage and fulfil their mission. The Congregational and Universalist Churches are branches of the same parent stock. They grew out of the same soil and are bearing the same kind of fruit. The historic reasons for their separation have practically disappeared and new and stronger reasons for union have arisen. In statement of faith, in form of worship, in organization for work, and in standards of life, these two branches of Protestantism differ now in no essential respects. They can accordingly begin at once to co-operate in the heartiest way. If the prayer of our Lord is ever to be fulfilled, the beginning will be made by the mutual approach of denominations between which there is no longer any reason for separation.

In the judgment of the commissions, the time has arrived for the Congregational and Universalist Churches to seek the closest practicable fellowship. Their activities are proceeding already along lines closely parallel. They can do many things together to advantage which they are now doing separately. Each church will be quickened through this free fellowship.

We therefore recommend:

First: That the ministers and representatives of each denomination be invited to sit as corresponding members in the local, state, and national associations of the other denomination and to participate in their deliberations.

Second: That the agencies of each denomination in the realms of religious education, social service, evangelism, rural church development, and similar problems, be urged to arrange for joint programmes for promotion as far as practicable.

Third: That in each community where churches of both denominations are found they be urged to study what they can do together with mutual profit by way of union services, the interchange of pulpits, and the promotion of common enterprises.

Fourth: That there be a mutual interchange of representative speakers at national, state, and local gatherings.

Fifth: That the denominational journals be urged to make the largest practicable interchange of editorials and of printed matter of common interest, in order that each constituency may be kept fully informed regarding the other and of the progress made in the direction of closer fellowship.

Sixth: That, in order to secure more thoroughly co-ordinated movements, no actual steps toward the organization of local Congregational and Universalist churches be made without consulting their respective commissions.

Seventh: Wherever the problem of an adequate church constituency presses for solution, and in any community where denominational divisions work for wastefulness, those responsible are urged to co-operate in organizing for more effective service.

We believe that from these and similar joint undertakings increased effectiveness in common tasks and even more will result. Comradeship in a common faith and loyalty will be its finest and most prophetic grace. That quickened sense of comradeship will fashion its own ecclesiastical instrumentalities. None of us can yet foresee clearly what sort of organized fellowship will arise to give form and coherence to the spiritual unity that Christians of the open mind gladly confess. We are convinced that it will be something larger and more inclusive than anything that now exists. What we do see, with a profound feeling of gratitude and responsibility, is that, in the providence of God, these communions which we represent have been led by their respective historic traditions and spiritual development to a common faith in the Christian way of life as their supreme concern. They would travel it not only as friends but as allies, with a spirit as inclusive as the mind of the Master.

In such a larger fellowship Congregationalists and Universalists alike, both as churches and individuals, may find fresh incentive to service and sacrifice. The Kingdom of God requires the uttermost loyalty and devotion of both and the mutual recognition of what each may contribute to the common endeavour. The stirring challenge to forward-looking Christians of whatever name to-day is to make their churches vitalizing centers of the Christianity that is in Christ, and so to promote the broader fellowship through which alone the mighty task of winning the world by the Master shall be accomplished. To that we commit ourselves. The event is in the hand of God.

[From The Congregationalist, Boston, Mass.]

Type out, edit Universalist polity documents?

I only had time to scan a ton of Universalist polity documents when I was at the Harvard-Andover archive last year, and I’ve still not transcribed them. And it would be nice to have in an easy to read and search format some of the rules and procedures of how Universalists operated — hints of which, and sometimes more — are still in use today. Here’s a taste.

I’m no Tom Sawyer, but Universalist polity documents aren’t whitewash, either. Can anyone commit to typing or editing for an hour? Seminarians, especially, who might find a tidbit for unexplored research.

Brooks on prayer

I’m moving through my copy of Elbridge Gerry Brooks’s 1874 Our New Departure: or, The Methods and Work of the Universalist Church of America — his manifesto for the Universalist church — to his chapter on prayer. It’s a goldmine of Universalist attitudes, so I’m lifting out quotations; this is the first of two parts.

He starts on prayer in his overview (p. 43)

How many [Universalists] there are who pray in the voiceless secrecy of their communion with God, it is for no human pen to assume to say. But the custom of family, social, or stated private prayer does not, to any considerable extent, prevail among us, because there is no prevailing sense of duty in these directions; and how rare it is to find those in our congregations who can be called to lead in public prayer, we all know. We have opinion rather than faith; more nominal assent than spiritual impulse or purpose.

from page 176

Since I entered the ministry, it was not usual to find family prayer even in the homes of our ministers, while a family altar in a Universalist layman’s home was a thing almost unheard of. The home in which I was reared — reared most tenderly and carefully — was a fair type of the best Universalist homes in this respect, my mother being a church-member, of devout mind and heart, and my father, though not a church-member, a most upright and scrupulously conscientious man, whom, to the last, nothing but serious illness could keep from his place at church, so long as he could get there. The children were trained to revere and read the Bible, to honor the Sabbath, to love and practise goodness, and to ‘go to meeting’ with punctilious regularity. But — saving that we children, in our earliest days, were taught to ‘say our prayers’ every night on going to our pillows — the voice of prayer was never heard in our home, except when the minister was with us to ‘say grace’ at table. And this, so far as my knowledge extended, was the universal rule among us as a people.

from pages 176-177

The propriety of prayer — at least to some extent — is not open to debate. They would not see it dispensed with in our Sabbath services, at the marriage altar, in the chamber of the sick, or at the burial of the dead. They not only recognize, but, if need be, would insist upon, its fitness on these and various special occasions.… For if we should pray at all, it can only be because there is, for some reason, use and power in prayer. What mummery all praying is if so much as this be not true? And if there be use or power in praying at all, then the more we have of prayer of the right sort, under suitable circumstances, the larger the measure of use it will serve, — the greater the degree of power it will impart. Public prayer being well, then why not private prayer? If prayer in the church, why not in the home? if prayer in the pulpit, why not in the closet? if prayer on special occasions, why not as the habit of life?

There is a view of the subject which seeks to avoid the difficulty of this question, How? presents, by affecting to affirm the use of prayer, and at the same time alleging that it avails nothing with God, — only does us good on the same principle that religious meditation serves to strengthen, soothe and uplift us. This theory has found some advocates among us. But it seems to me — and I think I may say, to nearly all of us — a theory most unsatisfactory, and every way open to objection. No really devout mind can fail instinctively to shrink from it, and protest against it. Not only does it deny the Psalmist’s statement that God heareth prayer, — i.e. hears in some sympathizing and responsive sense, — and equally deny Christ’s repeated assurances to the same effect, but it makes prayer a travesty of devotion as actually as though there were no God.

From page 179, a bit of humor

Or, still more like perhaps, it is as if one, desiring to scale a mountain, should stand in a basket, trying to lift himself by going through the motions of pulling at a rope which he knows does not exist, but which he plays is dangling from the sky and fastened to the basket, all the while invoking the aid of some deaf or helpless friend!

From page 180

It is important that we should duly keep in mind the fact of man’s freedom; but it is even more important that we should take care not to overlook or compromise the grander fact of God’s freedom. Because this fact fails to be properly taken into account, there is, in the habits of thinking quite too widely prevalent touching this whole matter of God’s connection with us, not a little virtual Atheism. We hear a great deal about the laws of nature, and the established chain of causation, and the inviolable order of things; and there are those who never weary in insisting that it is not at all probable that this machine-like fixity and succession of events ever has been, or ever will be, intermitted in answer to anybody’s prayers.