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.

Checking in on the book project

Get used to these check-ins; otherwise, it may be too easy to throw the idea of a book on the scrapheap of good intentions. For one thing, it looks like I may be envisioning not one work, but three.

  1. A book about what Universalist Christianity, in a liberal vein, might look like today. And not necessarily a majoritarian view. Somewhat practical. Not too long. This would ideally be published by an existing press, and would be what I would pitch first to Skinner House.
  2. A documentary history. A corrective, in some sense, to what we have. This might be a self-published work or perhaps a website. The readership would be small, but important, but not so important to justify the publishing or promotion costs (or effort) a traditional approach demands.
  3. A monograph or other shorter subject answering the “so, what did happen to Universalist Christianity?” Perhaps for a journal, and to scratch that itch and to keep the first book in the present, and perhaps not so morose.

A preacher, after all, needs not put everything in one sermon.

The full Hosea Ballou quotation

I’ve seen many, many uses by Unitarian Universalists of a passage from Hosea Ballou since the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri after Michael Brown’s shooting death and Darren Wilson’s investigation. The quotation, sourced from the service element section of the most-commonly used Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, is edited for worship. Number 705:

If we agree in love, there is no disagreement that can do us any injury,
but if we do not, no other agreement can do us any good.
Let us endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace.

I wondered what the original was, and how edited it got, particularly since these hymnal elements get used so much (to the exclusion of other writings) that they take on a quasi-canonical character. Even if the quotation is ersatz. (Someone asked me, “That isn’t really Ballou, is it?”) It is, but only in a limited way.

For one thing, the context of the hymnal version suggests quasi-Pauline
advice to a congregation or group. As if he was putting another way Romans 16:17, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” But that’s not what Ballou was getting at. Here’s the citation, in context from section 224 (“A plea for unselfishness and love.”) in the last print (1986, from a 1882 original) edition of the Treatise on Atonement,

Should we be tenacious about certain sentiments and peculiarities of faith, the time is not far distant when Universalists, who suffered every kind of contemptuous treatment from enemies of the doctrine, will be at war among themselves, and being trodden under the foot of the Gentiles. Having begun in the Spirit do not think to be made perfect by the flesh. In order to imitate our Saviour, let us, like him, have compassion on the ignorant and those whom we view to be out of the way. Attend to the exhortation, “Let brotherly love continue.” If we agree in brotherly love, there is no disagreement that can do us any injury; but if we do not no other agreement can do us any good. Let us keep a strict guard against the enemy “that sows discord among brethren.” Let us endeavor to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.” May charity, that heaven born companion of the human heart, never forsake us; and may the promise of the Saviour be fulfilled concerning us, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

An even broader context makes it clear that Ballou is cautioning Universalists to maintain humility lest they fall into hubris and error, and continues with an appeal to non-Universalists to examine their claims with patience. Ballou disavows judgement. All good things but not how it comes across in the hymnal.

Also, the hymnal version bleeds out the Christian character of the passage. I can’t add much to that. I’ll end with citing the biblical passages above:

  • “Let brotherly love continue.” Hebrews 13:1.
  • “that sows discord among brethren.” Proverbs 6:19.
  • “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.” Ephesians 4:3. (“Bond” in King James.)
  • “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Matthew 28:20.

So, you knew about the Universalist mission to Korea, right?

The Universalist mission to Korea didn’t last long, and tantalizingly little has been written about it. It was surely a subset of the Japanese mission work, and during this period — some time in the 1920s — Korea was occupied by Japan.

This photo, from the 1927 Universalist Year Book, is the first I’ve ever seen related to the work, but as you can see by the caption, there’s not much detail here either. It’s printed between two pages about the Japanese Universalist Convention, but there’s no reference within that convention’s entry.

Sunday School and Church Groups Our First Work in Korea -- Summer of 1926
Sunday School and Church Groups
Our First Work in Korea — Summer of 1926

Can’t wait to get the 1928 Year Book.

The could-have-been Southern seminary

With the building sales at Meadville Lombard, the leadership crisis at Starr King, the closure of Bangor and the God-knows-what at General (Episcopal) (one, two)… well, it’s easy to have misgiving about the future of seminaries, and with it the future of ministerial formation.

When I looked back to the 1927 Universalist Year Book, I’m reminded that the future is contingent. Affairs needn’t have turned out the way they did. For instance, did you know there was a ministerial training program in Chattanooga, Tennessee? I didn’t, and I wonder if it was the premature death of the Harriman, Tennessee parish — Tennessee Universalism was far from strong; these were the only two churches in the state and thus they had no convention of their own — that caused this to end, too.


The School of Evangelism, Chattanooga, Tenn.

A school for the special training for the ministry for those unable to attend the regular theological schools of the Universalist Church.

Organized 1917. Has the use of the Q. H. Shinn Memorial Church for study purposes.

Board of Management: Manager, The Minister of the Q. H. Shinn Memorial Church; Vice-Manager, the Chairman of the Educational Committee of the Board of Trustees of the General Convention; Sec.-Treas., Rev. W. H. McGlauflin, D.D.; Mrs. J. W. Vallentyne, Rev. Francis B. Bishop, D.D., M. O. Hill, and Mrs. J. G. McGowin.

The minister was a B. H. Clark, of whom I know nothing. The education committee didn’t exist, but if the scholarship committee was intended, then that was Lee McCollester, of Tufts. We already met Dr. McGlauflin in a sad episode about thirty years prior.

I’ll keep my eyes open for more details.

Reviewing the 1927 Universalist Year Book

The main reasons I review Universalist historical documents is to

  • try to see Universalists as they saw themselves and not though the (now more customary) Unitarian lens
  • uncover hidden or lost accomplishments
  • understand the structural reasons for Universalist decline, rather than the shoddy theological suggestions offered, usually keyed to the inevitability of consolidation with the Unitarians

Yesterday, I went to the Library of Congress. Much of the time was eaten up transitioning to the new electronic system — which you have to do on site! — so I only got to review one book: the 1927 Universalist Year Book. But there is a book scanner, so I’ll be processing the parts I scanned for weeks.

Selection_0271927 (or thereabouts) is important because

  • it’s after the 1923 copyright watershed, and so won’t be found online
  • some kind of merger was likely, but whether it would be Unitarian or Congregationalist was a live issue
  • the decline had begun, but the Depression-era devastation hadn’t

The sermon fit for reading

There is a practical take-away from this historical episode; keep reading.

Abigail and John  Adams, the departing ambassador to Great Britain, and John Murray, the Universalist minister, sailed together back to America on the same vessel, the Lucretia, in the spring of 1788. Unitarian Universalists today recall Abigail Adams’s recollection of Murray’s preaching, as recorded in her journal.

This is Sunday 27 April. Mr. Murry preachd us a Sermon. The Sailors made them-selves clean and were admitted into the Cabbin, attended with great decency to His discourse from these words, “Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him Guiltless that taketh His Name in vain.” He preachd without Notes and in the same Stile which all the Clergymen I ever heard make use of who practise this method, a sort of familiar talking without any kind of dignity yet perhaps better calculated to do good to such an audience, than a more polishd or elegant Stile, but in general I cannot approve of this method. I like to hear a discourse that would read well. If I live to return to America, how much shall I regreet the loss of good Dr. Prices Sermons. They were always a delightfull entertainment to me. I revered the Character and Loved the Man. Tho far from being an orator, his words came from the Heart and reached the Heart. So Humble, so diffident, so liberal and Benevolent a Character does honour to that Religion which he both professes and practises.

We usually think little of the Dr. Price in this passage, the Unitarian minister, Richard Price. At that time, he preached to the now-defunct Gravel Pit Chapel, but had previously preached to extant Newington Green congregation. He was followed at the Gravel Pit Chapel by Joseph Priestley, and was celebrated in his own right.

So we have two preaching forbears in this passage, but they have very different preaching styles, each with their own appeals. I suppose I’m more like Murray, feeling that the physicality of preaching can be harmed by the close preaching from a manuscript.

I do use a manuscript, but I use it as a preparation of what I plan to say, including any quotations I need and to keep me from failing if I freeze. I also include notes on how to preach the sections of the sermon. In short, if you read what I wrote, it would not be what you hear, and certainly not be “a discourse that would read well.”

And I doubt I’m alone.

The takeaway? I hate converting my eccentric preaching notes into a printed article. While often requested, it’s really a different art and a different work. At best, I might create an impression of the sermon that reads well. But it takes time; it’s not a matter of reformatting a word processor document.

Please consider that before making such a request of your minister. That time is probably better spent in other ways, or, at least allow funds in the church budget for a transcriptionist and a proper editor.


Lost visions of Universalists: her enormous head

Meet Candace Lucretia Fulham Skinner. I found her through the Internet Archive image mass upload, in The Fulham Genealogy. She was married to a Universalist minister, but was a force, and a teacher and editor in her own right.

A force, it seems, presaged by her enormous head. But her whole story is grand. See highlights below, and you can read her whole biography in the book below.

Cover of: The Fulham genealogy by Volney Sewall Fulham

The Fulham genealogy

Candace Lucretia Fulham Skinner
Candace Lucretia Fulham Skinner

b. in Ludlow, Vt, April 28, 1828; d. Dec. 16, 1899 in Waterville; m. June 29, 1854, Rev. JOSEPH OBERLIN SKINNER, A. M., a Universalist Clergyman, b. Feb. IS, 1816; d. Jan. 12, 1879 in Waterville

During several of her latest years her sight was impaired so as to prevent any considerable use of her eyes in reading, writing, or study; and entirely incapacitate her for the various kinds of artistic work with a needle at which she was an adept, and in which she had found great delight.

She inherited in considerable measure the massive brain of her father, Sewall Fulham, her head having a circumference of 23½ inches, with much of his intellectual power and his marvelous memory; and she developed these to the uttermost by the studious habits of a lifetime. Her opportunities for instruction were limited to the common school and the village academy, in which she ranked as one of the best of her class; but in these she made only the beginning of her scholarly attainments, which finally reached a degree of excellence known to few.

For some years she was a teacher of public and private schools; and between 1847 and 1850 she taught French to pupils of the academy at Ludlow. In 1850 she became Preceptress of the Liberal Institute at Waterville, Me., a Universalist school, in which she was associated, first, with James P. Weston, D. D., afterwards Pres. of Lombard University; and finally with Harris M. Plaisted, in later times Member of Congress and Governor of Maine. Here her fitness for the position was so well recognized that, when occasion required, she was intrusted with the instruction of any and all classes. Her scholarly accomplishments included a thorough knowledge of the Latin and the French languages; a less acquaintance with the Greek and Italian; familiarity with botany; and the mastery of English in all its details. And she was an excellent mathematician.

On Sunday, Feb. 5, 1878, while engaged in a funeral service at the Congregational Church of Waterville, Mr. Skinner was prostrated by paralysis, which, after nearly a year of helplessness, caused his death. He had been Editor of the Universalist Register, a statistical annual of the denomination, for several years; and, during his disability, she gathered the data, prepared the copy, and directed the publication of the issue of 1879. In the following year she was appointed Editor by the Universalist Publishing House, and she continued the work until after the publication of the number for 1881, when a long and severe sickness terminated the employment.

Lost visions of Universalists: Grace Universalist, Lowell

(Left) Grace Church, Universalist, Lowell, Massachusetts
(Left) Grace Church, Universalist, Lowell, Massachusetts,c. 1905

Click the image for a  link back to the original image; here it is in the book.

It’s still standing, and still a church: St. George Greek Orthodox. And really, doesn’t look like it was built for them?

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