How the Hymns of the Spirit editors saw the services

Another phone-typed blog post as I wait for my bus to church this morning. Yesterday I wrote that one service was unlike the others.  This is incorrect: there are two. In the editor’s words:

The first five services are of a traditional type, based upon forms long familiar, but printed with greater detail and choice of content. The Sixth to the Ninth Services follow a similar but simplified sequence of events, and are ethical in tone, as are the Tenth and Fourteenth Services. The Tenth and Eleventh Services follow a somewhat different pattern, which has proved acceptable in some churches. The Twelfth to Sixteenth Services are for use at Christmas, Easter, a Spring Festival, Thanksgiving Day or Harvest Festival, National Anniversaries or a service for International Peace. For other special occasions, — Whitsunday [Pentecost — ed.], All Souls’, Children’s Sunday, etc. — the usual order of service can easily be adapted by the use of appropriate scripture and responsive readings, and of prayers selected from the section entitled Additional Prayers and Collects.

Two issues come to mind. First, that Hymns of the Spirit is essentially a Unitarian project that the Universalists joined, as evidenced by the list of miscellaneous services core to the Universalist calendar. (Did the publishers fear low Universalist adoption?)  See also the set of hymns at the back that “do not enter into the general scheme of the book. ”

But that’s the past. Consider instead the opportunity. So often, an old mode of worship is judged poorly as if it were an anthology of elements. But a service also includes a framework, directions, themes, and the provision of options. These are also valuable in discerning the liturgical theology of a church and tradition.  (The physical space and use of light, sound and artifacts too.)

Which brings us back to Service Eleven to consider for rehabilitation in the New England tradition of liberal Protestant churches.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. Service #11 has a number of things going for it. It is straightforward, and has an ecumenical simplicity. It could also be used with a full music program (hymns and instrument); or minimmal music (instrumental pieces only at key interludes, and the rest of the liturgy spoken); or without music (as fits the musical resources of the congregation). Sometimes we forget the utillity of a high quality spoken liturgy that I have frequently seen at early Episcopalian services.

    The service also has some flexibility for modifications.

    (1) Between the prelude and confession, one could add an element specific to the congregational tradition. If the congregation is Swedenborgian, the ritual Openig of the Word could go here. A UU Christian church could use an appropriate chalice lighting. A church that observes Saint’s days could have a spoken preface, like those found in the Episcopal church’s book of Lesser Feasts & Fasts.

    (2) I tend not to use a confession of sin during the season of Easter. In place of the confession, one could use a spoken canticle of praise, a spoken invitatory (like the Jubilate), or perhaps a short piece of devotional poetry.

    (3) One need not use the exact Affirmation printed in Service 11. One could just as easily substitute one of the Universalist avowals, the Apostles creed, another canticle (spoken or sung; from the Episcopal prayerbook or from traditional Swedenborgian liturgies).

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