A common communion use in Unitarian, Universalist and Free Christian churches

Something for me to put a pin in, and for perhaps someone else.

I suspect that most of the common, historic Unitarian, Universalist and Free Christian communion rites — those descended from King’s Chapel excepted, but including James Martineau’s — can be traced back to Frederick Henry Hedge’s translation of the Liturgy of St. James.

This would be a helpful hint in trying to improve those rites with integrity.

It would also be interesting to see when this liturgical influence was adopted, and when it was dropped. I think this task would be helped by the right bit of typography, to make the development more clear.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. Well, my home church, founded in 1635, Unitarian c. 1810, has been doing communion since its founding and continues to do communion today. The liturgy has changed a good bit since 1635, but communion still shows a strong influence of Calvinism as interpreted by the Puritans. I really don’t see any influence of F.H. Hedge. And given how basically conservative many New England liberal churches really are, I suspect that in many New England Unitarian churches, the traditions of the generations had far more influence than any published liturgies. So without some direct historical evidence, I’m unconvinced.

    For what it’s worth, I have an autobiography of my mother’s childhood Unitarian minister, and her writes that in his youth (early 20th C.), he was a Universalist and involved in the liturgical revival movement within Universalism. If I can find his autobiography, I’ll see if he says anything about it — but I’ll bet there was a good bit of printed material put out by that movement — I know he used some kind of prayer book.

  2. @Dan

    If he had a prayerbook I would guess that it is one of the incarnations of the Gloria Patri Prayerbook. It is blatantly Western Rite, and a small-c catholic incarnation of Universalism. I have a copy, and many contemporary UU’s I’ve shown it to, find its existence scandalous. “It’s soooo Catholic,” they say.

  3. Dan, that’s fair, but elements from Hedge’s translation pop up continuously, including Hymns of the Spirit and are so cited. I shouldn’t wonder if these same elements — one in particular — slipped into even the flintiest minister’s notes.

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