A fiddle-and-lecture order of service

In one step, from the medieval to Modernism.

bitb_jenk-jones1907The Western Conference Unitarians — think of the middle third of the United States a hundred and more years ago — were known for a kind of bibical rationalism and a minimalist style of worship sometimes known as “fiddle and lecture”. And I’ve been looking for some simplified options.

Without directions, it’s hard to know what exactly this kind of worship looked like. Yesterday I found a piece of ephemera: an order of service from Jenkin Lloyd Jones’s All Souls Church in Chicago, from January 27, 1907. That should be a representative sample from one of that movement’s leading lights, maturely developed.

I. Organ Prelude.
II. Voluntary (with “From all that dwell below the skies…”)
III. Poem.
IV. Choral response.
V. “Prayer, ‘Our Father,’ chanted.”
VI. Scripture.VII. Hymn.
VIII. Sermon.
IX. Solo.
X. Offertory.
XI. Hymn.
XII. Benediction.
XIII. Organ Postlude.
XIV. Social Greeting.

I can confirm that the hymns map back to Unity Hymns and Chorales, so the “Choral reponse” was surely one from that book, too.

All Souls Church, Chicago, order of service
All Souls Church, Chicago, order of service

What strikes me is how little congregational repsonse there is. Little, perhaps nothing spoken in the pews — only hymns and chanting. Perhaps a small step from the Middle Ages, when the silent congregants would look devotionally upon the sacrament: here, the preaching.

Theological qualms aside, such a service can be sensible, even wholesome and devout in a large congregation — not unknown to “the Unity men.” In small congregations, the effect would surely be stilted, and with an unsteady preacher, deathly.

I’ll keep looking.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. ***What strikes me is how little congregational response there is. Little, perhaps nothing spoken in the pews — only hymns and chanting. Perhaps a small step from the Middle Ages, when the silent congregants would look devotionally upon the sacrament: here, the preaching.***

    And yet this “fiddle and lecture” is so very close to what I have seen in many smaller UU churches, as well as smaller Congregational, Baptist, and pastoral Quaker churches. …devotional gazing upon the “sacramental preaching”. Not healthy, nor very engaging. But then why does it persist? Inertia? Fear of the alternatives?

  2. And the American Baptist church, small-town West Virginia, that I grew up in in the 50s and 60s. We did a good bit of visiting around between the Methodist and Presbyterian churches, which were pretty much the same except the congregation recited the Apostle’s creed. We did often have a responsive reading. I don’t know that I would characterize it as mere gazing. The hymn singing was generally much more enthusiastic (and capable) than in the UU congregations I’m familiar with, and I experienced the service as a place and time for centering and contemplation. The service was sparse, but had a sense of ceremonial gravitas and dignity – reverence – that I miss in UU congregations generally, although First UU Nashville had it the couple of years I was a member, in the 80s.

    I think it is hard to imagine the tone and meaning solely from an order of service.

  3. At the risk of sounding like I support chalice lightings or “joys and concerns” (I don’t) I can see how these — plus responsive readings — were introduced as reforms or improvements. Not to mention a multiplication of speaking roles (say, lay lectors, by any name), which may or may not have happened in Lloyd Jones’s day.

    Don’t know about the Unitarians, but the Universalists cited the unresponsive congregations as a reason for having service books — that, and not waiting on a minister to worship, and by implication not relying on a minister to worship. Hard to say if that was ever a dominant opinion, or a call for reform, though.

  4. @LdeG. Ah, to clarify: the silent gazing reference was specific to Lloyd Jones. All Souls was a significant institutional church, with a publishing operation (the hymnal, other books and a denominational newspaper; surely what allowed job printing for this ordinary Sunday’s bulletin) sharing a building with an social services program. The church exists, through mergers (I gather) in another form, but the social services mission continues in situ. (http://abelink.org/)

    I expect he got his share of silent attention.

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