The Universalist services prayed at General Assembly

In case you wanted to see the printed services used at First Universalist Church, Providence, held over General Assembly, please download this PDF (4.2 Mb). I created this not out of the 1941 edition of A Book of Prayer for the Churches that First Universalist, Providence, uses, but the 1957 edition printed by the recently defunct First Universalist Church, Woonsocket, Rhode Island. (I got it on eBay.) Just to be clear that the tradition isn’t a nineteenth-century re-enactment, but long-held. And there’s a difference.

But the text for morning prayer and vespers in the two editions is the same. Note: we prayed vespers and not evening prayer. Evening prayer developed from vespers (the evening service) and compline (the service before bed) so that raises the question: why does the book have both? I don’t know, except to think that some churches used one and some the other. I’ll have to analyze their differences.

A word about how they ran. The pastor of First Universalist, Providence, lead the services making “micro-alterations” and applying local, customary ceremonial. We were supported in our singing and chanting by organ and organist. With readings (Old Testament and Gospel in the morning; New Testament epistle for vespers), sung responses, psalm, a brief address, and a hymn (vespers only) the services ran about 20-25 minutes in the morning and fifteen for vespers.

One new congregation at General Assembly? Is it a problem?

One feature of the opening ceremony at General Assembly is the welcoming new congregations. Normally — and perhaps I’m dating myself — there are several welcomed into membership. Except this year there was only one congregation, the lowest I’ve ever seen. Congratulations to Original Blessing, Brooklyn. But when I asked the question does it matter? The answer is undoubtedly yes.

Not all young congregations survive. Not all young congregations encourage the ministerial college by providing employment. Not all young congregations contribute talent for common work, or funds. Not all young congregations reflect well on the common fellowship, or add to mutual encouragement.

But all congregations do depend on the strength that new growth provides. Some congregations have gotten larger over the last few years, and some have gotten smaller. But nothing lives forever. To keep from shrinking, we need new congregations, and one isn’t enough. We need leaders with experience to foster new congregations, and one isn’t enough to found them.

So, again, I’m happy for Original Blessing. I only wish it had some cradle mates.

If you missed the General Assembly issue of The Beacon

So much happened to General Assembly this year that I forgot to mention the new issue of satirical magazine, The Beacon, appeared. Whatever you do, do not repeat to the activities printed therein at home.

Download it here:

A project out of General Assembly (for lectionary preachers)

It was a good General Assembly, but for (me, anyway) the soft relationships defy programming. Trust and relationship building, arts of the ministry, stories that shape identity. Evidence about strength and weakness, and a willingness to address both. There was a spirit, and I don’t want to crush it with explanation. It was so good that I didn’t finish this thought on-site!

So, what’s the takeaway? Unclear. Perhaps we can experiment by spinning up some projects. Experimentation is also in the air. I mentioned Faithify for those that need funding, but sometimes there’s an itch that needs scratching at no cost than the doing.

I was lunching with a couple of colleagues in Christian churches who preach from the Revised Common Lectionary. We identified a need to share notes: ideas, themes, resources. Something simple.

Is this something you could use? Be interested in participating in? If so, please say so in the comments.

Photos from inside First Universalist, Providence

I’ve been to First Universalist Church in Providence a few times over the years, but never so long as over General Assembly, when the church hosted morning prayer and vespers, and the usual Sunday service with a special observance of Holy Communion.

Here are a mix of photos, taken after the services in the sanctuary, lounge and dining room, with a focus on interesing tidbits. You know I’m going to make something of that Universalist Comrades (men’s group) emblem.

Order of Universalist Comrades charter

Cross on pedestal

Sanctuary, from a transcept

Scott Wells
Gratuitous selfie before Sunday service. (I helped distribute communion.)

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Rhode Island Y.P.C.U. banner
Y.P.C.U. is the Young People’s Christian Union

1899 “Five Principles”

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Meditating on General Assembly 2014

2014-06-27 21.20.20I’m getting back into the swing of blogging, and I’m working on posts that focus on particular subjects brought up at the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. But I thought I’d say something first about this year’s General Assembly as a whole.

First, I go to General Assembly to meet friends and to network a bit; I’m not a delegate and not on any UUA committee. I don’t have any formal role, and this is true of about a half of the people who show up. But despite my best effort, the official work of General Assembly usually gets in the  way of my emotions. So, I prepare myself to come back home tired, frustrated and even angry. It’s not that I want to have a bad time, but forewarned is forearmed.

Something was different about General Assembly 2014, and I’m not quite sure what or why. Admittedly, I have a partial view of the thing.  I only registered for two days, and so did not attend many workshops. And I didn’t attend Ministry Days so, my experience was shorter and some others. There’s nothing like getting older to provide some prospective. But some of the people I spoke to on-site experienced the same thing.

The General Assembly felt calm. True, I bookended my days with morning and evening prayer at First Universalist Church, Providence, and it was centering. I will write about this later, but I don’t think that’s why GA felt calm. Perhaps because there was no big protest action, either at our host city or internal to General Assembly. Perhaps it was because there was enough food at different price points, the lack of which has been a problem as past General Assemblies. And there was no election.

I didn’t see people crying in the hallways. I didn’t hear edgy tones of voice. I didn’t see young people running in the hallways. (Indeed, they were pros.)

So, I’m looking for feedback. If you were at General Assembly, is this your sense?


Hymns of the Spirit at General Assembly 2014?

If you were at the 2014 General Assembly, or watched it by streaming video, you would have seen in the opening ceremony — the one with the banner parade, greetings, adoption of the rules and the first worship service — a prayer from Hymns of the Spirit, and you may have wondered “how did that happen”? It’s not exactly in the daily consciousness of Unitarian Universalists. bitb_ga2014_02

The prayer hits at about 1:35:20, read by service leader and Unitarian Universalist minister Erika Hewitt. You’ll have to listen in; it’s not printed in the prepared printed document.

The prayer, a confession, is from a Hymns of the Spirit, or more accurately, the Services of Religion that usually prepended it. A composite and adaptation of the prayer of confession from Service Eleven (which I began to muse on here) and the second prayer of aspiration from Service Eight.

So who wrote them?

  • “O Thou unseen source of peace and holiness…” by Von Ogden Vogt.bitb_ga2014_01
  • “Into this house of light we come…” by (don’t be shocked) Von Ogden Vogt.