Notes on the 1925 Congregationalist-Universalist unity statement

I just published the 1925 “A Joint Statement on Interchurch Relations from the Commissions of the Congregational and Universalist Churches” but didn’t want to clutter that document with thoughts. Indeed, I’ll want to review some of the standard denomination histories to see why the Universalists aren’t a part of the United Church of Christ today. Partnering with the Unitarians wasn’t the foregone conclusion so described today.

Union was in the air, then. Indeed, contemporaneously, the Congregationalists were making overtures to the Christian Church, leading to a merger. Most of the Congregational Christians then merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church (itself merged) to create the United Church of Christ. The Universalists were also talking to the Unitarians; years ago I published a Universalist report from the same commission in 1927. And now I want to see what else they reported out.

Some loose thoughts:

  1. I’ve heard it suggested that the relative size of the Congregationalists would have made organic union an absorption, rather than a merger.
  2. It makes the later, if minor, Universalist participation with the “continuing” Congregationalists make more sense.
  3. There are words the joint statement that echo in the 1935 Universalist Washington Declaration, namely in the second paragraph. “The kingdom for which he lived and died” for instance.

I hope this sparks interest in the history of Universalist polity…

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.


“The Poetic Expression of Unitarianism”

I’m going to meditate on the tradition of “lyric theism.” But first, some documents to give some context.

From Modern Words of Religion, edited by Carlyle Summerbell (1915)


The representative expressions of the Unitarian habit of mind are not to be sought in the fields of theological scholarship or Biblical learning, but in a lyric utterance of singular significance. “It is not an accident,” said one of the best interpreters of Unitarianism, “that out of a religious movement which is supposed to be a movement of sheer rationalism and dissent there has grown up the most clearly defined type of religious poetry which our country has produced. It is not an accident that the lyrics of Longfellow and Lowell and Holmes and Bryant and Emerson proceed from lives bred in the rational piety of the Unitarians. And when we pass from the great masters it is no surprise that from a group of minor poets of the same tradition — Samuel Longfellow and Samuel Johnson and Hedge and Hosmer and Gannett and Chadwick — there has proceeded a strain of lyric theism whose music penetrates many a church, the doors of which are closed against the poets. That means that beneath the vigorous rationalism or the sincere dissents of the descendants of the Puritans there is this deep movement of religious life, a consciousness of God that only a poet can express, a spiritual lineage that unites this little fellowship of free people to the whole great company of the witnesses of the real presence of God.

So, here’s that clever order of service I described

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a set of nicely-formatted orders of service/bulletins from First Church (Unitarian), Boston, that I found in the archives at the Andover-Harvard library. They were preserved in a file about coordinated opposition to the consolidation of the Unitarians and the Universalists because the minister’s message in them. But I recognized its good taste and yet was hesitant to post the photos of the order of service. Unless something is plainly public — websites and reported statistics come to mind — or of historic interest, I won’t discuss the business of a congregation. Is this too recent? We are talking about 1960: the matter is old (and decided) news and it’s very clear that I’m not going to get around to making a mockup of it.

So here are the photos. Click through to see enlargements. Lean but elegant stuff, this.





Unitarian worship resource for Union soldiers

This small 1865 American Unitarian Association assortment of rousing songs and Bible readings (arranged for unison or responsive reading, and with headings like “Those who turn from Holiness are condemned”) isn’t explicitly for Union soldiers, but songs like “Arise, New-England’s Sons!” and “The Massachusetts Line” weren’t likely to appeal to Johnny Reb.

The Soldier’s Companion: Dedicated to the Defenders of Their Country in the Field by Their Friends at Home.

Historical Unitarian church accounting!

I ran across an American Unitarian Association booklet “Church finance and accounting” — undated, but having internal examples suggesting 1914 — that makes for fun reading.

On the one hand, some things were very different then. It includes a review of the proprietor (pew owner) and pew rental system, and deprecates both to the free-pew (not that we call it that) system we have today, “the most modern and democratic way of financing a church, and is the system adopted in most new churches.” I can’t imagine the first two options today.

On the other hand, more seemed very familiar. I’m a member of Universalist National Memorial Church, Washington and we had a congregational meeting last Sunday. We reviewed financials that were more like those suggested than not.

The booklet was also full of candid advice. One good example:

Business-like methods in the financial administration of a church are of vital importance to the welfare of the society. Inefficient administration, hand-to-mouth ways of raising money, carelessness or tardiness in the payment of bills, usually indicate low vitality in a church, and are a constant source of danger and invitation to financial calamity.

Sample collection envelope text
And also a set of worked examples with charming fictitious churches. I might have to revive a couple for my own work:

  • Church of Our Father, Hope City, Colorado (a mission church)
  • Unity Church, Winterboro, Mass.
  • All Souls’ Church, Washington Square, Oakwood, N. Y. (obviously old and wealthy)
  • All Souls’ Church, Canterbury, Mich.
  • Unity Church, New Boston, Oregon

Studying Unitarian and Universalist liturgy: fixing a point of departure

One of the highlights of my childhood was the discovery of fossil known as Lucy. An example of Australopithecus afarensis, Lucy pushed forward our understanding of human origins by pushing back the clock. And from that day to now (when I think about the new version of Cosmos) I’ve come to expect the figure of a forked family tree, and a journey back to some critical node that separates our own path from the ones not taken.

And so it is with this exercise in Unitarian and Universalist liturgies, except that we’re only going back a couple of centuries, not millions of years, and the branches have a habit of lapping back on to themselves at a later point. And the Unitarians and Universalists grow along side of each other, one not eradicating the other. Think song birds, not hominids.

And we don’t have to go to the Rift Valley in eastern Africa, but to Boston. The place is King’s Chapel; the year, 1785.

I choose the first edition of the King’s Chapel prayer book not because King’s Chapel still uses a prayer book (in a later, 1986, edition) or even because it is the best known of the Unitarian or Universalist prayerbook churches, but

  1. because it is the earliest American Unitarian or Universalist prayerbook
  2. because it has a direct inheritance from the 1662 Church of England Book of Common Prayer,
  3. this inheritance is acknowledged, and
  4. because it influenced the production of the first United States Episcopal Church prayer book, in 1789.

We’ll see the parallels between Morning Prayer in the 1662 and 1785 books next, and after that comes the divergence.

The worship at the church down the street…

It’s 1920, and you’re in a large market town east of the Alleghenies. You’re looking for a church and your options include an Episcopal church and a Unitarian church. (Make it a small city or larger, and you might add the Universalists to this formula.) Ask the rector of St. Alban’s or the minister at First Unitarian if each has much in common with the other, and you would probably be told “no.” Different polity, different theology, different piety. The two have nothing in common.

But if you ask parishioners to describe how worship was worded, you might pick up on more similarities then you would have expected. Yes, Unitarian worship has changed, but so did Episcopalian worship, and in 1920 they were closer in style. These were the days before the Liturgical Movement, so an every-Sunday, main Eucharistic (Communion) service would be unlikely; Morning Prayer (with Sermon) would be more likely, and if it was old-fashioned, it may be followed in an odd rhythm by the Litany and then Ante-Communion; that is, the first half of the Communion service. And the Unitarians would have Morning Prayer and Sermon, by that or another name. A big litany would be an option, and if you’d shown up a generation or two before, even Ante-Communion.

Small-town Universalists, Western “fiddle and lecture” Unitarians and Anglo-Catholic Episcopalians would have fallen outside this spectrum, but Theist and even early Humanist Unitarians appreciated the rhythms and internal logic of Morning Prayer. You ask: so what?

In the next couple of weeks or more, I will blog on:

  • what the contemporary changes Unitarians and Universalists made to common worship styles say about their assumptions then
  • how traces of those forms persist, even in unlikely settings
  • how these forms are based on centuries of developments
  • how these forms can be the basis of lay theological education and mission
  • how movement, habits and artifacts shape worship
  • what adaptations and alterations by those who used those forms (Epiccopalians mainly) say about how these forms might be re-reformed and re-adopted

Should be fun! Thought? Please add them in the comments.

OK, Unitarian preachers: a year of sermon themes (for the retro set)

Following up on the “Fifty Shades of Unitarian” post, here are the “The Unitarian faith set forth in fifty Unitarian hymns” affirmations or platforms: the faith each hymn supposedly upholds. And matching biblical passage, Conveniently, it plots out almost a year’s worth of sermons, too. (Or at least I can be forgiven what some preachers surely must have thought in 1914.) But if you do preach these, I offer no guarantee that your congregation will like them all. A few are worthy of salvage, but then again I’m a Universalist without a preaching ministry, so take that as you will.

Unitarians Worship The God Who Is Revealed In The Heavens Above And On The Earth Beneath,Lord of all being throned afar,Psalm 19: 1,,Oliver Wendell Holmes
Unitarians Affirm The Immediate And Constant Presence Of God,Thou Life within my life than self more near,Deuteronomy 33: 27,Psalm 90: 1,Eliza Scudder
Unitarians Affirm The Encompassing And Sustaining Guidance Of God,Whither midst falling dew,Isaiah 26: 3,,William Cullen Bryant
Unitarians Affirm The Unfailing Goodness And Mercy Of God,”Eternal One, thou living God”,Psalm 103: 17,,Samuel Longfellow
Unitarians Affirm The Continuous And Inexhaustible Revelation Of God To Men,From age to age how grandly rise,Revelation 21: 3,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Affirm The Timeless And Boundless Revelation Of God To Men,Light of ages and of nations,Wisdom of Solomon 7: 27,,Samuel Longfellow
Unitarians Affirm The Revelation Of God In The Divine Order Of The World And In The Daily Faithfulness Of Men,We pray no more made lowly wise,Luke 27: 21,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Find A Revelation Of God In Nature,Mysterious Presence source of all,Psalm 104: 24,,Seth Curtis Beach
Unitarians Find A Revelation Of God In The Consciences And Hearts Of Men,O Thou whose Spirit witness bears; Within our spirits free,Romans 8: 16,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Affirm The Revelation Of God In The Human Soul,The Lord is in his Holy Place,1 Corinthians 3: 16,,William Channing Gannett
Unitarians Affirm The Validity Of The Things That Are Not Seen,Father thy wonders do not singly stand,2 Corinthians 4: 18,,Jones Very
Unitarian Affirm That The Purpose Of Worship Is The Communion Of The Souls Of Men With God,Father in thy mysterious presence kneeling,Romans 8: 15,,Samuel Johnson
Unitarians Affirm That Prayer Is The Aspiration Uttered Or Unexpressed Of The Human Soul Toward God,Nearer my God to thee,Psalm 25: 1,,Sarah Flowers Adams
Unitarians Affirm The Reality Of The Inner Light That Lighteth Every Man That Cometh Into The World,Go not my soul in search of him Thou wilt find him there,John 1: 9,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians In Spite Of The Inscrutable Tragedies Of Life Dare To Believe And To Trust In The Perfect Wisdom And Love Of God,Thou Grace Divine encircling all,Psalm 23: 6,,Eliza Scudder
Unitarians Affirm The Limitless And Ceaseless Incarnation Of God In Men,O prophet souls of all the years,Acts 14: 17,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Affirm That Inspiration Is The Unbroken Communication Of The Life Of God To The Open Mind And Reverent Heart Of Man,Life of ages richly poured,Matthew 10: 20,,Samuel Johnson
Unitarians Affirm That Salvation Is Not A Matter Of Belief But A Way Of Life,Christian rise and act thy creed,Matthew 7: 21,,Francis Albert Rollo Russell
Unitarians Affirm The Leadership Of Jesus Christ,O Thou great friend to all the sons of men,John 14: 6,,Theodore Parker
Unitarians Affirm The Humanity Of Jesus Christ,Our Father while our hearts unlearn,John 8: 40,,Oliver Wendell Holmes
Unitarians Affirm That The Permanent Influence Of Jesus Christ Is In Quickening The Spiritual Life Of Men,Immortal by their deed and word; Like light around them shed,John 8: 12,John 1: 4,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Affirm That The Spirit Of Christianity Is The Spirit Of Service,Thou Lord of Hosts whose guiding hand,Ephesians 6: 2,,Octavius Brooks Frothingham
Unitarians Believe That The Christian Life Is Not A Matter Of Name Or Form But A Habit Of Obedience To The Precepts Of Jesus,”The clashing of creeds, and the strife”,Luke 17: 20-21,,Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Unitarians Affirm That Out Of Noble Memories Men May Build Their Finest Hopes,We come unto our fathers’ God ,Psalm 90: 1,,Thomas Hornblower Gill
Unitarians Cherish The Associations And Inspiring Traditions Of The Christian Life,O Light from age to age the same,Psalm 145: 4,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Believe In Perpetuating The Sacred Usages And Institutions Of Religion,We love the venerable house Our fathers built to God,Genesis 28: 17,,Ralph Waldo Emerson
Unitarians Declare That The Rich Inspirations Of The Past Must Be Transmitted From Generation To Generation,Where ancient forests widely spread,Joel 1: 2-3,,Andrews Norton
Unitarians Value And Celebrate The Seasons Of The Christian Year (Christmas),Calm on the listening ear of night,Matthew 21: 9,,Edmund Hamilton Sears
Unitarians Value And Celebrate The Seasons Of The Christian Year (Christmas),It came upon the midnight clear,Matthew 21: 9,,Edmund Hamilton Sears
Unitarians Value And Celebrate The Seasons Of The Christian Year (Good Friday),In the cross of Christ I glory,John 12: 32,,John Bowering
Unitarians Value And Celebrate The Seasons Of The Christian Year (Easter),The Light along the ages Shines higher as it goes,Colossians 3: 1,,William George Tarrant
Unitarians Affirm That The Soul Of Man Is Prophetic Of A More Abundant Life,”Our God, our God thou shinest here”,Matthew 22: 32,Acts 17: 28,Thomas Hornblower Gill
Unitarians Affirm The Spiritual Idealism Which Is The Inspiration Of A Happy And Serviceable Life,O Lord of life thy kingdom is at hand,Galatians 5: 22,,Marion Franklin Ham
Unitarians Affirm That Religion Is The Consciousness Of The Presence Of God,O God whose presence glows in all,Micah 6: 8,,Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham
Unitarians Affirm The Brotherhood Of Man,”When thy heart, with joy o’erflowing”,1 John 4: 20,,Theodore Chickering Williams
Unitarians Desire To Establish On Earth The Divine Commonwealth Of Righteousness And Peace,Father let thy kingdom come,Romans 8: 19,,John Page Hopps
Unitarians Propose To Seek First Not Numbers Or Riches Or The Approval Of Majorities But The Kingdom Of God And His Righteousness,O Thou in lonely vigil led,Acts 24: 14,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Affirm The Freedom Of The Truth And The Constant Renewal And Expansion Of Religious Thought And Life,O Life that maketh all things new,2 Corinthians 3: 17,,Samuel Longfellow
Unitarians Believe In The Promise Of The Coming Of The Kingdom Of God,”Thy kingdom come,—on bended knee”,Matthew 6: 33,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Dedicate Themselves To The Cause Of Truth And Freedom,Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,John 8: 32,Psalm 20: 5,Julia Ward Howe
Unitarians Welcome The Inspirations Of Patriotism,’O Beautiful my Country!’,Isaiah 54: 14,Isaiah 33: 6,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Believe In International Peace And Goodwill,God of the nations near and far,Matthew 5: 9,,John Haynes Holmes
Unitarians Believe In The Ultimate Triumph Of Right Over Wrong And Of Goodwill Over Fear And Hate,”Hear, hear, O ye nations, and hearing obey”,Luke 2: 14,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Desire The Reunion Of Christendom In The Unity Of The Spirit Rather Than In Uniformity Of Belief,The ages one great minster seem,Romans 12: 5,,James Russell Lowell
Unitarians Believe In The Fellowship Of The Church Universal,One holy Church of God appears,1 Corinthians 12: 4-5,,Samuel Longfellow
Unitarians Believe That The Discipline Of Pain And Sorrow Is Part Of God’s Plan For The Upbuilding Of Character,My God I thank thee may no thought,Hebrews 12: 6,,Andrews Norton
Unitarians Believe That Through Sorrow And Bereavement The Soul May Be Purified And Faith Quickened,”O Love divine, that stooped to share”,Hebrews 12: 11,,Oliver Wendell Holmes
Unitarians Believe In The Immortal Life And In The Progress Of Mankind Onward And Upward Forever,I cannot think of them as dead,Psalm 23: 3-4,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Believe In The Fellowship Of The Life Eternal,It singeth low in every heart,John 14: 2,,John White Chadwick
Unitarians Believe That The Life Of The Spirit Should Be A Progress From Good To Better From Mortality To Immortality,”This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign”,Romans 8: 2,,Oliver Wendell Holmes