E&R liturgy?

I have noticed from time to time how there is a gentle, bubbling interest in the liturgies of the (German) Reformed Church, Evangelical Synod, and Evangelical and Reformed Church, which entered the United Church of Christ in 1957.

But there is almost nothing about the liturgies online. Admittedly, the E&R worship book, at the beginning of the E&R hymnal, is still in copyright and presumably the oldest liturgies are in German, which would have a lesser appeal in the United States.

But what about the ones in-between? Is there an interest getting these online? It has certainly made a difference for study of the much-smaller Universalists, if the kind emails thanking me for getting the 1894 prayerbook are any reliable measure.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. The church I attend had been an E&R church, and its pastor at the time of the merger in 1957 had a German name, but those origins are largely lost in the mists of time, and the church is indistinguishable now from your garden variety congregationalist church.

    I can’t say I have any personal interest in those old liturgies, although I do think it would be interesting in a way to take a look at something of the UCC past that seems to have been erased or forgotten.

  2. The E&R, like the Universalists, had a liturgical tradition, but many or most churches (most for the Universalists) didn’t use it, used it very selectively, or only used it only for communion and special services. MysticalSeeker’s old church may have been one of these. I suspect the liturgical strain of the E&R was stronger in the East, in Pennsylvania.

  3. I attended an old E-heritage church with a Saint-name (Saint Lucas) while doing my CPE. The old liturgy was only used for the communion service.

  4. I believe that you suspect right, that the liturgical inclinations of the more Pennsylvania-&-Northern-Maryland-based R side–that is, the (German) Reformed Church in the US–was stronger than the more Midwestern-based E side (the Evangelical Synod). Although (being too young) I don’t have direct knowlege, I do suspect that among the E side, it may have been common for a church to ‘strictly’ follow the liturgy for Communion services. My experience in the Chicago area is a little different than MysticalSeeker’s, as here you still do notice some distinguishing characteristics between E-heritage and Congregational-heritag churches. For instance, generally speaking, there seems to be a slightly more “formal” bent among the E-heritage churches. There also seems to be an greater acceptance of things liturgical among E-heritage churches–try too much in many of the Congregational-heritage churches and you get accused of being “too Catholic”.

    As an interesting aside, the church I attended while I was in seminary–St. Pauls United Church of Christ, Chicago–there were still a couple of vestiages of the Lutheran roots of the Evangelical Synod in their worship. Most obvious to me was that they use put the creed/statement-of-faith directly after the scripture readings and before the sermon, which is something I’ve only ever seen in older Lutheran liturgy books and never in any Reformed tradition liturgies. Also, for the prayer of confession, whichever pastor is leading that section of the service goes up to stand in front of and face the (against-the-wall) altar–not necessarily a liturgical practice I recommend, but facinating nonetheless. Apparently, it was at one time the practice there for the pastor to use that same against-the-wall high altar, facing it, for celebrating the sacrament as well, which would again be something you’d never see among Reformed types but would sometimes see amongst Lutherans back in the day.

  5. I don’t know anything about the Evangelical side other than what I learned in seminary at Lancaster, but as far as the Reformed side goes the earliest German Reformed Liturgy was the Palatinate Liturgy, which I still haven’t been able to find and was used commonly among all German Reformed Churches. It was written at the same time as the Heidelberg Catechism and was used with the catechism. As the Reformed Church came into PA they spread frist into central PA and then down the Shenedoah Rivier valley and settle a good part of NC with the Moravians (where I’m from, and we have Reformed Churches dating back to the 1750’s). The Palatinate Liturgy remained the standard until Nevin and Schaff took over the Reformed Seminary, then at Mercersberg, PA, and started writing the new liturgy. There was alot of conflict and several splits, but the liturgy was eventually adopted in 1866 with a few small changes. It was an altar centered liturgy with rubrics. It contained morning and evening prayer services, a litany, communion, a preperatory service for communion, weddings, funerals, consecrations, confirmation, ordination and daily prayer as well as Nevins translation of Ursinus’ commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. This was the standard liturgy for the Reformed Church until the E and R merger and is the basis for most of the E and R book of worship, as well as the modern UCC book of worship. The influences you see as far as pastoral positioning come not only from Lutheran influences but also true Reformed practice. The strangest thing for the modern worshiper might be the positioning of the creeds (both Apostle’s and Nicene) which come after the confession and gloria in excelsius before the reading of the scripture. There are also many borrowings from the Episcopalian BCP. The Mercersberg Theology which grew up around the liturgical innovations of Nevin and Schaff was carried by Schaff to Union Seminary in New York where it influecned pastors of many denominational persuassions, and helped to carry Hegelian philosophy into the modern church.

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