The shape of services in Hymns of the Spirit

The old 1937 joint Unitarian and Universalist hymnal, the Hymns of the Spirit had orders of service and liturgical elements that I suspect were well used through the 1960s and 70s, with use continuing til today.

You could divide the services into clearly Christian, something other than Christian but familiar and services for holidays and special occasions.  Leaving the holiday services aside, I was pleased to discover that all but one of the other services walked down the well-established path of Morning Prayer with Sermon, with its origins in the Elizabethan prayer book. The not-Christian services were (on the whole) simpler, and the Christian services had the — or rather, a — litany preceding the collects,  but the lineage is unmistakable. Certainly to the Episcopalians and others heralding to the same tradition — optional Presbyterian service books come to mind — since Morning Prayer and Sermon would have been the default service back then.

Which should make me happy? Not quite. Morning Prayer and Sermon is a hybrid affair, and the sermon feels like an indigestible afterthought.  But with really good music and a careful preacher it functions like a stimulating alternative to Evensong. Alas, I have small congregations with little access to fine music in mind. More mission post than cathedral. 

For these, the service which was the exception might help. More about that next time.

For the record,  I’ve written this on my phone with the WordPress app — a first for me.

By Scott Wells

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

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