[Paul] had a broad vision and a comprehensive grasp, and his thirty years’ ministry as an ambassador of Christ attests his intelligence not less than his zeal. He was grandly equipped for his work, not alone by his exalted faith and consecration, but also by his rare intellectual skill and strength, and his acquisition of wisdom gathered from various sources. But with all his genius and learning he held to one straight course. He preached Christ crucified He believed that the Crucified One would come again to earth, that he would incorporate himself in believing hearts, becoming their inspiration and blessedness. If at the first he seemed to look for this second coming of Christ as an outward manifestation, he soon came to realize its spiritual import and to dwell upon its vitalizing presence within the soul. “Christ liveth in me,” said Paul, “and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God.” * * * “I can do all things through Christ who strengthened me .”

From “The Fullness of Christianity,” by the Rev. Henry W. Rugg: the occasional sermon delivered before the Universalist General Convention, held in Washington, D. C. on October 24, 1883.

It is like a dear home-meal, a family supper, where the Elder and the younger brothers meet around their Father’s table. It is like a farewell meal just before a dear one goes away from home on a perilous journey. The breaking of bread together, the cup of wine together, the beautiful words of remembrance that will stay in their hearts all their lives that will stay in the heart of the world forever.

Wonderful words follow. The promise[of] “many mansions”, the new commandment of love, the new name of friend, the gift of his own peace, the prayer for the “little children’s” safe keeping. Under the sorrow of parting is the joy of returning; with his going away the spirit of truth will come. “It is better tor you that I go.”

The uplifted face seems to smile back into God’s face the voice is tremulous with joy as it whispers, “I go to my Father.”

Maria L. Drew , The Sunday School Helper (1896)

An open table is — or was — the law

Pivoting from the Unitarians, and looking forward to Maundy Thursday. I’ll go into the Universalist laws of fellowship (and how they changed) later, but suffice it to say now that state conventions, parishes and ministers were subject to them or risk losing their standing. For a few decades, at least, one of these laws concerned who could be admitted to the Lord’s table, or Communion.

From the 1946 Laws of Fellowship

In every church the Communion of the Lord’s Supper shall be statedly observed at such times as the laws thereof prescribe; and at every such service all persons present, whether members or not, who may feel it to be a duty or privilege to do so, shall be invited to participate.

This formulation goes back at least as far as 1891. It also appears in the 1951 version, but disappears in the next (1953) version when, with other specific rules related to Christianity,  it was removed. (As for the reference to church laws, even today  Universalist National Memorial Church, Washington requires it on “Thursday of Holy Week and at such other times as the Pastor and Diaconate may determine. At every such service all present shall be invited to partake.”)

The reading of the law matches what is printed as an invitation to communion in the “red hymnal” Hymns of the Spirit service for communion, even though it was a joint Unitarian-Universalist production:

A Communion Service will be held in this Church at (stating the time). It is a service of commemoration, consecration and fellowship, open to all who desire to take part in it.

Interestingly, no such preface exists for the Communion service before the last solely Universalist hymnal, Hymns of the Church.

A Universalist witness to the Armenian genocide

The Armenian genocide began in 1915, so in anticipation of the centennial, I’m reprinting this witness — towards the end of the genocide — from the April 15, 1922 issue of the Universalist Leader. (I’m not sure what else to call it but “witness,” and the people of 1921 don’t have the language we do to describe atrocities.)

This is a powerful prayer: learn from it. The references to orphanages demand research. There was a Sunday School fundraiser for a “Near East Appeal” and at least three congregations survive that gave then. Thanks and praise to the parishes in (West) Hartford, Connecticut; Franklin, Massachusetts; and Haverhill, Massachusetts.

There are other witnesses, and I will lift them up as I find them.

But was this a remote act of sympathy? Perhaps not so remote. If you are in Providence this General Assembly, be sure to tour First Universalist Church. It’s quite near the convention center and the minister — Scott Axford — is a friend; he plans on giving tours then. He once gave me a tour and pointed out the typically Armenian names on a memorial plaque, pointing to a lost and little-known Armenian chapter in our history.

A PRAYER FOR ARMENIA

Thou wast slain and hast redeemed us by Thy blood and made us unto our God kings and priests. (Rev. 5: 9-10). Having therefore boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus… Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. (Heb. 10: 19-22.)

ALMIGHTY God who by Thy grace hast not only called us out of darkness into light but hast called us into the Blessed Service of Intercession, we come to Thee with accord on behalf of the people of Armenia. We pray that Thou Thyself wilt undertake their cause, and with great might succor them. We remember the many thousands who, rather than deny Thy Name, have suffered torture and death, and we give Thee thanks for all who have by Thy grace endured and are now in Thy presence, and we ask Thee, for those who remain in the fiery trial of their prolonged agony, to stand by them and strengthen them and grant them a clearer vision of Thee and deliverance from their sufferings. Send them what they need for their material wants–protect the fatherless and widows–remember the orphans still without home or shelter.

Bless the children in the orphanages whom Thou hast committed to our care and those who are giving their lives to help and save them. We thank Thee for all Thy servants laboring for Thee, who have been true to Thy name. Strengthen and bless all by whatever name they are called, who contribute of their substance to feed the hungry and to provide shelter and care for the sick and the helpless.

Give wisdom to all who are seeking to help the Armenians in any way, whether spiritually, politically or materially, give courage and a spirit of responsibility to our statesmen, deliver our country and all who are called Christian from blood-guiltiness, through apathy or fear. Bless all who are serving Thee, and may all our service be lifted on to a higher plane of selflessness and sacrifice through the power of the Holy Spirit of him who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and give his life a ransom for many. In whose Name and through whose merits we offer our prayer and praises, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Adapted from the Armenian Liturgy.)

New congregations: neither airdrops nor strawberry runners

Even though we have data and options for forming new Unitarian Universalist churches, I didn’t present  “airdrops” nor “strawberry runner” models for serious consideration. I said the Fellowship Movement era was over without any desire to duplicate it.

The reality is that the Unitarian Universalist today have few resources for church planting : economic, appropriate talent, organizational culture. This may change, but we don’t have it right now.

One of the things we do have is a historic surplus of ministers, and an undersupply of parish ministries. Should we wonder when we see little, “emerging” congregations coalescing around a minister from day one? (Did you notice this in the recent UUWorld article about emerging congregations?) Planted not in the “ideal” place, but one chosen for personal reasons, or from necessity. This may very well become the model for today. Will we let them go it alone?

Do we have a gospel?

So, dear Unitarian Universalists: today is Palm Sunday and Passover starts tomorrow. You’re probably busy, so I’ll keep this brief.

Do we have a gospel? Not a bunch of gospels, or pieces that can be grouped into a gospel, but a story that makes it possible for a group of disparate persons into a particular people? I don’t think we do. I think we have a context for ministry, where we bring gospels, but I don’t think that’ll be sufficient for long-term survival. And so the people will perish.

We may be too big to share a gospel (from this point) and too small to re-organize around multiple centers.

An unhappy thought, but not having the though won’t save us. The comments are open.

UUA Bookstore delivery!

Woof! woof! woof!Daisy

Daisy the Dog announced the delivery of three books from the UUA Bookstore, which I will read and comment upon as soon as practical.

2014-04-12 12.19.05

Revisiting “Rekindling the Mainline: New Life Through New Churches” (and UUA policy)

This four-year-old comment (thanks, Derek) led me to revisit Stephen C. Compton’s 2003 Rekindling the Mainline: New Life Through New Churches (link for reference) to see what’s still applicable and what’s not. My (used) copy arrived today.

In the meantime, be sure to see my widget in the sidebar, which counts up the number of days since the last member congregation was added to the UUA. Alas, none are scheduled to join at the next UUA Board meeting, but Unitarian Universalist minister and blogger Dawn Cooley points out a report (the report, in PDF) (thanks to her) to the UUA Board that recommends lowering the required quantum of thirty charter members for admission. Fascinating. I need to give it a close read — lots of references back to the UUA bylaws — and will report on that soon.