Introductions to Universalism

A nice chat with other member of Universalist National Memorial Church after services today, over coffee. As sometimes happens, the matter of books came up, which merged with another comment about Hosea Ballou, and from there to books about Universalism.

I recommended two smallish, straight-forward books and a documentary history, if with reservations. Both are institutional histories, and both are irenic towards Unitarianism, positing Universalism as a close relation rather than a religious tradition on its own terms. Fine as denominational works, but also a bit unsatisfying for informing a faith, particularly a Christian faith. Of course, theological universalism is hot now — in evangelical circles, and so many of the faith-forward works are better for evangelicals. And the academic works are good for academics.

There’s room for a primer. In the mean time, here are those three books.

  • The Larger Faith by Charles A. Howe
  • American Universalism by George Huntston Williams
  • Universalism in America: A Documentary History of a Liberal Faith, ed. by Ernest Cassara

All three are from Skinner House, but only the first two are available at the UUA Bookstore.

Transcription workflow notes

So, it’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post, but I’ve not been inactive. And since I have the day off today, I thought I’d catch you up. Over the next couple of days, I’ll be putting up two chapters from the 1946 Parish Practice in Universalist Churches as text; I’ve previously posted it as a scanned PDF.

I want to discuss my workflow. I can do the odd report, but I’d like to see more Universalist and other documents transcribed, and to have typographic errors discovered and corrected. I shouldn’t be the bottleneck.

In the past — going back twenty years or so — I would photocopy a book, carefully crop it into a single column, rephotocopy these onto letter size and take them to a central computer center where they would be processed by Optical Character Recognition (OCR). I’d get a file back, and then edit it.  Later, I would use a flatbed scanner at home and OCR software at home, but some documents required the images being edited to one column. These processes were very time consuming. Sometimes, transcribing by keyboard was more efficient!

Image capture and OCR software have improved markedly. Today, instead of scanning, I take a picture with my phone, and use a graphical front-end to powerful OCR software to process the text. It’s not always clean — a second snap and process is sometimes necessary — but the improvement over twenty years ago is striking.

In particular, on my Ubuntu Linux (14.04 LTR) machine, I use YAGF — “Yet Another Graphical Front-end for cuneiform and tesseract OCR engines” with the tesseract engine.

Universalist polity document from 1951

Since I earlier opined that some of our conflicted Unitarian Universalist polity is the product of Universalist and Unitarian inheritances, I thought it best to “show my work” — or rather, some original documents.

1951 Universalist Laws of Fellowship, Government and Discipline

Some carryovers are obvious, and some fixes necessary. I recall a senior minister telling me of how a General Convention in the 1950s ground to a halt, as it was the final court of review. Can you imagine a General Assembly stopping in its tracks over a MFC matter? Well, I can, but I wouldn’t want to… But I also think there are protections lost from over-correction. What other continuations do you see? Things you’d like to see come back?

I’m also reorganizing and cleaning up the my documents site — — a bit, and will add more documents as time allows.

One day later: I’ve edited and put up the set from 1946.…/1946-universalist…/

Noteworthy changes 1946 to 1951: higher standards for parishes and the education of ministers; easier to deactivate or sidestep under/dysfunctional state conventions. Note sure it’s germaine, but the 1946 set was job printed and bound, and the 1951 set was mimeographed and stapled. But the laws would go through three more revisions, until 1958, which should be seen less as Universalist than as pre-UUA.

Universalist polity persists today

A couple of weeks ago, I was batting back and forth with an informed Unitarian Universalist friend about our polity, when at one point he zeroed in at the settled clergy vote at General Assembly, at which point I had to stand up for the Universalist contribution to our polity.

This is my side of the discussion, which I admit was a bit of a monologue at that point. I don’t have his permission to share his side, but if commenters want to continue the conversation, I would consider it an honor.

I was wondering what the future holds…

With the one-way push to regions, will there be an opening for devolution of connection authority? — congregational membership, mission planning, ministerial fellowship [at the regional level] — now that there aren’t 19-22 districts.

[After all,] There’s a lot more embedded Universalism in our system than we sometimes credit.

[And then the push about General Assembly votes.]

It’s about fellowship, not credentials per se. Makes more sense in the Universalist sense if the other piece was still in place.

That is, the fellowship of the parishes.

That’s because, from a Universalist frame, the UUA acts (imperfectly) as a national church, something the Unitarians would never have.

[My friend opined that this result is sub-optimal.]

[Today’s system is]neither-nor.

The names tell you all. The American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America.

And why scant resources went to build a Universalist National Memorial Church, but the Unitarians never did.

To finish my thought, the churches were (supposed) to have a parallel relationship to their conventions that the ministers did, supervised by the same committee.

And both ministers and lay persons served on them. Not that I’m all rah-rah retro Universalist.

The half-time service requirement for fellowship renewals — a thorn in my side — is a re-write of a pre-consolidation Universalist rule.

The page turned to GA 2016

I stumbled across the webpage of the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly, which talks about — in broad terms — next year’s convention.

It’s in Columbus, Ohio.

It’ll certainly be less expensive for more people than last year’s (Portland, Oregon) and possibly than 2017 GA in New Orleans, as Columbus is a lower cost city for hotels and nearer the population centroid for Unitarian Universalists, which is in Illinois.

I hope to be there. So what great plans can we make with the opportunity?

“A Fruitful Life”

It’s been a hard day, and seeking solace, turned to prayer. I pulled this book off my shelf because the title — Light and Peace — spoke to me. It’s a collection of prayers by Charles Hall Leonard, published by the Murray Press, a Universalist publisher, in 1915.

Leonard (1822-1918) was an outsized figure in Universalist history, was a professor and later dean of the theological school at Tufts, and remembered today I’d guess for creating Children’s Sunday, though readers of this blog may be more interested to know that he was the unacknowledged author of A Book of Prayer for the Church and the Home, or what I call usually “the Universalist prayerbook.”

Elmer Hewitt Capen
Elmer Hewitt Capen
One prayer “in memory E. H. C.” bears repeating here. That was the thirty-years’ Tufts president and Universalist minister Elmer Hewitt Capen, who died in office in 1905.

Prayers for deceased ministers have a special place in my heart, and particularly  as Terry Burke, the long-time and much-loved minister of First Parish in Jamaica Plain was laid to rest today, and with whom some day we shall each share glory.

A Fruitful Life

O God, our heavenly Father: To whom can we go, but to Thee, who art our strength in weakness, our light in darkness, and our comfort in sorrow? To-day, we know not how to speak to each other, nor how to interpret to ourselves. We turn to Thee, and, first of all, beseech Thee to awaken within us the memory of all that has been precious in the life of our great friend and leader: his wise devotion to the college into which he built his life; his intelligent administration of its affairs in a manifold range of usefulness bearing upon its progress and growing facilities, and in that loving care and interest which reached the endeavor and the struggle of the humblest student. Help us to recall the calmness of his thought, his unselfish regard for others, his generous approval of all that is right and good, and his Christ-like pity and forgiveness toward all the weak and sinful. We remember the words, spoken in private and in public, which move us to-day with new power, because of this mystic silence.

We desire also to remember all that he was and is, and will be to us, as a part of permanent influence in all the relations which distinguished his life: in the privacy of his home, in the maintenance of a loyal service to the church, in all his efforts as an educator, and in the ampler calls of citizenship.

Help us, O God, in our sense of gratitude for all that this full life has been to us now that we read it anew, know anew its noble witness to learning, to charity, to religion, and get its larger message as from open skies.

Goddard Chapel
Goddard Chapel at Tufts
We bow down before Thee, with whom are the issues of life and of death. Help us all to that acquiescence in grief, which, year by year, has been taught from this place, and, above all, breathed in the prayers that here have daily been put up in our behalf. Help these sorrowing teachers who waited for his step, were cheered, day by day, by the denials he so patiently took up, and were inspired more and more by his confident sympathy. We remember before Thee those who, in great procession along the productive years, moved through these halls, and bore hence the mark of the man they had learned to know, to honor and to love. And grant Thy especial favor to the students, in all ranks, and in all places, here and there, who are now enrolled as members of the college. Have regard unto their sad and questioning hours; and give joy to them also, that they came to know so well the man and president who greeted their coming at first.

And now, what wait we for but for grace and power, both for mind and heart; new motive in view of a great example; new ability to take up the tasks which a great leader has laid down; and new light, also, for comfort to those whose sorrow to-day is deepest, that there may be to them one fixed and tranquil object of thought and affection; and help us all to see that it is no fractional life that we are called to contemplate, but a life, forecast and fashioned in accomplishment, opening more and more into its own power and beauty, and, at the last, opening forth towards the realities of a world from which all veils were taken away. O God, most merciful and gracious, open our eyes to that grateful vision, that so we may be enabled to go on, to bear up, and to find our highest joy and peace in the field of duty to which now Thou dost send us back, and in the entrusted daily care to which Thou hast appointed us. Grant that, from the trembling moments of our human life, and from the mourner’s watch, we may go forth with uplifted heart, and a diviner purpose, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Printing out pages for a sermon or service book

After much trial and error, I have come up with this method of printing a service or sermon text to be put in a small binder for use in worsip, using free and open source software. And I thought it was worth sharing with you.

First you will need to download the LibreOffice office suite; a version 5.0 has just been released but I use, so I’m just hoping there’s not much of an apparent difference.

Also, ideally the Linux Libertine Graphite type face. (That typeface is free to use and share, and has features  that I will describe later.)

You will also need a half sized binder (like this one) and page protectors.

The trick is composing half-sized pages and then letting the office suite compose those pages on to full size pieces of paper.

Screenshot from 2015-08-14 09:55:12Here’s a sample of the service typed out.

When you go to print, click the Properties box on the General tab, and then set the paper to print Landscape. This is what it looks like with my printer.Properties of Brother-HL-L2360D-series_168

Here’s the trick: check “Use only paper size from paper preferences.”


Then change the layout to print two pages side by side. Extra points to those who can figure out how to print a booklet or brochure, in which case a saddle stapler is a help.


Then print, fold, slip into the protectors and then into the binder.

Download the file I used in this lesson here, or click here for a Google Doc that does essentially the same thing (with the Gentium font) for you to copy and modify as you will.

I would appreciate feedback if you use either source.

Dating that pamphlet

File this under “not working on tomorrow’s sermon.”

So, when was that midcentury Universalist pamphlet published. It’s helpful to know when a clear pivot away from Christianity was made from a central authority, in this case, the “Department of Public Relations, U.C.A.”

It’s clearly post-World War Two, and presumably before the 1959 convention that ratified consolidation with the Unitarians. Any more internal evidence?

  • The reference to the “four year advance.” Possibly after 1956. Can’t find dates online with associated files at the archives.
  • The quotation from Harry Overstreet citing The Mature Mind.
    The book was first published in 1949.
  • The Universalist Circle program, a parallel to the Unitarian fellowship movement, that lasted through to consolidation.
  • The 16 Beacon Street address. Offices there from 1933, per Miller, The Larger Hope, 2: 630.
  • Possibly the quotation from the Brainard Gibbons, who championed this approach. Probably from his 1949 Convention sermon, or related to it. The Larger Hope, 2: 634; Spoerl, in Universalist Heritage, 4.

But the most evidence isn’t of date, but of kind. Long-time readers of this blog know I’m not fond of this kind of Universalism. (I think it’s naive; it also cultivates self-centeredness and — perversely — sectarianism.)

But I’m not unsympathic to why they wanted a religion that they though would be expansive and more optimistic. The fires of war had just died down, and a thermonuclear fire might have destroyed everything. It was a time of growth and unexpected prosperity. Why wouldn’t they respond to the times?