That term, “nones”

There’s so much wrong about the hand-wringing and lip-smacking towards adults who declare no religious identity, and it needs to stop. (I was prompted to write this after seeing Dan Harper’s latest blog post, but not to suggest that I find these bad habits in him.)

  1. If I was in a group of a group of people dubbed “Nones” (even as shorthand) I would read that as demeaning and minimizing.
  2. And while adults who declare no religious identity are assumed to be young, it seems more like a Boomer value, church-going habits notwithstanding.
  3. Really: do y’all listen to the lyrics of John Lennon’s “Imagine” when you sing them? (They fill me with a kind of unspeakable dread.)
  4. And since when has it been commonplace for young adults to flock to churches?
  5. While people around my age (44) who’ve lived a while, and known growth and loss — people who might want a church life — barely get a missological peep.
  6. But it’s not like Unitarian Universalism is really like a real religion or anything? So we deserve the so-called Nones? That’s the implication, and what hurts the most.

So stop it if you’re doing this. We’re all better than that.

“The Worship of a Unitarian Church” (1901)

I’ll be refering to this chapter (“The Worship of a Unitarian Church”) from the 1901 Handbook for Unitarian Congregational Churches for a few, scattered blog posts,to consider what habits and attitudes in worship and organization remain with us, if perhaps under a different cover.

So I present the following for your reference.

The Worship of a Unitarian Church

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Archives search: what is the verb of Universalist fellowship?

When you read the 1899 and 1935 Universalist basis of fellowship, you realize the talk of anti-creedal absolutism isn’t right, or isn’t quite right. But what did Universalist ministers (and presumably state conventions and churches, the three subjects of fellowship oversight) actually own up to?

Let’s review, emphasis mine.

From 1899:

The conditions of fellowship in this Convention shall be acceptance of the essential principles of the Universalist faith and acknowledgment of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Universalist General Convention.

This, following

These historic declarations of faith with liberty of interpretation are dear and acceptable to many Universalists. They are commended not as tests but as testimonies in the free quest for truth that accords with the genius of the Universalist Church.

In 1935, you get the same, around which was wrapped

The bond of fellowship in this Convention shall be a common purpose to do the will of God as Jesus revealed it and to co-operate in establishing the kingdom for which he lived and died.

To that end, we avow our faith in God as Eternal and All-conquering Love,…

Each avowal contained those before; the 1935 document has the 1899 document within in, which has the 1803 Winchester Profession in it.  (And since the original Principles of the then-new Unitarian Universalist Association pulled language from the 1935 document, I read a hidden, dormant but not broken continuation today.)

But what did Universalist minister actually affirm? The application forms for ministerial license and ordination help us understand the dynamic.

An application for license from 1920, using a standard blank and written in the form of a letter, states:

I desire to devote my life to the work of the Christian Ministry, in the Fellowship of the Universalist Church. I respectfully apply for a Letter of License to preach under its auspices. The motives are expressed on the other side of this paper. I cordially accept the essential principles of the Universalist Faith as follows:

and then the Five Principles follow, after which it reads:

And I freely acknowledge the authority of the General Convention, and assent to its laws, promising to co-operate faithfully in all measures but maybe by the General Convention and by the state convention in which I am connected, for the furtherance of the work and welfare of our church.

An application for license as a lay preacher from 1959 has a similar format, with the pledge reading:

I cordially accept the essential principles of the Universalist Faith as expressed in the Bond of Fellowship and freely acknowledge the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Universalist Church of America, and assent to its laws, promising to cooperate faithfully in all measures that may be why it and by the Convention or Conference with which I am connected, for the furtherance of the work and welfare of the Universalist Church.

The key verb is accept; nothing craven or crawling, but still a statement of faith, and even more pressingly, a statement of order. I don’t suggest we return to it, but let’s recogize our forebears asked more and less than we are asked today. And there was room for flexibility. A Unitarian minister (and Tufts graduate) in 1942 asking for dual fellowship pledged the following:

Being in accord with the general principles of the Universalist Church, and desiring to manifest my sympathy with the cause of Liberal Religion as a whole, I hereby make application for dual fellowship, and submit the following information…

He was admitted.


Be sure to fund Original Blessing

Easter Monday has a long tradition of being a day of church work: no time to rest after Holy Week and Easter Sunday. But I’ll make it easy for you: pledge money to Original Blessing, the newest member of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The fact that they’re in Brooklyn and New York is terribly under-served should be a good enough reason, but they have an Indiegogo campaign going with details of the work they’re doing.

Give generously.


Written to the young people of the Universalist Church by Dr Charles Hall Leonard, Dean Emeritus of Crane Theological School, Tufts College Mass.

An Easter Message — that is what the Easter message ought to be amid the world’s darkness and doubts. How dark soever, Hope ought to shine bright as out of a wide sky.

Easter is a culmination, both in history and in experience. Perhaps the day and what it stands for come as a surprise. We do not find our living Lord amid any early seeking. He has risen, and has gone before. So it is, therefore, that all Christian longing is satisfied, and all Christian need is met. He has gone before. The way is marked by personal leadership, and by recurring power. The wonderful revelation is of the Person; the wonderful growth is personal.

The Easter message is therefore one of light and peace, a word of new intelligence and the comfort of a recurring need.

“Oh day of days: Thou art the Sun of other day.”

[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.


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.)