More thoughts on the scalable service

A moment to think about the British Orthodox Church, a small culturally-British Coptic jurisdiction. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that it is very small, but is able to create new church missions, and that should draw our positive attention.

Is it because it has a surplus of clergy? It doesn’t seem so. Or cash? Again, no evidence. Or because it’s tapping into a populist consciousness? You’ll forgive me if I suggest the appeal speaks more to a deep past and hopeful future than being of the moment. (That’s is surely an appeal to some, but let’s leave that for now.) And it’s not to say that all of the missions are super-healthy. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. First, they have a stated goal:

We are seeking to plant at least two new missions each year to fulfill our vision of a community in every county.

And what the British Orthodox Church — and other churches — have is a model that makes worship possible, approachable and above all scalable.

The key is the daily office, and particularly the services of matins (morning) and vespers (evening), also known as “raising of incense” or the Coptic name for the daily round of services, the Agpeya, And it’s a good choice, too. Don’t know about the British Orthodox in particular, as it applies to public worship, but the daily office also belongs to the laity, so perhaps a member of the lay faithful could lead it. Or perhaps someone in minor orders (a concept Protestants don’t have) or certainly a deacon, thus expanding the pool of who can lead worship in missions.

But more importantly, it’s a service with lower barriers than the Liturgy (Eucharist, Mass) and therefore more welcoming. To review, two takeaways:

  1. Broader pool who can lead the service.
  2. A service that’s more welcoming by its nature.

And it’s short and stable in content. Say, 20-30 minutes. I think spoken prayers, followed by some refreshment and a training or discussion — as indeed, is prepared monthly in some of these missions — is pretty darn achievable, particularly as they meet in Anglican churches at times (even Saturday mornings) that the host parish doesn’t meet. To review:

  1. A stable, predictable service. Not too long.
  2. Some kind of enrichment activity.
  3. Setting a time to be accessible, not conventional.

And know that elements can be added or removed as conditions demand.

  • Sermon or none
  • Instrumental music or none
  • Hymns sung or not
  • Candles lit or not, and so forth



Checking in on the book project

Get used to these check-ins; otherwise, it may be too easy to throw the idea of a book on the scrapheap of good intentions. For one thing, it looks like I may be envisioning not one work, but three.

  1. A book about what Universalist Christianity, in a liberal vein, might look like today. And not necessarily a majoritarian view. Somewhat practical. Not too long. This would ideally be published by an existing press, and would be what I would pitch first to Skinner House.
  2. A documentary history. A corrective, in some sense, to what we have. This might be a self-published work or perhaps a website. The readership would be small, but important, but not so important to justify the publishing or promotion costs (or effort) a traditional approach demands.
  3. A monograph or other shorter subject answering the “so, what did happen to Universalist Christianity?” Perhaps for a journal, and to scratch that itch and to keep the first book in the present, and perhaps not so morose.

A preacher, after all, needs not put everything in one sermon.

The Lord’s Prayer in Esperanto

I’m at that point in my Esperanto education that I had better move the next level or accept being left as an eterna komencanto: an “eternal beginner.” That’s not bad (article in English) per se, but I would like to attend conferences — organized, if off-beat, travel (esperante) is one of Esperanto culture’s big pay offs — and I’m hardly going to do well, if I can’t make dinner plans effectively. Some of the conferences are for and by Christians, (esperante) and they’re appealing and (once you fly to Europe) cheap. So I figure I’d better memorize the Lord’s Prayer.


Patro nia, kiu estas en la ĉielo,
sanktigata estu Via nomo.
Venu Via regno.
Fariĝu Via volo
kiel en la ĉielo, tiel ankaŭ sur la tero.

Nian panon ĉiutagan donu al ni hodiaŭ.
Kaj pardonu al ni niajn ŝuldojn,
kiel ankaŭ ni pardonas al nian ŝuldantojn.
Kaj ne konduku nin en tenton,
sed liberigu nin de la malbono.

Ĉar Via estas la regno
kaj la potenco
kaj la gloro eterne.


Changing the character set, or trying to

So, my blog is old enough that the character set is all goofy. Translation, when I try to write something in Esperanto with circumflexes, I get question marks or oddments in their place.

Example: ĉiutaga preĝejo. This will not do. This blog needs to display in UTF-8, but doesn’t. And converting the database is not risk free.

This notice is in case I ruin my blog for a few hours or a few days.

The Problems of the Universalist Church

Not an original thought, but part of the name of a book that I’m reading as a prelude to my writing project.

Its full title has a familiar ring:

Problem of the Universalist Church, Or a Statement of Our Doctrines the Reasons For Preaching Them, the Causes Retarding the Growth of Universalism and a Plea for Better Methods a Discussion of the Work of the Church and The Duty of the Laity Including Hints and Helps for Pastors, Officers, Teachers and Parents on the Organization and Management of Sunday Schools and on Teaching and Governing Classes.

Or, if not familiar, certainly there’s something there to interest everyone…

A book, perhaps?

So, hot on the heels of reclaiming the site, I backed up this blog in such a way that it was easier to sort the 3,800+ blog posts in order by title, and see if themes emerge.

Interestingly, after nearly twelve years of writing. I’ve said relatively little on what Universalist Christianity means, or how it may be embedded in a larger theological system like Free Christianity. I do need to catch up on the current literature, but I’m a miserably slow reader, and (to be plain) the current offerings usually fall into one of the following three forms:

  1. “Everybody going to heaven would be a great idea, and I just though of it.” Thin treatments by thick writers.
  2. A variation, “Universalism really isn’t a dastardly heresy” but the theological starting point is usually Evangelicalism of a Reformed variety. Sometimes it sounds good, but like French pop music, it takes a lot to understand it and that’s not a culture I want to go back and learn. Evangelicalism, I mean.
  3. The “biggest word in the dictionary” crowd, who relish the bigness of Universalism, but recast as a warm, sensitive variety of Unitarianism, and rarely if ever deal with it in on its own terms.

So, I’m thinking about writing a book that deals with Universalist Christianity within its own mature self-conception, with a mind of how that might apply today. Not as a particular doctrine or controversy (which frontier Universalists before and after the Civil War did cultivate) but as a church and an internally-logical system.

But first that reading and planning a proper work flow. The want of a good workflow and access to documents scuttled my thesis twenty years ago. But this wouldn’t be history or liturgy — and so it will take some time to think of what it is. reclaimed

Short update: I lost my oldest domain — — because I don’t have the email addresses I used to register it years ago. I feared I might have to transition to, but lo! I got the original domain this week. Whew! (I transferred it to a new owner: me.) reads as now — both addresses work — and in time I hope to move the content to a simpler, faster platform. And maybe add more documents!

There was once a Selma church

The Unitarian Universalist participation in the fiftieth anniversary observances is Selma, Alabama this last weekend leaves me with mixed feelings. Happy for those that found it moving, and I’m usually heartened when Unitarian Universalists turn up and participate with others. Less so when I think about the focus on James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo because, despite their deaths, the work then and now is not about them. Or, put another way, would there have been as much of an outpouring if they hadn’t died? And then there’s return of the Baby Boomer lens of history, that makes events of the 1960s more real and important than other times. And the typical trope of the South among Unitarian Universalists as “other” — one I feel deeply as a native Southerner. Selma calls for unrivalled attention, but we just passed the fortieth anniversary of the Boston busing riots that passed without a peep.

We don’t even have a church in Selma. The nearest one is in Montgomery. But that wasn’t always true. I knew from my long-abandoned thesis work that the Universalists migrated across the middle of the deep South — through the Black Belt — and indeed in 1840 there was a church in Selma, though it probably didn’t last long. (The preacher was unfellowshipped, and new to Universalism.)

1840 Universalist RegisterBut my point is the same: to escape the peril of exoticism, live where you work and work where you live. Be not tourists, but companions. Be present in the place. Show up daily, not every fifty years.

New congregations to be considered at March UUA Board meeting

The Unitarian Universalist Association Board meets, starting this Thursday (tomorrow).  Two congregations have applied for membership.

This is better news than the January Board meeting. But I can’t help that observe that these candidate members:

  1. It takes about three years to go from launch (not inception) to membership.
  2. That new members are rarely much larger that the thirty-member minimum.
  3. Both of the candidates are named “fellowship,” a term that for many years out of favor.

Also, the emerging Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ashtabula County, (archived site) Ashtabula, Ohio, is no more.

What I’m reading: March 1, 2015

I’ve not been blogging much lately, and I don’t have much zeal to do so. I’m a little sad that Leonard Nimoy died, but mixed with that hope that I too might live long and prosper. I could walk though the pros and cons of, but I don’t know what that would prove, other than it’s not fully rolled out. I could be angry about the destruction of genuine and reproduction antiquities in Mosul, but that’s a feeling shared by most sensible people. I’m just not keen to state the generally obvious.

So, I’ll lean on some interesting things I’ve read lately. I use Newsblur to manage my feeds. I subcribe to dozens of feeds, and subscribe to Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and Pew Research Center Religion & Public Life “Religion in the News” for general religion news.

But I’m interested in other matters,and have been reading about other things. Such as applying the most appropriate level of technology to a given situation. Whether that’s delivering natural gas, improving prosthetic knees or re-capturing ancient lessons about heating homes (and churches).

I’ve also read this challenge to white homogeneity among Anabaptists and also  this informative graphic about what image file standard to use and when. (And you don’t need to use Photoshop.)