All Souls Day (or Sunday) preparation

The twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost notwithstanding, if I was preaching Sunday, it would be to remember All Souls Sunday, which from late in the nineteenth century onward in Universalist churches — indeed, commended by the Universalist General Convention — was transferred forward to the Sunday following November 2. Which makes sense, since public daily prayer doesn’t have much of a tradition within Universalism so far as I can tell. As for the missing observance of All Saints Day, November 1? Victorian Protestants would have have had a poor view on observing the saints, especially those not mentioned in the New Testament. But there’s also a clue in the All Souls Sunday service in G. L. Demarest’s A Year of Worship: for Sunday Schools and Homes(1891) commending it as devoted “to the hope of the final blessedness of all souls” and not as a memorial. All Saints can’t make that claim.

See another All Souls Sunday service in Gloria Patri Revised (1903).

There are also references in religious education and youth publications, such as this from 1896 issue of Onward of the Young People’s Christian Union and this All Souls prayer in The redeemer: a series of opening services for the Sunday School, founded on the life of Jesus Christ (Universalist Publishing House, 1888):

O Thou that hearest prayer, Unto thee shall all flesh come. The aged shall bring to thee the deep experience of their years; the strong man shall lay his trials and his joys at thy feet; and the little children shall fearlessly look up to thee and put their trust in thy wisdom and love. O Shepherd of Israel, we bless thee that thou dost lead thy people like a flock, and carry the young Iambs in thy bosom. Guard tenderly, we beseech thee, these lambs that are given into thine arms to-day. Lead them in green pastures, and by still waters; and if they should wander from thy fold, O seek thou after them, and forsake them not until thou bring them back, to wander no more. May the seal of thy love be upon them, and the dews of thy grace nourish them, that they may grow up into thee, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Sanctify to all our hearts, our Father, the beautiful lessons of this day. Teach us to behold thy love in all the blessings that surround us, in the beauty of the flowers, in the warmth and glory of the summer, in the dear friends thou hast given to love us and care for us. May our lives blossom with good deeds, and with love to each other and to thee. Lead us all by thy wisdom here below, and at last receive us into thy great fold above, through Jesus our Redeemer. Amen.

There was no such prayer in A book of prayer for the church and the home (Universalist, 1866) which I’ve featured each week but there is one in the *Free Church Book of Common Prayer *(1929), so for completeness I’ve included it, though it returns to the memorial theme:

O God, the Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful, grant to the souls of thy servants departed the forgiveness of all their sins, that by our devout supplications they may obtain the pardon which they have always desired; though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Epistle: Rev. xx. 11-13, or Wisd. iii, 1-9.

Gospel: John v, 24-29.

For more background on the distinctly Universalist development of All Souls Sunday, see this blog post from 2007.

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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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