Following the Disciples General Assembly

As some of you know, I trained for the ministry and received the degree of Master of Divinity at Brite Divinity School, a theological seminary of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly began today in Columbus, Ohio under the theme “Soar!” I noticed a bunch of my classmates flying cross country, and then I noticed they were going to the city the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly will be next year: Columbus, Ohio.

And so the Twitter hashtag for the CC(DOC) GA is #DisciplesSoar.

Alexander_Campbell_1788But what keeps my attention is a playful and cheerful parallel hashtag. If #DisciplesSoar is for the serious business, the #CampbellCon is for the fun stuff, for the relationship building and a knowing recognition that our awkward, wonky church conventions bear more that a passing resemblance to comics and sci-fi fandom.  (The hashtag is a reference to Alexander Campbell, a wild-haired founder. It would be as if we had a hashtag #BallouBoatHome. But I’m sure we could do better that that.)

I mean, I wish we could be so playful. There are a few of us, but we’re on the magins.  If we Unitarian Universalists, who suffer from debilitating earnestness, could put up with Twitter accounts like

We have @UUHulk, but rely rather too much on it. (Him?)

So put a pin in it: we could have more fun at General Assembly. It might even make the hard parts more bearable.

And best wishes to the Disciples in convention.

A Joint Statement on Interchurch Relations from the Commissions of the Congregational and Universalist Churches (1925)

Printed in Christian Union Quarterly (1925), p. 431ff.

A Joint Statement on Interchurch Relations from the Commissions of the Congregational and Universalist Churches

The National Council of Congregational Churches and the Universalist General Convention, at their sessions held in October, 1925, referred to the Congregational Commission on Interchurch Relations and to the Universalist Commission on Christian Comity and Unity certain proposals looking toward closer fellowship. The members of these commissions, after fraternal conference and discussion, join in issuing the following statement:

We believe that the basis of vital Christian unity is a common acceptance of Christianity as primarily a way of life. It is faith in Christ expressed in a supreme purpose to do the will of God as revealed in Him and to co-operate as servants of the Kingdom for which He lived and died. Assent to an official creed is not essential. Within the circle of fellowship created by loyalty to the common Master, there may exist differences of theological opinion. With that primary loyalty affirmed, such differences need not separate; rather, indeed, if the mind of the Master controls, they may enrich the content of faith and experience; and if it does not control, theological agreements will not advance the Christian cause. “Religion to-day does not grow in the soil of creeds.”

The unity of a common loyalty to the Christian way of life is already a fact, to which the high task in which we are now engaged is witness. Not only Congregationalists and Universalists, but multitudes of other forward-looking Christians, share this unity of faith and endeavour. It is not something to be artificially formed, but a growing relationship to be recognized and afforded ways of practical expression. None of us would advocate, as none of us could enter, a fellowship that would compromise loyalty to the truth as any one of us may see it, or would stifle freedom to bear testimony to its worth and power. What appeals to us is the challenge of a great adventure to prove that a common purpose to share the faith of Christ is a power strong enough to break the fetters of custom and timidity and sectarian jealousy that hitherto have put asunder Christian brethren who at heart are one, and who can better serve the Kingdom of God together than apart.

The Protestant churches of America are learning to work together. By so doing they honour their heritage and fulfil their mission. The Congregational and Universalist Churches are branches of the same parent stock. They grew out of the same soil and are bearing the same kind of fruit. The historic reasons for their separation have practically disappeared and new and stronger reasons for union have arisen. In statement of faith, in form of worship, in organization for work, and in standards of life, these two branches of Protestantism differ now in no essential respects. They can accordingly begin at once to co-operate in the heartiest way. If the prayer of our Lord is ever to be fulfilled, the beginning will be made by the mutual approach of denominations between which there is no longer any reason for separation.

In the judgment of the commissions, the time has arrived for the Congregational and Universalist Churches to seek the closest practicable fellowship. Their activities are proceeding already along lines closely parallel. They can do many things together to advantage which they are now doing separately. Each church will be quickened through this free fellowship.

We therefore recommend:

First: That the ministers and representatives of each denomination be invited to sit as corresponding members in the local, state, and national associations of the other denomination and to participate in their deliberations.

Second: That the agencies of each denomination in the realms of religious education, social service, evangelism, rural church development, and similar problems, be urged to arrange for joint programmes for promotion as far as practicable.

Third: That in each community where churches of both denominations are found they be urged to study what they can do together with mutual profit by way of union services, the interchange of pulpits, and the promotion of common enterprises.

Fourth: That there be a mutual interchange of representative speakers at national, state, and local gatherings.

Fifth: That the denominational journals be urged to make the largest practicable interchange of editorials and of printed matter of common interest, in order that each constituency may be kept fully informed regarding the other and of the progress made in the direction of closer fellowship.

Sixth: That, in order to secure more thoroughly co-ordinated movements, no actual steps toward the organization of local Congregational and Universalist churches be made without consulting their respective commissions.

Seventh: Wherever the problem of an adequate church constituency presses for solution, and in any community where denominational divisions work for wastefulness, those responsible are urged to co-operate in organizing for more effective service.

We believe that from these and similar joint undertakings increased effectiveness in common tasks and even more will result. Comradeship in a common faith and loyalty will be its finest and most prophetic grace. That quickened sense of comradeship will fashion its own ecclesiastical instrumentalities. None of us can yet foresee clearly what sort of organized fellowship will arise to give form and coherence to the spiritual unity that Christians of the open mind gladly confess. We are convinced that it will be something larger and more inclusive than anything that now exists. What we do see, with a profound feeling of gratitude and responsibility, is that, in the providence of God, these communions which we represent have been led by their respective historic traditions and spiritual development to a common faith in the Christian way of life as their supreme concern. They would travel it not only as friends but as allies, with a spirit as inclusive as the mind of the Master.

In such a larger fellowship Congregationalists and Universalists alike, both as churches and individuals, may find fresh incentive to service and sacrifice. The Kingdom of God requires the uttermost loyalty and devotion of both and the mutual recognition of what each may contribute to the common endeavour. The stirring challenge to forward-looking Christians of whatever name to-day is to make their churches vitalizing centers of the Christianity that is in Christ, and so to promote the broader fellowship through which alone the mighty task of winning the world by the Master shall be accomplished. To that we commit ourselves. The event is in the hand of God.

[From The Congregationalist, Boston, Mass.]

A page full of handbooks!

So, I was talking with a couple of people: what would we do if the Unitarian Universalist Association ceased to exist? Not a death wish, but contingency planning. And a way of identifying what’s a must-have and not just a might-want.

Someone mulled, “what does the NACCC do?” That’s the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, made up of churches that did not join the United Church of Christ on polity grounds. I’ve been long interested in them, as some of the Universalist churches that didn’t join the UUA “went NA”. Also, First Parish, Plymouth, and Universalist National Memorial Church, both members of the UUA have honorary membership. And the Council of Christian Churches in the UUA has — I believe — “fraternal relations.” In short, they’re close to us. Sorta.

And famous (or infamous) for having a lean administration. The kind that the UUA might back into, or be replaced-by.

So I was just browsing their site and noticed they have a single easy-to-find page with helpful handbooks ready to download.

That just made my day. Something to emulate.

Source: Handbooks (NACCC)

Bleg: how does the lectionary or church calendar work in once-a-month churches?

This is a blog-beg for preachers and ministers of any denomination who preach or have preached in churches that meet less than weekly, and who use a lectionary or observe a traditional church calendar. I appreciate your sharing this with anyone who has experience.

In short, how do you make it work? Do you use the lessons or propers of the day however it may fall? Do you pick from one of the Sunday lessons since the last worship service? Or before the next? And what about major holidays?

For a church that meets once a month or so, do you transfer Easter and Christmas (and Pentecost, today) to the nearest service, or rely on members worshipping with another congregation at the proper time? And if you do transfer the holiday, is it a kind of Lent-Easter/Advent-Christmas service? And how does that work?

Churches that meet infrequently probably aren’t high on anyone’s list, so it would be a great help to share ideas and resources. I’d appreciate details in the comments.

The United Methodist “worship web”

A little lunchtime Googling led me to this page, which has a large selection of United Methodist worship resources.

Welcome to the collection of resources from The United Methodist Book of Worship (1992) owned by The United Methodist Publishing House.  These are offered on our website by written agreement between The United Methodist Publishing House and Discipleship Ministries.  Congregations and other worshiping or church-related educational communities are free…

Source: Book of Worship – umcdiscipleship.org

Holy Saturday 2015

Like each Holy Saturday, I spent the morning reading The Dream of the Rood, in this translation.

Not many churches have a Holy Saturday service, so I observe it by reading. This year I’m adding 1 Peter, because of the text (3:18b-19, NRSV)

He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison…

May Holy Week and Easter bless you.

“Maundy”?

I’ve casually mentioned my plans this week to several people and almost every time I’ve been asked what I mean by Maundy Thursday.

  1. It’s today.
  2. It is the anniversary of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples.
  3. And so it is the anniversary of the giving of the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament or ordinance. It’s also known as the Eucharist, or Communion, or the Mass, or the Liturgy. The alternate term Great Thanksgiving deserves use, too.
  4. Some churches — I’m thinking of the Unitarians and Universalists here — who might not have the Lord’s Supper at any other time might have it on Maundy Thursday.
  5. It was especially beloved by Universalists, who would welcome members at the service.
  6. Some churches wash feet at the service.
  7. The term maundy comes from the Latin mandamus, “commandment” from Jesus’ new commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

Palm crosses: the result

Home and work life will be busy this week, so the blogging will be necessarily light. I hope y’all had a stirring Palm Sunday, and great prayers for Holy Week.

Here are the palm crosses I made yesterday afternoon from the palms I got at church. Typical 30-32 inch strips, once trimmed of the very thin top pieces, made crosses about 4 inches tall. The one on the left came from thinner and — by the time I got to it — dryer material, so it split lengthwise while folding.

2015-03-29 16.30.16

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