My attention was drawn yesterday to a site called Black Metal Universalism, the only obvious purpose of which is the sale of t-shirts emblazoned with “All Souls” in a design that is a bit too daring for this 45-year-old to wear non-ironically.
So is it “our Universalism” or not? There are certainly independent Universalists, but most (any?) aren’t so culturally edgy and the success of the Universalist Christian t-shirts at the UU Christian Fellowship table at General Assembly suggests this comes from within “the family”.
I looked up the domain registration. The site was registered the day before yesterday, but no name! Naughty, naughty.
But all is forgiven. I approve of this kind of material culture; it helps reinforce a sense of belonging without depending on real estate….
A few weeks ago, I mentioned a set of nicely-formatted orders of service/bulletins from First Church (Unitarian), Boston, that I found in the archives at the Andover-Harvard library. They were preserved in a file about coordinated opposition to the consolidation of the Unitarians and the Universalists because the minister’s message in them. But I recognized its good taste and yet was hesitant to post the photos of the order of service. Unless something is plainly public — websites and reported statistics come to mind — or of historic interest, I won’t discuss the business of a congregation. Is this too recent? We are talking about 1960: the matter is old (and decided) news and it’s very clear that I’m not going to get around to making a mockup of it.
So here are the photos. Click through to see enlargements. Lean but elegant stuff, this.
I meant to make this post available well ahead of Memorial Day, but that obviously did not happen. There will always be another occasion for wreaths and tributes at monuments, though.
But it wasn’t a national holiday that made me think about this subject originally. I live in Washington D.C., and live near several memorials to foreign luminaries. Embassies and ex-pats will often leave flowers in tribute, so I see a lot of these. And then there are the wreaths and other flowers left at the military memorials. Florists must do well around here.
But not all choices are equally good. Here are some ideas if you intend to leave a wreath or make a floral presentation at a public monument.
If I had to pick one action, plan for someone to clean up the wreath-remains within a few days. A pile of compost isn’t a tribute.
After that, choose the backing (and if needed, easel) well. The Ukrainian embassy left a wreath for the Schevchenko bicentennial earlier this year — in the context of a national crisis no less — but the flowers were attached to a plastic (think bread wrapper) covered foam hoop. Worse, it was too heavy for the wire easel, and with a slight breeze it toppled over and broke.
I found it broken I was out walking Daisy the Dog, but it was past re-staging.
Contrast this with a wreath the Slovak embassy left on the birthday of the first Czechoslovak president (and husband of American-born Unitarian, Charlotte Garrigue) Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. The papier mache is stronger, so the wind did not destroy it, and the wooden easel adds dignity.
Or do without the easel, and mount the wreath with this tribute to the Madonna of the Trail, in suburban Bethesda. The coated wire provides a backing to hang the wreath. (And now I can imagine where the typical toothmarks of decay on old sandstone monuments comes from…)
I got so many nice comments from my post about not holding worship in the round, that I thought I’d press my luck by talking about how we decorate our worship space.
A few months ago I attended a worship service — not in a Unitarian Universalist church, if it matters — where the candles and flowers and paraphernalia of worship was made up of flower delivery cast-off vases, a hodgepodge of tea lights plus tatty papers and other assorted junk.
This wasn’t a poor congregation. They have full time staff, an old but large and attractive building and a prominent place in the community. And I remember thinking in the moment that this worship service was dragged down by the ticky-tacky.
Not that the congregation needed elaborate or expensive ornaments. But it should be fitting. And in a large building, large equipment is necessary. If the vases are donated, let them be large ones and few. A little taper on a candlestick is far more attractive than a mass of matches, barbecue lighters, or messy little tea lights. The readings that service leaders bring should be put into attractive if inexpensive folders, and not be seen as floppy bits of printed paper.
Less is more. And cleanliness is next to godliness.
And while you’re at it, revisit this video — a few years old and taggeted to an Evangelical audience, but still apt — about how your church may be perceived.
It’s been ages since I’ve seen Laile Bartlett’s Bright Galaxy: Ten Years of Unitarian Fellowships (1959) and I’ve never had one at hand long enough to read it closely. So I found a copy for sale online and it arrived a few days ago. It is still the definitive work on the Fellowship Movement, or at least the early phase.
I wondered what she thought the strengths and weaknesses of the fellowships were, and at least as importantly, what period Unitarian leaders thought they were doing. Why? Because even though it was an experience of rapid growth and geographic expansion, it’s hard to find someone in UUA officialdom that’ll call it a success or be willing to stake out a culturally-appropriate iteration of what “fellowships” can be. (Terminology seems to be part of the problem, thus the scare quotes.) But what we’re doing now isn’t working.
I’ll pull excerpts as appropriate.
And I’d never seen one with its dust jacket. See! Neuland!
I was getting to the Universalist Church globe logo — quite a creature unlike others we’ve seen — from the 1950s, just before consolidation with the Unitarians. But if you’ve got the cash, you can get an original street sign on eBay.
When the new UUA logo came out recently, quite a few people (myself included) japed about it on Facebook and mused about the past logos, some quite old. I noted the Universalist “Christ Will Conquer” seal and the off-center cross.
But dang if, in my research at Harvard-Andover Theological Library, I didn’t find a missing link graphically between the two. It should be noted that I have found no official adoption for any of these logos, but it’s not the sort of thing that’s voted upon, so I suppose the most we’re ever likely to find (if anyone looks) is a launch notice, and probably not even that. We live in a branded age today, and I suspect these earlier “logos” were originally corporate seals (as we’ll see evidence below) that later took on an “inked” existance, much as the flaming chalice started on letterhead.
So let me introduce the “All Conquering Love” seal.
I’m guessing that it did not predate 1935, when the Washington Avowal was adopted by the Universalist General Convention (UGC) at the still-swank Mayflower Hotel, a short walk from my day job office and a lovely place for drinks.
The version of the image here is from the cover of the 1946 edition of the Laws of Fellowship, and in this context I wonder if its release was associated with the UGC’s 1942/43 re-conception as the Universalist Church of America.
The whole Washington Declaration text is a historical layer cake, and its use was to define the terms of fellowship between the General Convention, the state conventions, the churches and parishes and the members of the ministerial college. The Avowal is its core, with the text in bold type being the part best remembered:
The bond of fellowship in this Convention (church) 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, in the spiritual leadership of Jesus, in the supreme worth of every human personality, in the authority of truth known or to be known, and in the power of men of good-will and sacrificial spirit to overcome evil and progressively establish the Kingdom of God. Neither this nor any other statement shall be imposed as a creedal test, provided that the faith thus indicated be professed.
And while you can draw a straight line from “the supreme worth of every human personality” through “to affirm, defend and promote the supreme worth of every human personality” (from the 1961 Principles) to “inherent worth and dignity of every person” I think that image of God being Eternal and All-conquering Love is far more evocative, even thrilling.
Back to the idea that it was a seal: well, I found two cases (1958 and 1960) of the UCA corporate seal with this design, the rings simplified. Here is the easier-to-read 1960 version: a level of officialdom the off-center cross could not claim. (I did see it on the letterhead of the Illinois state convention; Clinton Lee Scott’s influence from his Peoria pastorate?)
This is the first part of a (surely long and rambling) series on findings from Universalist records at Harvard Divinity School’s library archives. My thanks to Fran O’Donnell and Jessica Suarez of the Andover-Harvard Theological Library for making my visit possible. I love combing through these Hollinger boxes. Evidence of Yankee thrift abounds. Serious business — which today would be shipped by courier or with tracking numbers, or protected with encryption — went by typed postcard. But one of their habits — one I share — revealed some glorious relics. Make old print jobs into scrap paper; the other side has a use you know. So mundane memos preserve scraps of design choices. Here are a couple I caught.
With due respect to the designer of the off-center cross here, this one — with thinner lines and a smaller cross; I made it about as high as the circle radius — looks more like the ones I’ve seen used by mid-century post-Christian Universalists. Its later, and I think unintentionally ironic, adoption by Christians notwithstanding.
For Universalist Christianity, I’d suggest an anchor or heralding angel as more appropriate, but that’s for later.
In the spirit of the original, I also dedicate these graphic files to the public domain.
The public domain declaration applies to the ready-to-use PNG and the better-for-making-derivative works SVG, downloadable below.