Category Archives: District of Columbia

Archives search: between “Christ will conquer” and the off-center cross

ugc1891_html_m49241d7fWhen 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.

Here's a "Christ Will Conquer" use from 1920

Here’s a “Christ Will Conquer” use from 1920

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.

all-conquering-loveI’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.

all-conquering-love_seal_1960Back 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?)

Taras Shevchenko bicentennial

Thanks to Stefan Jonasson I learned that today is the 200th birthday of Ukrainian national hero and poet Taras Shevchenko. Since I live very close to the Shevchenko memorial here in Washington D.C. I took our dog Daisy for her morning walk to visit the memorial.

Shevchenko statue, Washinhton, D.C.Schevchenko poetry inscription

After all, the Ukraine is much on our minds now.

We followed up with a visit to the Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk memorial around the corner, whose birthday was March 8. Masaryk was the first president of Czechoslovakia; he was also a religious reformer, ending up as much a Unitarian as Jefferson, no doubt in part to the influence of his American Unitarian wife, Charlotte Garrigue.

2014-03-09 09.57.45

(I’ll be writing more about what makes successful floral tributes closer to Memorial Day.)

Daisy, unimpressed

This is Daisy: it’s not her birthday today, but she is going to go to the groomer.

Later. The goomer did quite a job, but where’s the rest of my dog?

Remembering Nelson Mandela in D.C.

I live about a 20 minute walk from the South African embassy, so I went this afternoon to pay my respects following the death of former SA president Nelson Mandela.

My feelings are hard to put into words; he belongs to the ages. The world is so much better for his life and labor. The proof? Those who once denounced now try to claim him as a friend in death.

Walking up Massachusetts Avenue, a.k.a. Embassy Row, I noted how many embassies had their national flags at half-staff. At least a quarter; perhaps a third. I was not alone; there were enough people in foot — there’s no place to park, even if you have a car — to justify crossing guards.

Irish embassy

Irish embassy

Kenyan embassy

Kenyan embassy

Ongoing construction at the South African embassy made for a tight shrine. I got there just in time to sign the condolance book (inside the lobby) and then joined the small crowd, many of whom took photos or left flowers at the newly-dedicated statue of Mandela out front.

You have to do something when you make what — let’s call it what it is — a pilgrimage. You leave your signature, your thoughts (in the book, or on cards or with gifts) and a tribute of flowers. I brought my prayerbook.

SA embassy lobby, from outside

SA embassy lobby, from outside

Nelson Mandela statue and tributes

Nelson Mandela statue and tributes

Nelson Mandela statue and tributes

Nelson Mandela statue and tributes

I’m left thinking of Mandela’s legacy, but also how churches observe something like the death of a great figure, or a great and lamentable disaster for that matter. And what do you do when there’s no obvious focus of the outpouring? The South African embassy is obvious in Washington, but “how does in play in Peoria?”

Small Universalist tie-in to the Kennedy assassination

The interfaith Thanksgiving service was on its last legs more than a decade ago when I was the pastor at Universalist National Memorial Church (UNMC), in Washington, D.C. It was one of those liberal Jewish-Protestant events that was far more common two generations before, but it’s hard to maintain a tradition when that was your sole surviving point of contact.

I hadn’t thought about it in years when, a few months ago while studying the Classical Reform Jewish tradition I ran across a reference to it in the persan of Washington Hebrew Congregation‘s (WHC) then-senior rabbi Norman Gerstenfeld. WHC was traditionally a participant in the Thanksgiving service with UNMC.

Even in 1963. Six days after President Kennedy was killed, the nation celebrated Thanksgiving.

President Johnston attended the morning interfaith Thanksgiving service at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, which included UNMC (then pastored by the long-tenured Seth Brooks) and WHC.

The other congregations taking place were Congregation Adas Israel, Calvary Baptist Church, and National City Christian Church (Disciples of Christ; President Johnston’s church). All are extant.

For reportage, and notes of Johnston’s participation, see
Johnson’s Thanksgiving Address Asks Nation to ‘Banish Rancor’ and Move On to ‘New Greatness’” by Tom Wicker (New York Times)

Working to help the hungry: thoughts public and private

I live in Washington, D.C., and I care deeply about my city. In particular, I hate when it becomes an eponym for political misdeeds or a focus of scorn. Remember: the 600,000-plus people of the District of Columbia don’t even get voting representation in Congress. And the Congress reserves for itself the power of our purse. And one part of one party has made a hostage of the budget, and with it he livelihoods of many friends and neighbors in the greater Washington metropolis and worldwide.

Despite the jokes of the lazy civil servant, many of these workers are not particularly well-paid (even in the Congress staff itself) and furlough days have taken a bite. How long will it be when some of these same civil servants will need food assistance, even as the programs are on ice? That members of military qualify for SNAP (food stamps) is itself a shame, lest anyone forget.

Baked into the conflict is what the proper role of government should be, and even if the current impasse is quickly resolved, it’s hard to imagine a happy outcome when that one part of one party is dedicated no less to anti-government than anything else. Which makes me question the natural churchly impulse to private, charitable solutions to social harms, like hunger. Isn’t that just playing into an anti-government script? Especially since churches can barely keep their doors open. The same can be said of many secular non-profits. There’s just not enough labor, leadership and plain old money to restore public needs to charity.

But there’s also the difference between a regularly-operating government and a crisis. Today we have a crisis and so today we have a responsibility to give more to charities that pick up where government initiatives fail. (Our task tomorrow is to push the vandals out of office.)

OK: let’s look at a couple of good ideas that other places could emulate.

  1. The DC Food Finder a “project of Healthy Affordable Food For All” maps meal programs, food distribution sites, mutual aid, market alternatives and the like.
  2. One of the market alternatives is the Healthy Corners program, which supplies produce to corner markets in poorer parts of the District. See the video, too.
  3. SHARE DC (SHARE Food Network) provides set packages of low-cost groceries; participants subdivide and package the food. It’s managed by Catholic Charities and operated through neighborhood churches.

Dupont Circle Metro station Whitman inscription, continued

If you come up out the north side of the Dupont Circle Metro station, you are likely to notice (at least part of) an inscription than rings the stone wall at the top. It reads:

Thus in silence in dreams’ projections, Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals;
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night – some are so young;
Some suffer so much – I recall the experience sweet and sad,…

It’s from the last section sometime D.C.-resident Walt Whitman’s “The Wound Dresser” from Leaves of Grass — had there been more room we’d get the end…

(Many a soldier’s loving arms about this neck have cross’d and rested,
Many a soldier’s kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)

Baha’i centennial in D.C.

Baha’i visitors came to Universalist National Memorial Church this morning, to mark the centennial of the visit of `Abdu’l-Bahá to the United States and to Washington specifically. He was the eldest son of Baha’i Faith’s founder, Bahá’u'lláh.

`Abdu’l-Bahá recited a prayer at the Church of Our Father (Universalist) the predecessor to Universalist National Memorial Church; the building is now demolished, so the Baha’is visits (and repeated the prayer) at UNMC because, as one of their number said, “the spirit” of the old church “is here.”

The actual hymnal I mentioned

Following up on the last post. Back in 1939, Universalist National Memorial Church (evidently) used the 1917 Universalist Hymns of the Church — not a well-loved hymnal in its own day if sales figures indicate. (The older Church Harmonies dominated until Hymns of the Spirit.) It was probably too formal for most Universalist churches, so well-pitched for “the Washington parish.”

Here’s what they sung that day. Quite a typical assortment of liberal hymnody.