“Manual of the Universalist General Convention” (1891)

Earlier I mentioned I was putting a significant Universalist polity document online — seeing as it is my day off — and what I have online.

See http://universalistchurch.net/universalist-history/1891-universalist-general-convention-governance/ [2009. Moved from original posting. URL correct.]

I’ll finish it when I have a chance, but the “Laws of Organization” piece alone will give you a good insight into how the Universalist General Convention worked.

If I was planting . . . . IV

My concern for planting new Universalist Christian churches and my love of Universalist history meet in the subject of Universalist polity. It seems to me that if someone wants to try something innovative, there will be the problem convincing the powers-that-be that the project is “really UU,” as if the Unitarian Universalist Association was itself the keeper of a double-vowelled transcendent reality.

Of course, something innovative (i.e. not a quick start “programmed” church) plus Universalist Christian is bound to set off two red flags. What then, is a planter to do?

Claim the history, of course, and know what methods and values Universalists used, and understand that these were (are?) not always the same as what Unitarians valued.

That brings me back to the polity. Last night, was I search my computer’s hard drive for anything I might have saved about Universalist polity. Lo and behold! I found a mostly completed typing project that I had long forgotten, but a tiny part of which is General Plan of Organization [of the Universalist General Convention] (1891). I was working on typing in the whole booklet, Manual of the Universalist General Convention. It is about 80% done, and given that tomorrow is my day off, I’ll try to get as much of the other 20% done and put what I’ve got up tomorrow.

It is a fascinating look into what was, and what might yet be.

If I was planting . . . . III

I’ve been looking into the simple church/house church movement as an opportunity for Universalist Christian church growth (hi Derek!) but more about that later.

For now, the question of how a small church — “conventional” or house-based — would worship remains. I am not thrilled with the “anything is worship” (both from Unitarian Universalist and Christian postmodern sides) or the “charismatic meltdown” options that I seen. So let me start with resources, and the pleasing worship that came out of UNMC’s summer experience.

We worshipped in the parlor instead of the sanctuary, and didn’t have a pianist for the hymns. All of the parlor-based services were lay-led. It wasn’t what we usually do (though the liturgy was about the same) but it certainly did felt real and nourishing. It was well within the scope of a house church, and would be good, even if simplified a few notches.

So, what kind of resource would you want “in the pews” for a church that worships like that all the time, and, of course, has no pews.

Which hymns? Which psalms? Anything else? Since there is a Universalist worshipbook tradition that is finally getting some recognition, I need to ask: would a worshipbook be useful? And what would be in it?

I have ideas, but I’ll let you, the reader, add your comments first.

If I was planting . . . . II

If I was planting a church, or rather, encouraging a culture of church planting in the UUA, I would encourage a gander at those smallish and medium-sized denominations that have a passion about extending the Gospel through new congregations. From there, we should take notes about their attitude, even more than their practices.

Like these:

If I was planting . . . . I

Watch and Pray (Derek Parker) talks about church extension. I’ve been looking over the snippets of notes about a hypothetical church start, and helpful resources great and small that come from a few years of well, note taking. (Call it my mental hobby before blogging, and some are good for established churches, too.) Call this and other entries with the same title (numbered in series) links to helpful resources.

  • Open source LINUX programs for church administration. Healyourchurchwebsite.com outlines some that I would like to see in action. Article: “But if I move to Linux, what happens to all my sermons in Word?”
  • Printery House notecards. Inexpensive, none-too-flashy, made by monks, and can be custom imprinted. A good option for the quick pastoral note. I use them. Printery House notecards
  • Lee-style portable field altar. Used by the Armed Forces, I would love to know how a church-on-the-move could (legally) acquire such a useful item. The altar itself looks like a tall version of the aluminum folding tables our church has several of. Field Items. (dead link) (scroll half way down, though the page has several interesting items. Perhaps something from Southern Aluminum would do. (I’m guessing 30″x72″ with adjustable “H” legs would be useful for a new start.) 2006 November 18. Here’s a new link for the dead one above.
  • 2009 August 15. Now that link’s dead. This shows what a Lee field altar looks like.

The right hand of fellowship

This afternoon, after worship is over, I’ll head to the airport and fly to Providence. From there, a car to suburban Boston, to the
First Parish Church in Weston where my friend
Peter Boullata will be ordained to the Christian ministry. I’ll offer him the right hand of fellowship.

I’ve seen people try to get clever with the right hand of fellowship, and it never
seems to work. The reference is to Galatians 2:9. Here it is, with the verse following:

And when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.


Certain themes are clear: commission, affirmation, unity. These are appropriate for someone
entering ordained life, of course. The act reminds us of the different labors that
ordained ministers might find in their vocations. It also reminds us that none of us is commissioned
to save the world, but that we can and must share the task.

But recall, too, that it is — or at least, is ours by right — our practice to welcome
new members, the overwhelming number of whom are not ordained, by the right hand of fellowship. And with
it, more than a handshake, they too receive a commission, affirmation, and a sign of unity.
And a share of the mission.

What to profess?

I never thought so many people would take an interest in this humble blog. Thank you.

Some of the well-wishing inquiries came with the question, “how do I get one of my own?” I’m not using any web-logging software; just this CSS (thanks, free-of-charge, to Firda Beka at bookofstyles.org [site defunct], modified a bit).

In time, I hope to “power it” with MovableType, but that’s a learning curve I’ve no time to climb.

Much after Sunday worship.

I read a section from Leo Tolstoy’s My Confession in worship, and led it with
a review of Adin Ballou’s influence on him. I should have gone to Friends of Adin Ballou first! This site keeps growing, and is clearly one to watch.

What to Profess? My friend Derek Parker, an Earlham seminarian and the lay pastor of the Universalist Church of Eldorado, Ohio asked me (and I post here with his permission)

If you were building a new Universalist church from the ground-up, what are 3 or 4 essential theological convictions you would like to see in a contemporary Universalist profession? Or would you just repeat the Winchester Profession with updated language?

What a tantalizing question, and one that I hope to spill into this blog and the pulpit in months to come. But first things first. I wouldn’t reject, update, or adopt wholesale the Winchester
Profession in a new church, no matter how much I love it. (And I do.)

Instead, the Winchester Profession deserves its role as the foundational theological standard for Universalism, and one can build on it.

I have sometimes been criticized for not “correcting” the gender language of the Winchester Profession. For the record, I’m trying to uphold the letter and the spirit of what the 1803 Convention asked of future generations in its adopted Plan of the General Assocation:

Section 10th. The Association reserves to itself, under the direction of that divine wisdom which was to accompany the followers of Christ to the end of the world, the right of making hereafter such alterations of this General Plan of the Association, as circumstances may require. But there is no alteration of any part of the three Articles that contain the Profession of our Belief ever to be made at any future period.

(You can see the whole document and much more at www.winchesterprofession.org/eddy1876.html.) [22 April 2005: I let that site lapse in 2003.]

The 1899 and 1935 documents (a “declaration” and a “avowal” respectively) recall “encapsulated” that which came before it.

Thus the Winchester Profession had official standing, not just pious sentiment, until the Universalists consolidated with the Unitarians.

But there are examples — I’ll have to see if I can dig them up — of local churches and state conventions before 1899
(and perhaps after) adopting theological symbols for the fellowship of ministers and churches (locally, I assume the members, too) which stated more but never less than the Winchester Profession. (Of course, there is also the 1903 composite creed, which though it had no official standing, did make it into a denominationally published
prayerbook for more than a generation.)

This might be the theologically appropriate approach to composing a new theological symbol for Universalists. But this also begs a reading of the Unitarian Universalist Association bylaws:

Section C-2.3. Non-discrimination. The Association declares and affirms its special responsibility, and that of its member congregations and organizations, to promote the full participation of persons in all of its and their activities and in the full range of human endeavor without regard to race, color, sex, disability, affectional or sexual orientation, age, or national origin and without requiring adherence to any particular interpretation of religion or to any particular religious belief or creed.

Section C-2.4. Freedom of Belief. Nothing herein shall be deemed to infringe upon the individual freedom of belief which is inherent in the Universalist and Unitarian heritages or to conflict with any statement of purpose, covenant, or bond of union used by any congregation unless such is used as a creedal test.

So, what constitutes a creedal test? And who decides?