Introductions to Universalism

A nice chat with other member of Universalist National Memorial Church after services today, over coffee. As sometimes happens, the matter of books came up, which merged with another comment about Hosea Ballou, and from there to books about Universalism.

I recommended two smallish, straight-forward books and a documentary history, if with reservations. Both are institutional histories, and both are irenic towards Unitarianism, positing Universalism as a close relation rather than a religious tradition on its own terms. Fine as denominational works, but also a bit unsatisfying for informing a faith, particularly a Christian faith. Of course, theological universalism is hot now — in evangelical circles, and so many of the faith-forward works are better for evangelicals. And the academic works are good for academics.

There’s room for a primer. In the mean time, here are those three books.

  • The Larger Faith by Charles A. Howe
  • American Universalism by George Huntston Williams
  • Universalism in America: A Documentary History of a Liberal Faith, ed. by Ernest Cassara

All three are from Skinner House, but only the first two are available at the UUA Bookstore.

Transcription workflow notes

So, it’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post, but I’ve not been inactive. And since I have the day off today, I thought I’d catch you up. Over the next couple of days, I’ll be putting up two chapters from the 1946 Parish Practice in Universalist Churches as text; I’ve previously posted it as a scanned PDF.

I want to discuss my workflow. I can do the odd report, but I’d like to see more Universalist and other documents transcribed, and to have typographic errors discovered and corrected. I shouldn’t be the bottleneck.

In the past — going back twenty years or so — I would photocopy a book, carefully crop it into a single column, rephotocopy these onto letter size and take them to a central computer center where they would be processed by Optical Character Recognition (OCR). I’d get a file back, and then edit it.  Later, I would use a flatbed scanner at home and OCR software at home, but some documents required the images being edited to one column. These processes were very time consuming. Sometimes, transcribing by keyboard was more efficient!

Image capture and OCR software have improved markedly. Today, instead of scanning, I take a picture with my phone, and use a graphical front-end to powerful OCR software to process the text. It’s not always clean — a second snap and process is sometimes necessary — but the improvement over twenty years ago is striking.

In particular, on my Ubuntu Linux (14.04 LTR) machine, I use YAGF — “Yet Another Graphical Front-end for cuneiform and tesseract OCR engines” with the tesseract engine.

Universalist polity document from 1951

Since I earlier opined that some of our conflicted Unitarian Universalist polity is the product of Universalist and Unitarian inheritances, I thought it best to “show my work” — or rather, some original documents.

1951 Universalist Laws of Fellowship, Government and Discipline

Some carryovers are obvious, and some fixes necessary. I recall a senior minister telling me of how a General Convention in the 1950s ground to a halt, as it was the final court of review. Can you imagine a General Assembly stopping in its tracks over a MFC matter? Well, I can, but I wouldn’t want to… But I also think there are protections lost from over-correction. What other continuations do you see? Things you’d like to see come back?

I’m also reorganizing and cleaning up the my documents site — UniversalistChurch.net — a bit, and will add more documents as time allows.

One day later: I’ve edited and put up the set from 1946. http://universalistchristian.net/…/1946-universalist…/

Noteworthy changes 1946 to 1951: higher standards for parishes and the education of ministers; easier to deactivate or sidestep under/dysfunctional state conventions. Note sure it’s germaine, but the 1946 set was job printed and bound, and the 1951 set was mimeographed and stapled. But the laws would go through three more revisions, until 1958, which should be seen less as Universalist than as pre-UUA.

Universalist polity persists today

A couple of weeks ago, I was batting back and forth with an informed Unitarian Universalist friend about our polity, when at one point he zeroed in at the settled clergy vote at General Assembly, at which point I had to stand up for the Universalist contribution to our polity.

This is my side of the discussion, which I admit was a bit of a monologue at that point. I don’t have his permission to share his side, but if commenters want to continue the conversation, I would consider it an honor.

I was wondering what the future holds…

With the one-way push to regions, will there be an opening for devolution of connection authority? — congregational membership, mission planning, ministerial fellowship [at the regional level] — now that there aren’t 19-22 districts.

[After all,] There’s a lot more embedded Universalism in our system than we sometimes credit.

[And then the push about General Assembly votes.]

It’s about fellowship, not credentials per se. Makes more sense in the Universalist sense if the other piece was still in place.

That is, the fellowship of the parishes.

That’s because, from a Universalist frame, the UUA acts (imperfectly) as a national church, something the Unitarians would never have.

[My friend opined that this result is sub-optimal.]

[Today’s system is]neither-nor.

The names tell you all. The American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America.

And why scant resources went to build a Universalist National Memorial Church, but the Unitarians never did.

To finish my thought, the churches were (supposed) to have a parallel relationship to their conventions that the ministers did, supervised by the same committee.

And both ministers and lay persons served on them. Not that I’m all rah-rah retro Universalist.

The half-time service requirement for fellowship renewals — a thorn in my side — is a re-write of a pre-consolidation Universalist rule.

“A Fruitful Life”

It’s been a hard day, and seeking solace, turned to prayer. I pulled this book off my shelf because the title — Light and Peace — spoke to me. It’s a collection of prayers by Charles Hall Leonard, published by the Murray Press, a Universalist publisher, in 1915.

Leonard (1822-1918) was an outsized figure in Universalist history, was a professor and later dean of the theological school at Tufts, and remembered today I’d guess for creating Children’s Sunday, though readers of this blog may be more interested to know that he was the unacknowledged author of A Book of Prayer for the Church and the Home, or what I call usually “the Universalist prayerbook.”

Elmer Hewitt Capen
Elmer Hewitt Capen
One prayer “in memory E. H. C.” bears repeating here. That was the thirty-years’ Tufts president and Universalist minister Elmer Hewitt Capen, who died in office in 1905.

Prayers for deceased ministers have a special place in my heart, and particularly  as Terry Burke, the long-time and much-loved minister of First Parish in Jamaica Plain was laid to rest today, and with whom some day we shall each share glory.

A Fruitful Life

O God, our heavenly Father: To whom can we go, but to Thee, who art our strength in weakness, our light in darkness, and our comfort in sorrow? To-day, we know not how to speak to each other, nor how to interpret to ourselves. We turn to Thee, and, first of all, beseech Thee to awaken within us the memory of all that has been precious in the life of our great friend and leader: his wise devotion to the college into which he built his life; his intelligent administration of its affairs in a manifold range of usefulness bearing upon its progress and growing facilities, and in that loving care and interest which reached the endeavor and the struggle of the humblest student. Help us to recall the calmness of his thought, his unselfish regard for others, his generous approval of all that is right and good, and his Christ-like pity and forgiveness toward all the weak and sinful. We remember the words, spoken in private and in public, which move us to-day with new power, because of this mystic silence.

We desire also to remember all that he was and is, and will be to us, as a part of permanent influence in all the relations which distinguished his life: in the privacy of his home, in the maintenance of a loyal service to the church, in all his efforts as an educator, and in the ampler calls of citizenship.

Help us, O God, in our sense of gratitude for all that this full life has been to us now that we read it anew, know anew its noble witness to learning, to charity, to religion, and get its larger message as from open skies.

Goddard Chapel
Goddard Chapel at Tufts
We bow down before Thee, with whom are the issues of life and of death. Help us all to that acquiescence in grief, which, year by year, has been taught from this place, and, above all, breathed in the prayers that here have daily been put up in our behalf. Help these sorrowing teachers who waited for his step, were cheered, day by day, by the denials he so patiently took up, and were inspired more and more by his confident sympathy. We remember before Thee those who, in great procession along the productive years, moved through these halls, and bore hence the mark of the man they had learned to know, to honor and to love. And grant Thy especial favor to the students, in all ranks, and in all places, here and there, who are now enrolled as members of the college. Have regard unto their sad and questioning hours; and give joy to them also, that they came to know so well the man and president who greeted their coming at first.

And now, what wait we for but for grace and power, both for mind and heart; new motive in view of a great example; new ability to take up the tasks which a great leader has laid down; and new light, also, for comfort to those whose sorrow to-day is deepest, that there may be to them one fixed and tranquil object of thought and affection; and help us all to see that it is no fractional life that we are called to contemplate, but a life, forecast and fashioned in accomplishment, opening more and more into its own power and beauty, and, at the last, opening forth towards the realities of a world from which all veils were taken away. O God, most merciful and gracious, open our eyes to that grateful vision, that so we may be enabled to go on, to bear up, and to find our highest joy and peace in the field of duty to which now Thou dost send us back, and in the entrusted daily care to which Thou hast appointed us. Grant that, from the trembling moments of our human life, and from the mourner’s watch, we may go forth with uplifted heart, and a diviner purpose, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

The licenced minister application

This is the text of the form — it fits on two sides of half-sized piece of paper — used by applicants for a letter of license in the Universalist Church. I pulled this from a filled-in example from 1920 in Indiana, but variant date back to the 1880s and forward to the 1950s.

Interesting stuff.

Universalist Church licence application (detail), 1920

Form 1.

Application for License

To the Committee of Fellowship of the [State] Universalist Convention:

Brethren:

I desire to devote my life to the work of the Christian Ministry, in the Fellowship of the Universalist Church. I respectfully apply for a Letter of License to preach under its auspices. The motives are expressed on the other side of this paper. I cordially accept the essential principles of the Universalist Faith as follows:

The Universal Fatherhood of God;
The Spiritual Authority and Leadership of His Son Jesus Christ;
The Trustworthiness of the Bible as Containing a Revelation from God;
The Certainty of Just Retribution for Sin;
The Final Harmony of All Souls with God.

And I freely acknowledge the authority of the General Convention, and assent to its laws, promising to co-operate faithfully in all measures that may be devised by the General Convention, and by the State Convention with which I am connected, for the furtherance of the work and welfare of our Church.

Fraternally yours,
[Name]

[Date]


I hereby certify that the above named [Name] is a member, in good standing, in the [Church name] Universalist Church.

[Name] Pastor
[Date]

(over)

Why do you desire to preach?

What led to this desire, and under what circumstances?

Why do you see to preach under the auspices of the Universalist Church?

What preparation have you had, or what experience in public address?

How long have you been a member of the church named on the other side?

What further references as to personal character can you give?

Have you applied for License to any other Committee? If so, to which, with what result?

[Name]
[Address]
[Date]

Economics of Ministry, 1856 edition

Before the #sustainmininstry thread fades (presumably to revive at General Assembly) I wanted to meditate on how our ancestors coped. In my last blog post, I opined that ministerial shortages were practically a tradition. So is coping with meagre funds. This theme cropped up continuously when I worked on my never-finished master’s thesis — golly — about a quarter century ago. But those lessons learned over microfilmed antebellum newspapers made an impression.

  1. Have a sideline. Perhaps seasonal. Perhaps not farming.
  2. Your sideline? Call it media production. There was a reason why there were so many Universalist newspapers. (Which inspired me to create my first websites.)
  3. But don’t expect to get paid. Those minister-editors had a terrible time getting their subscribers to pay.
  4. Seminary may not be in reach, but an apprenticeship may be.
  5. If you can’t get a minister full time, perhaps you can be in a circuit. Some little societies only saw the minister every few months. But it was consistent. Ish.
  6. Be ready to pool your resources to memorialize a dead minister, or to support surviving dependents. But people may still mumble and grumble about the expense…
  7. Plant churches to make better use of public transportation. Who can afford a carriage, horsed or horseless?
  8. And follow migration patterns. When church members move, start a church where they go.
  9. Inactivate churches when there’s no minister, leadership or money. Call them dormant, but don’t lose contact with with a would-be reorganizer: it may be re-started.
  10. Use home hospitality at conventions. Well, I guess that one never really went away.

Embedding an Archive.org book

I got an aside from a Well-Respected Minister who liked “that little book video insert piece” in my last blog post. It’s the BookReader of Internet Archive, the source of the book.

I think it’s the best desktop or laptop interface for reading books, and since the Internet Archives has a large number of public-domain Universalist and other works, I will sometimes read books this way, even if I have the actual book. But you can’t just drop other books into it.

Now, here’s how to share the books they do have on your site. First, of course you find one, like this 2003 Massachusetts Conference of the UCC directory.

Selection_136

When you click on the page, not only does it become larger, but you get added controls. I’ve pointed out the “share” link, which looks a bit like a sideways V. Click that.

Selection_137

Now you have links for sharing and embedding. The fault imbed is one page at a time, and the first page. I usually want it to look like a book open to the title page, so I select that, as in this example.

Selection_138

Now you might say, surely that directory isn’t it the public domain? True. Some libraries and collections have contributed their own works with permission. And many of them are religious. (And Boston-based for that matter.)

Wouldn’t it be helpful and useful if the Unitarian Universalist Association could host its old Commission on Appraisal reports, Board minutes, classic guides, and pre-consolidation AUA and UCA directories the same way. Our twentieth-century history is hard to access first hand, unless you’re old enough or well-connected enough — or close enough to Boston — to get paper copies of what you want.

How could we make that happen?

The automated ministry

The prospect of job automation is more than a bit scary. Everyone likes a bit of help, provided that bit doesn’t help them out of a job. NPR ran a feature (“Will Your Job Be Done by a Machine?,” May 21)

Selection_135While some professions will almost certainly be automated to some degree, there’s only a 0.8% chance that the clergy will be automated.

This made me think of a particularly odd episode in Universalist history where it wasn’t the clergy that was to be automated, but the works of divinity.

To be fair, John Murray Spear had left the Universalist ministry in 1852 for Spiritualism, which was intensely popular (and controversial) among Universalists.

In Lynn, Massachusetts, he gathered a group of followers to “[create] the ‘New Motive Power’, a mechanical Messiah which was intended to herald a new era of Utopia.” [citation] Like made of machinery.

It didn’t work. But it is an intensely weird and wonderful episode that deserves a read. (One version of the story.) But in re-reading the story today I discovered that Spear channelled Universalist founder (and namesake) John Murray, and published his revelations in Messages from the superior state: communicated by John Murray.

“Important instruction to the inhabitants of the earth”? That’s something I’ll have to read!