A prayer at eventide

I’ve moved from a traditional Universalist prayerbook’s evening prayer to vespers — a related service, but very different in structure and tone — because it is more meditative, more focused on the night, and night as a foreshadow of death. But considering death then turns us back to life, so the experience isn’t gloomy, but a solace.

This prayer speaks to me as the apex of vespers. That “…shall be heard by us no more” is hopeful: our future lies in God, and generations will live after us.  That’s hope.

O blessed God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Take us into thy gracious keeping for this night; and make us mindful of that night when the noise of this busy world shall be heard by us no more. O Lord, in whom we trust, help us by thy grace so to live that we may never be afraid to die, and grant that at the last as now our evensong may be: I will lay me down in peace, and sleep, for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety. Amen.

It’s not clear who wrote this prayer, or when. It is distinctly Universalist, but has echoes in other sources. It was written no later than 1863 — an age well acquainted with painful memories of the dead — and appeared in James Martineau’s Common Prayer for Christian Worship, so he may be the source.

 

How much church can you get for minimum wage?

I ask the question “How much church can you get for minimum wage?” not to suggest that low-waged workers should be segregated into their own parishes, but consider the proportional sacrifices and ability to give.

I routinely advocate for the formation of new churches: to keep up with population growth, to replace those declining and defunct, and engage with under-represented groups of people. But this doesn’t mean we have the same level of resources we did in the 1980s or 1940s (or 1880s or 1640s.)

One down side of a secularizing culture is that it’s harder to make a case for funding a religious endeavor, unless, perhaps there’s some attendant ethnic or cultural reason. And with a trend of declining wealth, stagnant wages and increasing student debt, the people who are left to contribute are likely to have less to spare.

We’re coming out of church culture of big asks, big sacrifices and big capital projects. But that just doesn’t seem realistic — certainly not in the same way — in the future.

Now, we look at millions of America who are just keeping body and soul together. The churches have to prove their value; double so with new ones.

So, how much church can you get for minimum wage? And more importantly, how will they work? And what will they do?

The church, in its history, has been impoverished, tested, challenged and troubled. I can survive, even prosper. But how?

Why I only write about Christianity in the UUA

It’s a bit of an overstretch — after all, I have an interest in Stanton Coit and denominational data generally — but I only write substantively about Christianity in the UUA. I write about worship in Christian terms. I write about mission in Christian terms. I write about connections among Unitarian Universalist Christians, and in ecumenical settings. I write about problems Christians have.

What about everyone else?

Well, for one thing, I know more about Christians than other Unitarian Universalists. There are fewer Christians, so there are fewer people to write. Many are personal friends. I am a member of a Christian church that’s a member of the UUA. And Christians make up a small minority among Unitarian Universalists.

For another, much of what I write applies to other Unitarian Universalists, especially since our habits and opportunities rest on a common foundation. If you’re willing to apply it to your own situation, you might discover some insights. (Christians are asked to translate meta-narratives all the time; it can be done.)

But the most important reason, is that I want to cultivate a particular voice that speaks consistently and predictably to and from the faith situation I dwell in. Unitarian Universalist Christians, while often spoken of as a singular group, really is remarkably diverse in theology, applied polity, politics and life situations.

There’s enough of a there there to give it some focus, to support the faithful and upbuild the body. I hope to do this by writing. I hope many people find this valuable (including non-Unitarian Universalist Christians) and it seems to be the work God has set out for me. It’s enough without planning to speak for or about those with whom I have a too-thin understanding.

Where I got my favorite Geneva bands

The “Boy in the Bands” moniker began as a terrible double pun: a throw-away name to sign up for a site I rarely visit today. I was in a pastorate when I began this blog, and wore a collar and Geneva bands, with gown and hood in the pulpit.

I don’t wear a clerical collar often these days: I’m not in a pastorate, for one. And when I preach supply, and then visit after the service it draws too much attention. And a dress shirt and tie is more comfortable. So, I’ve gone from the kind of bands (or tabs, if you like) that you tie on and wear under a clerical collar, to the kind that you tuck in.

2014-06-29 08.40.59

Shameless selfie

Tuck in, that is, between my neck and the shirt and over the tie to hide it. Here am (left) I before assisting with communion at First Universalist Church on the Sunday of General Assembly. (Had I been preaching, I might have worn my hood, too. But the real reason is that I didn’t want to pack it. The gown was borrowed.)  It’s a comfort to only carry a couple of ounces of linen to “suit up.”

I’m writing about the bands, not to draw attention to me or them, but because a younger minister was drawn to this elegant custom, and wanted to get a set.

Alas, they’re German, ordered from Germany with the help of an expat former church member. That was about eleven year ago (and they’re still in wonderful shape.)

I got them from church textiles workshop of Diakonie Neuendettelsau. The “hohlsaum” (handworked decorative holes), made of linen. This is the one I got.

Selection_009 And when you click through, you’ll want the Reformed (Reformiert) style. The Steckbeffchen (insert-bands). I got the 17 cm long ones; then again, I’m 6-foot-4.

Selection_008Good luck after that. I don’t read German, and the site doesn’t assume Anglophones would want their product. Or non-Germans, for shipping.

I though: perhaps the Transylvanians have something similar, and their tailors could also use the work. By which I mean the Reformed Church.(Though I’ve never seen them.)  As the late Bishop Szabo, of the Transylvanian Unitarian church put it when I was kitting him out for a communion service, “we don’t wear the Moses’ tablets…”

But ministers. you might try then. Someone ought to keep tabs on you.

 

Preparing for preaching in September

So, I’ll be preaching at Universalist National Memorial Church (UNMC) on September 21, and since I don’t preach much these days, I figured I had better start getting some words down now or else I’ll never be ready. Be prepared to see non-sequitur blog posts that link obliquely to that sermon until then; I do sometimes use this blog as a commonplace.

Since, wherever possible, I used the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), I figure I’ll start there. It’s not because they’re inherently magical, but the wide selection gets me out of my comfort zone, deposits me in narrative and releases me from that terrible problem: choosing what pearl of wisdom to preach on. Also, the Consultation on Common Texts, which produced the RCL, is one of the few places where Unitarian Universalist Christians are welcomed ecumenically, so I want to support that.

Now, the texts themselves. UNMC typically has two texts read, and the RLC appoints three, including a variant Old Testament lesson, both of which have their own psalm. So I’ll pick two of five options. (I don’t preach out of psalms as much as I once did.)

September 21, 2014 is the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, or in some traditions known as Proper 20. (I’m not a fan of the numbered proper custom, but that’s how you’ll find resources, so better to cite it.) Here are all the texts.

Having reviewed them before, I decided on the main (or “continuous”) Old Testament reading, rather than the alternative “thematic” text, which I’ll use in concert with the Gospel.

That gives me

  • Exodus 16:2-15, the giving of manna
  • Matthew 20:1-16, the parable of the workers

Not sure which will be the main preaching text yet, but I may drop hints soon enough.

 

Daily prayer: “I will pray for you” (and mean it)

“I will pray for you” and its secularized version “I’m thinking of you” are still lively expressions of concern, and often deeply valued by the person thought of or prayed for. Friends have approached me, asking for prayer, only last week.

“Of course,” I said. And I mean it, and I have a plan to fulfil that request. I will pray for you.

There’s a technique to adding petitions to collects. To review, collects (accent on the first syllable) are a variety of prayer with a particular structure, and they are typically prayed in a set series, with special collects added for particular occasions. In the morning and evening prayer the Universalists historically used, the collects come at the end. The collect “for all Conditions of Men” is a good place to add petitions, so I’ll show it as printed, and then as I pray it. Prayers for clergy and congregations (I always pray for my ministers and church, for what it’s worth), for this and other nations, for special occasions, and my blessings in this life come in other places.

As printed:

O God, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, thy saving health unto all nations. More especially we pray for the good estate of the Church Universal; that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to thy fatherly goodness all those who are any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body, or estate; that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them according to their several necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for thy mercy’s sake in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

How I pray it today:

O God, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, thy saving health unto all nations. More especially we pray for the good estate of the Church Universal; and in particular the churches in Iraq, that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to thy fatherly goodness all those who are any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body, or estate; particularly Anna, Bailey and Carter; the refugees in Syria and Gaza; and people suffering with bulimia that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them according to their several necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for thy mercy’s sake in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The semicolons are your friends. Added petitions seem to fit there naturally, or at the end of sentences. I’ll later share some resources about finding additional, particular (“proper”) collects.

“Fathers” and “Mothers” among the Universalists

For decades, perhaps generations, Universalists applied the honorific term father and mother to honored elders. The most obvious use is Father and Mother Murray — John and Judith — but there are others, none recent.

So I wondered: how did one earn the honor, to whom was it applied (generally, for it was surely not ministers only, and, which particular persons were so called) and when did the practice fade? I know the term brother, to describe a minister, has survived into living memory. I recall Brother (Leonard) Prater, for instance; he died in the 1990s. And the translation of honored and beloved siblinghood can easily be transferred to parenthood.

I’ll post or link future findings from here.

Different ways to “sing” the psalm

Each evening, for vespers, I “sing” the Bonum Est Confiteri, Prasm 92:1-4 as it read in the rubrics, and included in the Coverdale version:

¶ Then shall be sang the following Psalm:

Bonum Est Confiteri.

It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord: and to sing praises unto thy name, O Most Highest;
To tell of thy loving-kindness early in the morning: and of thy truth in the night-season;
Upon an instrument of ten strings, and upon the lute: upon a loud instrument, and upon the harp.
For thou, Lord, hast made me glad through thy works: and I will rejoice in giving praise for the operations of thy hands.

Do I sing it? No. But there a different ways congregations can use this (and other psalms and canticles):

  1. Read in in unison.
  2. Read in by alternating verses or half verses; alternating between a worship leader and congregation, or between halves of the congregation.
  3. Read in unison, but book-ended with a sung antiphon. More often seen in newer hymnals.
  4. Chanted: plainsong or Anglican chant being two options.
  5. A metrical version sung to a psalm tune — “Old 100th” was the tune for an early metrical version of Psalm 100.
  6. A hymn based closely on the psalm.

The Sternhold and Hopkins metrical psalter is the likely choice for option 5, giving us, in common meter:

It is a thing both good and meet
to praise the highest Lord,
And to thy Name, O thou most High,
to sing with one accord:

To shew the kindness of the Lord,
before the day be light,
And to declare his truth abroad,
when it doth draw to night;

On a ten-string’ed instrument,
on lute and harp so sweet,
With all the mirth you can invent
of instruments most meet.

An assortment of hymns evoking Psalm 92 may be found here.

The point: a rubric and a text may be used in more than the literal way.

The secret lesson of the vegetarians

I’m a vegetarian, and have been for (what?) a year or two. Not for health reasons, or ecological ones, but for ethical and religious reasons. More about that later, maybe.

And when you read personal  narratives of vegetarianism, there comes that assumption that there must be a reason, other than simply not liking to eat meat. There has to be some higher purpose, as if the cuisine isn’t enough. It’s not just a diet, but a diet that calls for an apologia and even a meta-narrative. Others do this — oh, ye paleo or raw food people — but most people don’t, and probably wonder why. And as someone who used to make wicked jokes about vegetarianism, I know that “eating on purpose” can be annoying.

But here’s the thing. All else being true,  it’s cheaper (overall) to be a vegetarian, and especially about a century or more ago when vegetarians were organizing into groups. Meat was expensive — heck! food was expensive. So for some diners — this is where proper history helps — simple vegetarian fare was (first and foremost) affordable, served with a side of moral uplift and resolve.

So what?

Think about churches. There are true believers and people who are in vested in the institutions. The “churchiness” of it. The theology. But  many will care about the stained glass or the organ. A kind word over coffee. Or learning in a class with other oddballs. “Unchurchy” reasons. One reason that you can find non-Christians in all kinds of Christian churches; a liberal approach to participation.

The secret lesson of the vegetarians is that the high — no, not high, but particular, formal and sacrificial — commitment approach to church life, which works for “churchy” people like me, is a turn-off for people who want to make their own experience in our shared setting. There’s room for all kinds of people, including those who are “churched” for their own needs and own convenience.