Universalist minister Hosea Ballou died this day in 1852.
(Well, this Universalist saints feature I planned isn’t going as I hoped. Think about Hosea anyway.)
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.
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.
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.
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 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)
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!
I just published the 1925 “A Joint Statement on Interchurch Relations from the Commissions of the Congregational and Universalist Churches” but didn’t want to clutter that document with thoughts. Indeed, I’ll want to review some of the standard denomination histories to see why the Universalists aren’t a part of the United Church of Christ today. Partnering with the Unitarians wasn’t the foregone conclusion so described today.
Union was in the air, then. Indeed, contemporaneously, the Congregationalists were making overtures to the Christian Church, leading to a merger. Most of the Congregational Christians then merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church (itself merged) to create the United Church of Christ. The Universalists were also talking to the Unitarians; years ago I published a Universalist report from the same commission in 1927. And now I want to see what else they reported out.
Some loose thoughts:
I hope this sparks interest in the history of Universalist polity…
Printed in Christian Union Quarterly (1925), p. 431ff.
A Joint Statement on Interchurch Relations from the Commissions of the Congregational and Universalist Churches
The National Council of Congregational Churches and the Universalist General Convention, at their sessions held in October, 1925, referred to the Congregational Commission on Interchurch Relations and to the Universalist Commission on Christian Comity and Unity certain proposals looking toward closer fellowship. The members of these commissions, after fraternal conference and discussion, join in issuing the following statement:
We believe that the basis of vital Christian unity is a common acceptance of Christianity as primarily a way of life. It is faith in Christ expressed in a supreme purpose to do the will of God as revealed in Him and to co-operate as servants of the Kingdom for which He lived and died. Assent to an official creed is not essential. Within the circle of fellowship created by loyalty to the common Master, there may exist differences of theological opinion. With that primary loyalty affirmed, such differences need not separate; rather, indeed, if the mind of the Master controls, they may enrich the content of faith and experience; and if it does not control, theological agreements will not advance the Christian cause. “Religion to-day does not grow in the soil of creeds.”
The unity of a common loyalty to the Christian way of life is already a fact, to which the high task in which we are now engaged is witness. Not only Congregationalists and Universalists, but multitudes of other forward-looking Christians, share this unity of faith and endeavour. It is not something to be artificially formed, but a growing relationship to be recognized and afforded ways of practical expression. None of us would advocate, as none of us could enter, a fellowship that would compromise loyalty to the truth as any one of us may see it, or would stifle freedom to bear testimony to its worth and power. What appeals to us is the challenge of a great adventure to prove that a common purpose to share the faith of Christ is a power strong enough to break the fetters of custom and timidity and sectarian jealousy that hitherto have put asunder Christian brethren who at heart are one, and who can better serve the Kingdom of God together than apart.
The Protestant churches of America are learning to work together. By so doing they honour their heritage and fulfil their mission. The Congregational and Universalist Churches are branches of the same parent stock. They grew out of the same soil and are bearing the same kind of fruit. The historic reasons for their separation have practically disappeared and new and stronger reasons for union have arisen. In statement of faith, in form of worship, in organization for work, and in standards of life, these two branches of Protestantism differ now in no essential respects. They can accordingly begin at once to co-operate in the heartiest way. If the prayer of our Lord is ever to be fulfilled, the beginning will be made by the mutual approach of denominations between which there is no longer any reason for separation.
In the judgment of the commissions, the time has arrived for the Congregational and Universalist Churches to seek the closest practicable fellowship. Their activities are proceeding already along lines closely parallel. They can do many things together to advantage which they are now doing separately. Each church will be quickened through this free fellowship.
We therefore recommend:
First: That the ministers and representatives of each denomination be invited to sit as corresponding members in the local, state, and national associations of the other denomination and to participate in their deliberations.
Second: That the agencies of each denomination in the realms of religious education, social service, evangelism, rural church development, and similar problems, be urged to arrange for joint programmes for promotion as far as practicable.
Third: That in each community where churches of both denominations are found they be urged to study what they can do together with mutual profit by way of union services, the interchange of pulpits, and the promotion of common enterprises.
Fourth: That there be a mutual interchange of representative speakers at national, state, and local gatherings.
Fifth: That the denominational journals be urged to make the largest practicable interchange of editorials and of printed matter of common interest, in order that each constituency may be kept fully informed regarding the other and of the progress made in the direction of closer fellowship.
Sixth: That, in order to secure more thoroughly co-ordinated movements, no actual steps toward the organization of local Congregational and Universalist churches be made without consulting their respective commissions.
Seventh: Wherever the problem of an adequate church constituency presses for solution, and in any community where denominational divisions work for wastefulness, those responsible are urged to co-operate in organizing for more effective service.
We believe that from these and similar joint undertakings increased effectiveness in common tasks and even more will result. Comradeship in a common faith and loyalty will be its finest and most prophetic grace. That quickened sense of comradeship will fashion its own ecclesiastical instrumentalities. None of us can yet foresee clearly what sort of organized fellowship will arise to give form and coherence to the spiritual unity that Christians of the open mind gladly confess. We are convinced that it will be something larger and more inclusive than anything that now exists. What we do see, with a profound feeling of gratitude and responsibility, is that, in the providence of God, these communions which we represent have been led by their respective historic traditions and spiritual development to a common faith in the Christian way of life as their supreme concern. They would travel it not only as friends but as allies, with a spirit as inclusive as the mind of the Master.
In such a larger fellowship Congregationalists and Universalists alike, both as churches and individuals, may find fresh incentive to service and sacrifice. The Kingdom of God requires the uttermost loyalty and devotion of both and the mutual recognition of what each may contribute to the common endeavour. The stirring challenge to forward-looking Christians of whatever name to-day is to make their churches vitalizing centers of the Christianity that is in Christ, and so to promote the broader fellowship through which alone the mighty task of winning the world by the Master shall be accomplished. To that we commit ourselves. The event is in the hand of God.
[From The Congregationalist, Boston, Mass.]
One set of people suggests liberal religion, and Unitarian Universalism particularly, is easy, insincere and a mental or spiritual plaything because of its inherent looseness and high regard for personal autonomy.
Another set of people — that’s us — seems to take that that as a challenge, rather than opportunity to correct our behavior or refute the premise. (Or not care about the challenge.) The conventional answer is that Unitarian Universalism is the most difficult religion (because of all the decisions and so forth) and thus very sincere and serious and so forth. There’s a mountain of sermons like that. Cue the rueful laughter in the background.
This approach should die a quick death. It makes our religion look like a crashing bore, and without the payoff of grand institutions, a mass movement or a corps of spiritually exhalted leaders. It’s all the burden of our Puritan heritage with none of the value.
One of the things that makes religion appealing is its capacity for joy — sometimes spiritual, sometimes material, often unseen or unappreciated by outsiders. The grinding, scolding earnestness that you so commonly find when two or three Unitarian Universalists are gathered makes me want to hide. Usually hide with friends at General Assembly.
Last night, reading the program guide for this month’s General Assembly was the proximate cause of this blog post. Reading it to stay informed, as I’ll not be there. (For the reduced number of workshop slots, don’t some people show up over and over?) Family comes first; see you in Columbus in 2016. I’m sure there will be good parts, but the earnestness leaps off the page. Even the fun doesn’t sound so fun.
I spent the rest of my evening improving my Esperanto skills. Now, Esperantists are a people who have the earnest-fun balance down pat. A group created well-game-ified lessons on the Duolingo site. I spent the evening taking little game-like tests, tracking my progress, and earning immaterial rewards. The subtext was “this is fun, this is possible, you can do it.” And so I kept doing it.
There’s a lesson in that.
Follow my progress in my Esperanto studies on Duolingo, if you like. And join in.
I only had time to scan a ton of Universalist polity documents when I was at the Harvard-Andover archive last year, and I’ve still not transcribed them. And it would be nice to have in an easy to read and search format some of the rules and procedures of how Universalists operated — hints of which, and sometimes more — are still in use today. Here’s a taste.
I’m no Tom Sawyer, but Universalist polity documents aren’t whitewash, either. Can anyone commit to typing or editing for an hour? Seminarians, especially, who might find a tidbit for unexplored research.
So, I was talking with a couple of people: what would we do if the Unitarian Universalist Association ceased to exist? Not a death wish, but contingency planning. And a way of identifying what’s a must-have and not just a might-want.
Someone mulled, “what does the NACCC do?” That’s the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, made up of churches that did not join the United Church of Christ on polity grounds. I’ve been long interested in them, as some of the Universalist churches that didn’t join the UUA “went NA”. Also, First Parish, Plymouth, and Universalist National Memorial Church, both members of the UUA have honorary membership. And the Council of Christian Churches in the UUA has — I believe — “fraternal relations.” In short, they’re close to us. Sorta.
And famous (or infamous) for having a lean administration. The kind that the UUA might back into, or be replaced-by.
So I was just browsing their site and noticed they have a single easy-to-find page with helpful handbooks ready to download.
That just made my day. Something to emulate.
Source: Handbooks (NACCC)
So, my dear Unitarian Universalist Christians, see if this sounds familiar. You let your Christian faith be known at church or fellowship or what-have-you and someone asks “how does that work?” or “have you considered the United Church of Christ?” — or something actively negative, suggesting that you shouldn’t be there at all, as if Unitarian Universalism was a refuge for a mix of non-Christians. I thought about all of these after reading “More than just a starter church” at The Widow’s Mite-y Blog. Like her, I became a Christian when a Unitarian Universalist.
Anecdotally. there’s less of the overt hostility out there than there once was. Whether that’s true or not, and if so, whether that’s due to fewer hostile non-Christians, fewer Christians to be hostile to, or a real change of attitude is for others to discern. Plus, I’m a member of one of a handful of Christian churches in the Unitarian Universalist Association, so it’s not really a problem anymore.
But what remains isn’t acceptable. And it starts with the questions that together can but put under the heading, “Demonstrate that you really exist.” Unitarian Universalist Christians are a small part of a small denomination, and particularly outside New England you may not meet one in person. And there is decades of preaching and identity formation — again, especially outside of New England — that liberal religion was becoming something greater than Christianity, first incorporating it, and later transcending it. The actual reference to Christianity in the UUA Principles and Purposes was a political process — and a bit before my time — and not a given. Some people really, honestly believe that Christianity is beyond the pale.
Mix this with a “question everything (that’s convenient)” ethos and it’s no wonder that that people, both the kind and unkind, can ask some terribly corrosive questions.
When I was younger, I felt a responsibility to spread the word and be a patient, agreeable, non-threatening, cheerful ambassador. When this did nothing than embolden the passive-aggressive, I stopped being apologetic, and started to enjoy my faith, stopping only to challenge side-lining, red-lining comments however made. (Unitarian Universalist rhetoric still distinguishes between good and bad Christians in a way that other religions aren’t.)
About ten or fifteen years ago, the zeitgeist turned from defense and apology to joy, communication and personal representation. My friends and I chuckled about rueful complaints — overheard at General Assembly and online — about “the Christians taking over” and “the Christians being everywhere.”
This change of self-conception means that I won’t be told I’m welcome, but only if I act in a way others aren’t expected to keep. Or if I tone it down. Or if it means answering petty, barb-filled, conspiracy-seeking questions.
I won’t leave. I just won’t comply. And, my dear Unitarian Universalist Christian friends, you need not comply — or leave — either.
Having non-biblical readings has become such a canon among mainline Unitarian Universalists that Unitarian Universalist Christians face a crisis on the subject of readings. Is it proper to have non-biblical readings in worship?
The question of authority isn’t clear-cut. My home library has several works of daily readings: selected sections meant to be read regularly to enrich one’s faith, and not just in private reflection. Robert Atwell, the compiler of one such work (Celebrating the Seasons) notes in the introduction (page iii.) that
In monastic custom… the Scriptural reading at Vigils was supplemented by a non-Biblical lection. In the words of St. Benedict’s Rule: ‘In addition to the inspired words of the Old and New Testaments, the works read at Vigils should include explanations of Scripture by reputable and orthodox writers.’ The reading of commentaries (presumably on what had just been read) enabled the monk not only to engage with Scripture more intelligently, but also to place his personal meditation within the context of those of other Christians from different ages and traditions.
We’re not monks praying Vigils, but in our liberal-Reformed tradition we insist on the considered and thoughtful expounding on the lessons in the sermon. The lesson does not disclose itself, and we rely on the preacher to unfold its meaning.
In this sense, the non-biblical reading acts — or could act — as a replacement for the sermon, not the revealed word. But current Unitarian Universalist practice is far removed from this. When — about a century ago — Unitarian and (to a lesser degree) Universalist ministers cast abroad for non-biblical preaching texts, they drew from weighty stuff: often the classics, or a work of philosophy, or — as a standby — a bit of Shakespeare.
But today, it’s not uncommon for a liturgical element from the back of the gray hymnal, or a segment from a ministerial contemporary to be pressed into the role of scripture. It an odd thought that a minister might visit a church and hear her or his words — not unjustly quoted within the sermon — elevated to the role scripture once held. It’s hard to shake off our flippant and shallow reputation if that’s the norm.
So, there may be a place for non-biblical readings in Christian worship, but to help us hear and understand the word of God: not to become it.