So, one new congregation in the UUA this year

The UUA October Board packet is up, and the good news is that there is a action scheduled to admit a new member congregation to the UUA. I don’t recall an application going this far and not being accepted, so let’s assume it’s going to happen. But that means that for the second year in a row, only a single congregation will be admitted to the UUA. (This is the last Board meeting of the year.)

But take joy where you can; I’ll recap the worrying signs later.

My best wishes to the thirty members of the Iowa Lakes Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, of Okoboji, Iowa. It has existed for nine years, but presumably only recently become large enough to petition for membership.

It sits in the middle of the Spirit Lake/Dickenson County, Iowa micropolitan area — one of the smallest in the country — and the nearest Unitarian Universalist congregation is the Nora Church, Hanska, Minnesota, about 80 miles away. So it serves people who would have otherwise not had a Unitarian Universalist church nearby.


Does worship belong to the church? (Or, a logical conclusion)

From whence comes the right to worship? Is it a Christian liberty that individual Christians have, or is it a grant to the church, that stands as Christ’s beloved and is delegated to individual Christians as a benefit?

I ask this because I wonder about the nature of the church. The former is the more ‘protestant’ approach, and the one that sits better for Universalists, no matter how churchly. (Post-Christian formulations have their own logic, but we’ve not really resolved the question: can Christians worship indefinitely in a non-Christian setting.)

Universalists, at least in their earliest phase, were an awfully anarchic group. The Winchester Profession, the foundational and yet minimal theological standard, is a double witness to this anarchy. First, it was developed in response to civil action challenging organized Universalism’s departure from the Congregational standing order. Second, it makes that explicit mention in its three short articles that Christians “ought to maintain good order” — the kind of recognition that reads more as a grudging concession than a core, heartfelt value. Otherwise, why would such a common assumption be written in?

But if the early Universalists were anarchic, their late nineteenth-century heirs, whose influence continues to today, were not and are not. If anything, we’re saddled with institutional responsibility, professionalized standards, good manners and stifling inertia. We have more money than our ancestors could have used, and yet ache under shortfalls. We have plans and processes, but no new congregations.

Reading Universalist newspapers in the antebellum era, hardly a week would pass — and certainly not a month — without news of a new society cropping up. How is that possible? We are not the same country then as now, and each era has its own benefits, but correctable difference in inescapable: that the early Univeralists were encouraged to form societies to meet a local need, rather than to serve a common, national brand. There was an objective, if minimal standard, that if met all but promised recognition. The self-organized societies (later known as parishes, to distinguish themselves from secular organizations) could organized empowered conventions that could (and did) seek national recognition. Many of these effort perished while small and new, but you could say the same of secular organizations and businesses. Anything worth doing is worth failing at. Or, the lack of failure is also the lack of attempting. There’s no shame in trying and failing.

Back to the question of who “owns” prayer. If the mandate for worship rests on the individual Christian, then the purpose of the church is in some sense the activation of that mandate. That is, to provide encouragement and resources. It is a means, not an end. As we remind ourselves, we could, should we wish, worship alone. Could, and perhaps out. But one role of the church is to stand for Jesus, that we may ask, “teach us to pray” — and be sure there was someone there to teach us.


A follow-up to the Winchester Profession fellowship idea

There are (for me anyway) two truisms for this blog.

  1. The less time I put into a blog post, the more likely I’m going to get disproportionately large interest.
  2. The more time I put into a blog post, the more likely I will never finish it.

My recent title-only blog post about a Winchester Profession-based fellowship is proof of the first truism. I jotted out the thought — in the form of the title — and scheduled it yet unwritten to post on the Winchester Profession’s anniversary. I had the full intent to actually write something but my blogging dried up, and with it my attention to the schedule.

But, with respect to the second truism, I won’t labor the thought too much now. Some scattered idea, which will have to do for now.

  1. The Winchester Profession is at the same time a sufficient, liberal, foundational and historical way to encompass a variety of expressions of Universalism.
  2. An online search shows it still resonates with people.
  3. A fellowship or some other free-standing entity organized on a non-geographic basis and dependent on some distributed mode of communication can provide a way to “go deeper” in this tradition, without threatening or agitating those who feel no affection for it.
  4. Deeper consideration will more likely suggest more practical and useful actionable steps than drawing up a list out of nothing.
  5. A fellowship, however, need only to be as engaged and organized as its members need, thus can weather times of relative inactivity (should they come) better than, say, a church.

Five reads about Universalism

I was recently asked by a serious, but still developing, student of Universalism what five books I would recommend. That’s a hard question to answer. While I’ve been reading for a long time on Universalism, the fact is that I’m a very slow reader and it takes forever for me to work something book-length, which is probably why so much of my reading has been from reports, journals and newspapers.

And my have shifted over time. And so many theological universalists writing today start from a different perspective than the liberal tradition of churched Universalism. Or is it just being ornery?

But I would definitely start with these:

  1. Anne Lee Bressler. Universalist Movement in America, 1770-1880. But it is so blasted expensive. See here for access to the early chapters, and if they’re compelling there’s always the library.
  2. Stephen Marini. Radical Sects of Revolutionary New England. Supports the ornery thesis.
  3. Ernest Cassara, ed. Universalism in America. Each time I go back to this, the less I like it but it’s still the best one-volume documentary anthology available.
  4. George Hunston Williams. American Universalism. Slim, but valuable.
  5. James Relly. Union. What got John Murray started. I put it up here.

I’ve avoided the works where Unitarians recast Universalism in their own image because it’s so groovy, Kenneth Patton’s manifestos and the drearier institutional tomes. Dear readers, other suggestions? Please state why you recommend.

The could-have-been Southern seminary

With the building sales at Meadville Lombard, the leadership crisis at Starr King, the closure of Bangor and the God-knows-what at General (Episcopal) (one, two)… well, it’s easy to have misgiving about the future of seminaries, and with it the future of ministerial formation.

When I looked back to the 1927 Universalist Year Book, I’m reminded that the future is contingent. Affairs needn’t have turned out the way they did. For instance, did you know there was a ministerial training program in Chattanooga, Tennessee? I didn’t, and I wonder if it was the premature death of the Harriman, Tennessee parish — Tennessee Universalism was far from strong; these were the only two churches in the state and thus they had no convention of their own — that caused this to end, too.


The School of Evangelism, Chattanooga, Tenn.

A school for the special training for the ministry for those unable to attend the regular theological schools of the Universalist Church.

Organized 1917. Has the use of the Q. H. Shinn Memorial Church for study purposes.

Board of Management: Manager, The Minister of the Q. H. Shinn Memorial Church; Vice-Manager, the Chairman of the Educational Committee of the Board of Trustees of the General Convention; Sec.-Treas., Rev. W. H. McGlauflin, D.D.; Mrs. J. W. Vallentyne, Rev. Francis B. Bishop, D.D., M. O. Hill, and Mrs. J. G. McGowin.

The minister was a B. H. Clark, of whom I know nothing. The education committee didn’t exist, but if the scholarship committee was intended, then that was Lee McCollester, of Tufts. We already met Dr. McGlauflin in a sad episode about thirty years prior.

I’ll keep my eyes open for more details.

Me, in other social media outlets

There has been some buzz online about, another in the would-be world of anti-Facebooks. Yes, I signed up for it; no, I don’t think it’ll kill Facebook. I’ll be happy if it survives. (Also, I’ve given away all my invites.)

I’d rather people flock to one of the notes of the distributed Disapora network — it’s technologically more mature — but after a flurry of activity three years ago, it’s largely gone dark. (Anecdotally, the Ello launch has revived interest, if some Twitterers are to be belived.)

A problem that each service has is finding your friends, even if they are subscribed. So these are my accounts; say hello:

Click this to join Diaspora. The schtick is that it’s decentralized, without a Big Bad Corporation at the top, so you can also pick a node from this list; it seems some people chose based on what country the host is in — to take advantage of privacy laws — or by the quality of service. That’s all I know.

I also use Newsblur to manage my RSS (blog and news) feeds, and I have a single follower. (Hello.) If you want to see what I’m reading and promoting, follow me here.

Regular readers: feel free to use the comments to promote your accounts on lessor-known social networks.

Reviewing the 1927 Universalist Year Book

The main reasons I review Universalist historical documents is to

  • try to see Universalists as they saw themselves and not though the (now more customary) Unitarian lens
  • uncover hidden or lost accomplishments
  • understand the structural reasons for Universalist decline, rather than the shoddy theological suggestions offered, usually keyed to the inevitability of consolidation with the Unitarians

Yesterday, I went to the Library of Congress. Much of the time was eaten up transitioning to the new electronic system — which you have to do on site! — so I only got to review one book: the 1927 Universalist Year Book. But there is a book scanner, so I’ll be processing the parts I scanned for weeks.

Selection_0271927 (or thereabouts) is important because

  • it’s after the 1923 copyright watershed, and so won’t be found online
  • some kind of merger was likely, but whether it would be Unitarian or Congregationalist was a live issue
  • the decline had begun, but the Depression-era devastation hadn’t

Saraswati statue dedicated in D.C.

Daisy the Dog took me out on my evening walk, and we happened upon the aftermath of the dedication, at the Indonesian embassy, of the statue of Saraswati, the Hindu deity of learning.

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I was glad to see the dedication plaque: the right-hand plinth had a rough top for ages, and I thought it might have been vandalized!

2014-09-25 18.45.44

If you are devoted to Saraswati, you can find her statue on Massachusetts Avenue, between 20th and 21st Streets, near the north exit of the Dupont Circle subway station.