The Unitarian van mission

I usually write about Universalist polity, but some chat a few weeks ago about “Beyond Congregations” reminded me about the English “Unitarian van mission” of more than a century ago, and interest that stirred up here in the United States.

http://www.unitarianhistory.org.uk/hsalbBUH4.html
Courtesy, Unitarian Historical Society

 

Courtesy, Unitarian Historical Society
Courtesy, Unitarian Historical Society

 

I’ve found references as far back as 1908, with its evident zenith in the 1910s. According to Georges Salim Kukhi, himself a London Unitarian preacher in 1919, there was more than one van, indeed, four that roved Britain. The vans have not only a pulpit, but sleeping quarters and room for print material. They were fitted with technically-advanced acetylene lamps!

Preachers, sometimes lay preachers, would address the crowds from the van; sometimes they’d be harangued. But it seems there was also a desire for information:

The Unitarian Van Mission in England allows its out of doors audiences to ask questions and finds frequent anxiety for information concerning the talking serpent in the Garden of Eden the veracity of Balaam’s ass the truth of the whale and Jonah incident and other Old Testament marvels.

They would also distribute publications.

I’ve not been able to find evidence of a Unitarian van in the United States, though there was a stated desire and a bit of embarrassment that that the gung-ho Americans didn’t do it first! (In fact, there was something called a van mission in Kansas in 1896. That’s something to research.)

But there is this charming report about an initial, and similar measure, in Massachusetts around 1903 that relied on camping in outpost towns, with audiovisual equipment (a stereopticon).

 

Holy Saturday 2015

Like each Holy Saturday, I spent the morning reading The Dream of the Rood, in this translation.

Not many churches have a Holy Saturday service, so I observe it by reading. This year I’m adding 1 Peter, because of the text (3:18b-19, NRSV)

He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison…

May Holy Week and Easter bless you.

“Maundy”?

I’ve casually mentioned my plans this week to several people and almost every time I’ve been asked what I mean by Maundy Thursday.

  1. It’s today.
  2. It is the anniversary of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples.
  3. And so it is the anniversary of the giving of the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament or ordinance. It’s also known as the Eucharist, or Communion, or the Mass, or the Liturgy. The alternate term Great Thanksgiving deserves use, too.
  4. Some churches — I’m thinking of the Unitarians and Universalists here — who might not have the Lord’s Supper at any other time might have it on Maundy Thursday.
  5. It was especially beloved by Universalists, who would welcome members at the service.
  6. Some churches wash feet at the service.
  7. The term maundy comes from the Latin mandamus, “commandment” from Jesus’ new commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

Three quotations from Universalism and Problems of the Universalist Church

So, I’ve finally begun reading Universalism and Problems of the Universalist Church (1888) and I recognize some themes. The idea that their faith was so logical that it would prosper as an inevitability — a theme maintained among Unitarian Universalists through the 1960s at least, with echoes, if embittered, today.

The author wasn’t willing to accept the (falsely) inevitable, and notes the weaknesses of the lived faith, and these too have the ring of familiarity.

  • p. xii
  • Have we but to fold our arms and wait to see the salvation of the Lord? What of evolution?—Is it a cause or a method, only? Is evolution such an intelligent, vital force, as that, independent of the agency of man, right results may be predicated thereon? Is man of no value as a civilizing agent? Rather is not man the divinely appointed agent of the Most High in the furtherence of His plans? Can truth be propagated except as man becomes a co-worker with God? Do not many of the adherents of our church hold false views of Optimism, such that it leaves man as a moral agent out of the question and predicates all moral advancements upon God alone? Or, worse yet, do not some regard Evolution as the sole force in working out and shaping our destinies? Has man nothing to do in working out his own salvation? Do not the Bible, Reason and Nature all agree in holding man morally accountable?

  • p. xiv
  • While doubt has its value and proper sphere in the investigation of theological dogmas and the search for truth, yet should we not be wary how we deal with this subject? Does not the ventillating of their doubts become chronic with some ministers to the great detriment of our cause? And, when doubt becomes their “chief stock in trade”, ought not professional honor and honesty enable them to see that the door, by which they came into the ministry, has an outward swing, also?

  • p. xv-xvi
  • Our church bears the name of being progressive; and, in a large measure this is true; but in the use of the best methods it is not so in fact. We ought to be progressive in the truest sense. Our faith is such that it ought to enable us to be abreast of the times in all that is good and helpful in extending and making permanent the cause of the Master as we understand it. But for some reason we do not concentrate our forces nor wield them to effect the best results. In some directions our work drags where it ought to soar. We seem to undervalue our abilities and our opportunities. We talk of this enterprise and that, and are enthusiastic in adopting them; but when it comes to execution of our plans the wind is pretty much out of our sails.

Palm crosses: the result

Home and work life will be busy this week, so the blogging will be necessarily light. I hope y’all had a stirring Palm Sunday, and great prayers for Holy Week.

Here are the palm crosses I made yesterday afternoon from the palms I got at church. Typical 30-32 inch strips, once trimmed of the very thin top pieces, made crosses about 4 inches tall. The one on the left came from thinner and — by the time I got to it — dryer material, so it split lengthwise while folding.

2015-03-29 16.30.16

2015 British Unitarian and Free Christian AGM begins

About now, the 2015 British Unitarian and Free Christian annual general meetings will be breaking for dinner, having already had its opener and first plenary session. There’s no streaming content, so far as I can tell, nor a set Twitter feed or hashtag. (If you know one, please note it. Later. It seems to be #gauk.) And gauging by last year, I’m not going to expect real-time photos, either.

But you can see the print materials, including the handbook at the same link.

How to make a palm cross

I watched a bunch of palm cross how-to videos, so you don’t have to.

My bias is to make a palm cross out of a single strip, and to have both arms, the head and of the foot of the cross folded back into the central knot. I think they look better, because they’re less flimsy and more evenly shaped crosses.

This video not only show this, but also how to strip and trim the palm.

More thoughts on the scalable service

A moment to think about the British Orthodox Church, a small culturally-British Coptic jurisdiction. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that it is very small, but is able to create new church missions, and that should draw our positive attention.

Is it because it has a surplus of clergy? It doesn’t seem so. Or cash? Again, no evidence. Or because it’s tapping into a populist consciousness? You’ll forgive me if I suggest the appeal speaks more to a deep past and hopeful future than being of the moment. (That’s is surely an appeal to some, but let’s leave that for now.) And it’s not to say that all of the missions are super-healthy. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. First, they have a stated goal:

We are seeking to plant at least two new missions each year to fulfill our vision of a community in every county.

And what the British Orthodox Church — and other churches — have is a model that makes worship possible, approachable and above all scalable.

The key is the daily office, and particularly the services of matins (morning) and vespers (evening), also known as “raising of incense” or the Coptic name for the daily round of services, the Agpeya, And it’s a good choice, too. Don’t know about the British Orthodox in particular, as it applies to public worship, but the daily office also belongs to the laity, so perhaps a member of the lay faithful could lead it. Or perhaps someone in minor orders (a concept Protestants don’t have) or certainly a deacon, thus expanding the pool of who can lead worship in missions.

But more importantly, it’s a service with lower barriers than the Liturgy (Eucharist, Mass) and therefore more welcoming. To review, two takeaways:

  1. Broader pool who can lead the service.
  2. A service that’s more welcoming by its nature.

And it’s short and stable in content. Say, 20-30 minutes. I think spoken prayers, followed by some refreshment and a training or discussion — as indeed, is prepared monthly in some of these missions — is pretty darn achievable, particularly as they meet in Anglican churches at times (even Saturday mornings) that the host parish doesn’t meet. To review:

  1. A stable, predictable service. Not too long.
  2. Some kind of enrichment activity.
  3. Setting a time to be accessible, not conventional.

And know that elements can be added or removed as conditions demand.

  • Sermon or none
  • Instrumental music or none
  • Hymns sung or not
  • Candles lit or not, and so forth