Dual affiliation

Last year, the Universalist Christian Association recognized my ordination and I have full standing within it, meaning I have dual affiliation with it and ministerial fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association. Here is the news piece.

If you a minister who holds to universal salvation and and looking for standing — or training and ordination — I can recommend the process as being well-organized and thoughtful. You can also ask me, and especially if you have UUA fellowship, either in the comments or by my contact form.

Happy New Year!

“Missing” Georgia churches found

As many of you know, I am from Georgia and started my career there. I even worked to an ill-fated and later abandoned master’s degree in church history; my thesis would have been about Universalist churches in the antebellum South. But resources were harder to get thirty years ago, and so left that behind, went to seminary instead.

Between those researches and recent (say, 1980s) UUA directories, I knew there were churches that had been in Georgia for which there was little evidence. Two that kept coming back up was the one in Allatoona, in the northern part of the state, and the one in Senoia, south of Atlanta.

I always wondered what happened to them. The last I heard of the Senoia church was that it was rented to a Pentecostal church, so I assumed it was still in those hands or demolished. In other parts of the South, I’ve seen a gap in a cemetery where a church should be; been shown by an elder where an extinct church turned into a house (and the graveyard into a vegetable garden); and once unwisely drove up a logging road to find the grafitti-ed ruins of an abandoned meeting house. Times takes our little works away.

In a moment of free-form web browsing last week, I visited the Georgia Digital Library and looked up the Universalists and got my answer.

The Allatoona church is in rough shape, but evidently is or was on the radar of historic preservationists. There’s even a picture.

No picture but a happier outcome for the Senoia church. According to the September 27—October 1, 2004 issue of the “Preservation Georgia online” newsletter, the church was given in trust by the last members and has been converted to a private home.

“Harmony Church, a former Revolving Fund property of The Georgia Trust, will be featured this October on an episode of HGTV’s Building Character. The show highlights properties that have been transformed into one-of-a-kind private homes and the owners who rehabilitated them.

Located in Senoia, the 1896 Harmony Church was built by a Universalist congregation that came to Coweta County from South Carolina. Last used regularly in the 1980s, the surviving members of the congregation donated the church to The Georgia Trust’s Revolving Fund in 2002. The vernacular religious architecture of the 1,450-sq.-ft. church has been retained, as have its original windows, doors and hardwood floors. While the pews and pulpit were removed, the interior is still paneled entirely in wood.”

I’ve not found that clip online, but Harmony is a typically Universalist church name. In any case, it’s good to know what happened to them.

Remembering Universalist Heritage at Jubilee celebration

The Universalist National Memorial Church held a convocation on October 7, 2023 entitled “Universalist Jubilee: Its Legacy and Promise.”

The video will become available at some point and I will link it here, but in the meantime these are the notes from my part of the service.

Friends, where have we as Universalist come from? A few words. Look to the window to my right. It depicts, or is intended to depict, the Hand-In-Hand, the vessel which brought John Murray from England to America on September 30, 1770. This is the anniversary we remember today: the point from which we mark the 250th anniversary of Universalism in America. By the time he landed at Barnegat Bay, New Jersey, he was already a broken man. His change of faith within British evangelicalism lost him most of his friends and probably successful career. Then his wife Eliza and their son died. He landed in debtors’ prison, and once out we wanted to lose himself in the world, particularly the great American wilderness. That’s why he came here. But even the ship, bound for New York, was off course. The grace — almost miraculous grace — of his encounter with Thomas Potter encouraged him back to the ministry, and back to life. It’s a well-known, oft-told story, too long to repeat now, but it’s a story we need to tell more often. Murray did not plant Universalism here. There existed groups and individuals up and down the Eastern Seaboard who felt, thought and believed as he did: believing in a perfect hope of God’s complete salvation. One such group was the nucleus of what would be the first Universalist church in America, in Gloucester, Massachusetts. And one of those he met was Judith Sargent Stevens, a writer in her own right and today more famous than this minister she would later marry. The irony was that his own theological and homiletic approach to Universalism, the would-be denomination he supported and his lineage of leadership within the fellowship of churches faded in his own lifetime and he was quickly overtaken by others whose names are also a part of our heritage. But Father Murray was as much a model of Christian life and a preacher or pastor. He suffered disappointment, depression and loss. We can understand him, and trust that he would understand us. His faith that God saves, and saves completely returns us to hope. Little wonder this church’s first iteration was a memorial to him. While the vision in and from Universalism was grand, our numbers never were. Numerically, we have been been in decline for generations. In 250 years, will there be Universalists who look through us, to Murray’s landing in New Jersey? The question is not important. Rather, as with others before me, I trust God and trust in God. I trust God will be true to the divine nature, a nature that we profess as love. Not that God is loving, but that God is love itself. And that love will not betray or fail us. Our existence is not a failure in the universe. New people rediscover and reconstruct this faith all the time; it will not die. So I trust in God, that there will always be a witness for the larger faith, whether in our fellowship or another. Occasions change and plans fail, but the providing grace of God endures. Those who will listen will hear the truth. So at this anniversary celebration, we can look back to Murray’s landing and return to life. Behind him we see the Reformation, and the Apostolic church, and back to Calvary where this world was redeemed, and from that to the foundations of the world. There, with the Creator, “whose nature is Love” we find our legacy and our hope.

Correcting resources for very small churches

October 5, 2023.  My post about the Finnish Quakers and their small numbers received some welcome private comment and I want to put this back on the top of my list.

Last month, I proposed ten kinds of resources that might already exist to help very small churches. A commenter suggested an eleventh. I’d like to take a couple of months to start filling in a resource list. If you know of an applicable resources, please leave it in the comments and I’ll review it (for applicability) and add it to the list.

  1. Training manuals and spreadsheets for volunteer treasurers
  2. Resources for accompanying hymn singing without a trained musician
  3. Self-directed spiritual development resources with a group element
  4. Model agreements for supply preachers
  5. Templates for preparing attractive orders of service and newsletters
  6. Recipes and guidelines for easy-to-prepare but delicious (and safe) church lunches and dinners
  7. Model guidance for protecting vulnerable persons in small churches
  8. Resources for the delivery and organization of sermons for novice preachers
  9. Ready-to-print materials appropriate for children who come to services
  10. Trustworthy guidance about “how political” a church can be without disrupting its non-profit status
  11. Computers and internet access; worship without Zoom. (By request.)

UniversalistChristian.net updated

My current, main Universalist documents sites, UniversalistChristian.net is back up. I fixed some bad formatting and have added a last-edited marker on the front page. There are still typos great and small. I know about some, but and report (including any broken links) are welcome.

But getting more documents up or linked will be a first priority.

Wise words from Finland

Church decline in the West is a real if unwelcome phenomenon. We may not be able to have Christian life with the same cultural, political or financial force as we once did, but Jesus promised to be with us where two or three are gathered in his name. (Matthew 18:20) It would be lacking in faith to give up only because our numbers are few. But we may need to come up with other options about how we arrange our common Christian life..

As many of my readers will know, Quakers typically organize in a locale and conduct, worship weekly and conduct the business of their meeting (congregation) once a month. This is why a local Quaker church is customarily called a monthly meeting. Monthly meeting may come together in a region as a quarterly (four times a year) meeting, but more often these days in a larger area or in a smaller country on an annual basis, as a yearly meeting. Thus Yearly Meeting is the usual name for the broadest functioning body of Quakers, with these in the United States then often affiliated with one or more of the “denominations.”

Finland Yearly Meeting is one of the smallest yearly meetings in the world, with about 30 individual Quakers in the country. If they can keep body and soul (and website) together, there’s hope for the rest of us.

Fortunately, parts of their site are also in English. Naturally, I look to Northern Finland, assuming it would be the thinnest for Quakers, and indeed there are between five and seven Quakers there. But they still come together. One town has a “quiet room” with a small library.

When we meet it is usually for most of a day with the travel being part of our fellowship as travel can take several hours. We generally meet about 2-3 times a year, but we can usually arrange a [meeting for worship] in response to a visiting Friend.

This arrangement can’t be easy, but I find it encouraging given their current numbers.

Requests open for UniversalistChristian.net

I’ve build some of my sites, including hymnsofthespirit.org, universalistchristian.net (documents) and universalistchristian.org (original writing and perhaps more) using the Jekyll static site generator, but I’ve let them go so long that I’m having a hard time refreshing and adding to them. Did Jekyll change, or did I just forget how to use it?

Either way, I’ve decided to relearn it but that’s taking more time than I thought. I’ll post updates, but in the meantime can you go to those sites, and especially UniversalistChristian.net, and let me know what you would like to see added?

Read this site with a feed

You don’t need to come here to read this site. Like most which use WordPress, this site publishes its content, or syndicates using the Atom and RSS (Real Simple Syndication) formats at revscottwells.com/feed. This makes an open web possible, rather than one where you are locked into closed systems, which seems to be winning. An open web is more free, and feeds give you more options, which is why I promote and support it.

In practice, there are lots of feed readers; I use the Firefox browser, and use its Feedbro extension.

I mention all of this because my feed was broken until last night, but it’s fixed and needs to be celebrated here, in your preferred feed reader, or sites the UUpdates.net that collect these feeds into a common, one-stop site. My thanks to UUpdates’ UUpdater for identifying why the feed was faililng. (Since his name isn’t anywhere on it, I’m not sure how private he would like to be, and err on the side of animosity.)