Reviewing Schulman's Manual

I’m glad that someone with a close knowledge of Frank Schulman wrote first about his posthumously-published worship manual.

I’m sorry I said I would review it.

First, I should say that it makes for an endearing memorial to a man so many of us knew as a talented and giving colleague and minister. His advice on ordinations is generally helpful — as a rule, they tend to be liturgically more conservative than much else Unitarian Universalist do — though I think his understanding of the imposition of hands is off-base. His guide also gives the reader an insight as to how well-established First Unitarian churches conducted worship a half-century ago, and how some of the surviving UU Christian churches conduct worship today. Perhaps British Unitarians would have a more positive read of his book, since Schulman seems to be writing for both American and British audiences.

And, at last, the book doesn’t profess to be anything other than a parting gift, in the form of advice and experience. I needed to say that on the outset.

If you are deeply devoted to the memory of Frank Schulman, browse out now.

I cannot recommend his book. It has little or nothing to say to minister-less congregations, self-identified Universalists, Pagans, “non-lyric” Humanists, congregations without traditional church buildings, congregations with multiple modes of worship or persons that want to learn liturgical theory. The marriage service and directions assume not only a bride and a groom, but a bride’s father.

The book is peppered with errors of fact that a new worship learner might not catch, especially in the glossary. To be fair, some of these errors can be fixed by changing current truth into the past tense, and making some absolute statements less so.

Schulman had a highly ordered sense of worship, but I won’t be alone in asking “what’s the point?” He made “do this and not that” distinctions that look arbitrary and to a contemporary sensibility, not very convincing.

6 Replies to “Reviewing Schulman's Manual”

  1. Bless Frank, and all the pain he endured in his life, as he watched Unitarian Universalism become no longer what he had joined with so long ago. Had a touching conversation with him at Oxford many years ago in which he talked about what it had cost him to become a Unitarian (in terms of his Jewish family’s reaction, for just one thing), and how much it hurt that the Unitarianism he had, at such cost, joined, did not seem to exist any more. Much of what he taught at Oxford, and why he found such pleasure there in a college headed now by religionists far more conservative than modern Unitarianism, seemed to reflect that part of his life story. I am not surprised if his worship book continues to seek the Unitarianism he found and, through the harshness of time, lost again.

  2. Thanks for sharing that, Judith. That is painful, but he seems to have found ways to not become bitter.

    Scott, I have a question: does Frank’s book have value as a tome on what worship once was in early merger history, or is it more one person’s view on what UU worship ‘should be’ from his perspective? He is someone who has been rather iconic in UUism in the past few decades. I’m just wondering if you find that possible historic value might make this book redemptive?

  3. I think the book has value for many reasons, but primarily because we just don’t HAVE such resources for our ministers! I agree with all of Scott’s points, but given the paucity of materials for teachers of UU liturgical tradition, I thought the publication of this book was a godsend. Of course it’s written within a particular context, but I have to caution us not to throw yet another baby out with the bathwater in overly-critiquing what is a very fine basic text and starting point for discussions of a more nuanced and diverse kind.

  4. S/S — I don’t know what real-live Unitarian worship was like in the 50s, but I’ve been to enough Unitarian and Universalist (and mainline Protestant churches for that matter) which have conserved liturgical traditions and there is a lot of congruence with what Frank Schulman wrote. But more than that, his descriptions evoke large, complex, perhaps urban churches — the kind we have so few of. That alone suggests — shall I call it wistfulness? — that it is a prescriptive reconstruction and that customs he didn’t like didn’t get mentioned. Sure it might have historical use. But if that’s the goal, find ministers’ Services of Religion for Special Occasions (which he references) and Parish Practice in Universalist Parishes at or in the church library,

    Also, tome it isn’t. It is a rather short work — some sections are prefunctary — but I think that has to do with the time left him.

  5. Unlike PB, I wouldn’t use it to teach UU liturgical tradition. I’d use a James White text, photostats from the two books I cited above (with permission from the UUA of course), the Unitarian and Free Christian (UK Celebrating Life and perhaps bits and pieces from WorshipWeb.

    But I might if teaching ministerial development and self-care. Follow me a second.

    Unitarian Universalism can be a very wild ride. I think the Judith W-R is right in her observation that Frank S. lost the Unitarianism he joined. If someone had clued me in that the Unitarianism I read about as a teenager was effectively already dead, I would have twenty years of another church’s membership behind me. (But then I wouldn’t have met y’all — so I count my blessings.) This has been going on for generations. It happened to John and Judith Murray.

    At the end of our service, we reflect on what we might have done or given, or, what we might yet pass on, so that a treasure won’t be lost to time and fortune. That’s another Unitarian and Universalist constant. Consider how the Khasi Unitarians got organized, or a last Universalist church in South Carolina. Both were founded by persons who unexpectedly found print literature. But that’s a pretty big gamble — also the reason why I stated putting Universalist documents online — and not one that gives you much peace. [Unitarian|Universalist] ministry is a recipe for existential crisis. It shouldn’t shock anyone that we “loose” so many ministers, but that we keep so many to the 25 and 50 year lectures . . . .

    So perhaps if Frank Schulman’s book has a lasting value, it is as an example of how we might choose to address our finitude and mortality. In this context, I think the reader can learn a lot more.

  6. I do use James White in my class. Keep in mind, however, how many of our seminarians come to ministerial preparation having been taught that Unitarian Universalism is “Everything But Christian.” For those who come to seminary as come-outers who have yet to heal their rift with the Christianity of their past, a Unitarian Universalist handbook of worship, however perfunctory, helps them study the liturgical elements from a more receptive position.

    This is not to say that any of the students I have had needed this kind of hand-holding, as they were all fully able to use a resource like James White and adapt it to their uses with religious and academic respect. Nor is to say that wounded and hostile ex-Christians should be preparing for the ministry in the first place. It’s just to report on what I’ve seen, which is more an issue for the RSC and the MFC than for the professor of worship and liturgy.

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