"Do Unitarians have a liturgy?"

I got this email today. (Reader: I tried to write you back but my email to you bounced back.)

Can you tell if if the Unitarian’s have a Liturgy? with a communion rite? if so where might I find it?

Sure, I’ll help.

  1. I’m not sure if you mean Unitarians historically or globally, or contemporary usage, which would include the Universalist tradition.
  2. While other internal evidence in the email points to a Christain, which I won’t disclose since I’m treating the questioner anonymously, Unitarians, Universalists and Unitarian Universalists have a huge tradition of non-Christian practice. There was a not-well-done (I started taking a red pencil to my copy) compilation of communion rites a few years back, but I’ll let commentors address the non-Christian site of things.
  3. Being on the free church end of the spectrum, even with the occasional foray into “catholic ecumenism” published liturgies always had the weight to advice rather than mandate. Many local rites or minister-specific rites have surely been lost to the record.

That said,

  1. Many Unitarian Universalist Christians spy the King’s Chapel, Boston prayer book, but I gather it is out of print. Older edition can be found on Google Books. Here’s one.
  2. But if you’re going to go back a few decades, you should also review the Martineau and Hedge liturgies, and the Universalist prayerbooks. I have typed out this 1894 prayer book for easier use. (The last of these is still used in Providence, Rhode Island.)
  3. The Unitarians of Transylvania and other non-English-speaking countries have living liturgical traditions, but these are haphazardly collected and translated. I would recommend a Google search.
  4. If I was going to lift up one useful, modern and living English-language communion resource, I would suggest Celebrating Life: a book of special services edited by Andrew M. Hill and published by the Lindsey Press for the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches (UK) in 1993.
  5. The Chapel in the Garden, Bridport, has its quite-nice liturgies online, including a Communion rite but these would be seen as rather conservative and not usually understood as representative.

4 Replies to “"Do Unitarians have a liturgy?"”

  1. I’m told that the Unitarian churches of the Khasi region of India have a tradition of liturgical worship, including use of a prayerbook and communion ritual (I’m also told that their churches services go for about 2 hours). But I’m also told that their liturgies borrow heavily on traditional Khasi tribal ritual, and elements of Jewish liturgy. However, I’ve never seen an English translation of their liturgy. Has anybody else?

  2. you can get a reasonably good sense of the Hungarian liturgy (in Transylvania and Hungary) from the curriculum on the ICUU website. I also posted a longish piece about it earlier this year.

  3. Then there’s the 1937 “Hymns of the Spirit,” co-written by U.S. Unitarians and Universalists, with sixteen options for orders of service. Some of them are quite nice, and useable for a range of theologies (in some cases there are even substitutions with humanist words!). Not sure how many congregations actually used these.

    For the sake of completeness, it should be noted that in the mid-1980’s the Congregation of Abraxas, a Unitarian Universalist group, published a booklet with four liturgies — three daily offices, and a eucharist. I can’t find my copy at the moment, otherwise I’d put more details in. Probably not worth wasting time seeking it out– I don’t think anyone ever used the booklet.

  4. Let me put in a plug for something a little different maybe. The UUCF will send out for $5 copies of the Communion Services and Sermons book published by the UU Christian Fellowship. But we are also soliciting liturgies for the full church year, plus for occasional services, for our next special issue of the UU Christian Journal. Also looking for essays exploring liturgy, especially related to baptism. Deadline is April 15. Send liturgies for consideration to Editor Tom Wintle at tomwintle@firstparishweston.org or to me at RevRonRobinson@aol.com and I will forward them. And help us spread the word about the call for submissions.

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