Communion Service, Cambridge

British Unitarian minister and blogger (CAUTE) Andrew Brown announces the Christmas Eve service at his church, the Memorial Church (Unitarian), Cambridge.

You may download PDFs of the Christmas service, within which communion service takes place. I scratched my head in a couple of places. First, I’m prone to worry when someone takes the Universalist ministerial fraternity, the Humilitati, as a liturgical model. Perhaps I’ll go into length about that some time. Next, the idea of Other-powered-ness he incorporates from the Kyoto School has so many parallels to kenotic Christianity that I wondered what makes it more suitable for is still recognizably a Christian service. Such is found in texts like Philippians 2:3-7, which Unitarians historically turned to for evidence of Christ’s subordination. So Coals to Newcastle, I think.

Yet the greatest impediment for me is the dual reference, with the parallel dignity of capitalization, of God and Nature, whose children we are and to whom, like others have faithfully served them, “we offer up our own lives.” It looks like ditheism, but still more what of the meaning of Nature? Is this “the created order” or more colloquially “the environment” or — thinking Nature as a translation of physis — to indicate our natural bent? If given the choice to sacrifice to Gaia or Character, I’ll take None of the Above.

Still, I’m thankful that Andrew Brown — whose blog is terribly interesting and thoughtful — constructed the service and published it. I’d rather wrestle with these matters than wallow in the sentimental or trite, and those are more common options.

Also, be sure to download the services to see their design and typography. Lovely works. I peeked under the hood of the PDF to see the typeface he (or his designer) used to create the circular church logo. It’s Dieter Steffmann’s — a remarkable and favorite typographer — Weiss Initialen. (download)

4 Replies to “Communion Service, Cambridge”

  1. Dear Scott,

    Thanks for taking the time to take a look at the service and comment thoughtfully and if critically – in the proper and useful sense of this word! You make a good and healthy point what you say you’d “rather wrestle with these matters than wallow in the sentimental or trite, and those are more common options.” Amen, brother. Anyway, three brief points that might be helpful – not to getting you to buy into the service but simply to aid the wrestling.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts about the Humiliati but, in terms of ‘influence’, I was really only talking about the form of their communion service itself rather than them, per se, as a group. For those who want to see it, it’s reprinted in the UUA’s book on communion services.

    The second thing is about “God and Nature” – the underlying reference is actually Spinoza’s “Deus-sive-Natura” (God or Nature). Consequently, I fear that what I am suggesting here is actually ‘worse’ than you imagine! It is not di-theism but, something that many traditional theists think is atheism. I don’t think it is – it’s really a kind of non-theistic conception of divinity. Anyway sorry about that! I guess this will go in your the ‘none of the above’ column but, in a way that is why I sort of soft-pedal with the language since, to my mind, a communion service shouldn’t be too obviously headline its underlying philosophy – I’d much rather we simply took time to share bread and wine together in memory of Jesus’ extraordinary example of how to live in response to the Divine and try to do the same ourselves. However, it seems to me that too many liberal versions of communion – in order to be ‘inclusive’ (such a problematic idea . . .) have so emptied themselves of any real theological/philosophical thinking that what is left is merely sentimental and emotional. This service is simply an attempt to do some of that necessary theological/philosophical work in the field, so to speak, rather than at my desk.

    Lastly, I take your well made point about already finding some of what Tanabe Hajime said in kenotic Christianity (Lampe’s spirit Christology was an exciting find for me when I was a youngster). In the end, however, I headline Tanabe’s work because he is working out of a conception of divinity (God) that is closer to the kind of Spinozistic non-theistic conception of divinity I actually hold.

    You may argue, perhaps rightly, that this is all too much of a revision to be considered Christian at all, but then what does one do when one’s traditional theist faith disappears – as mine did? Most people seem to fall into the camp of rejecting the Christian tradition entirely and become wildly anti-Christian – we can all cite dreadful examples of this phenomenon within our own ‘liberal’ religious circles. I just can’t do that. It seems to me that the Christian tradition remains extraordinarily valuable and when I followed the trajectory it took after Spinoza (and Radical Enlightenment in general) I found one positive way to re-articulate it that seems to me to resonate well with what we now know about the world in the 21st century.

    I’ll stop now! Too many words but it is all part of the wrestling and I thank-you for grappling with the ideas of the service with me and passing it on to others. Much appreciated.

    Happy Christmas.


  2. PS – I forgot to mention the typefaces etc. I’m passionate about type and layout so am pleased you liked it – I did in fact do the logo design (using Steffman’s typeface) as well as the layout. A member of the congregation who has just died – Gee Horsley – was taught by Johnston (he designed the typeface for the London Underground) and she took a great deal of time to teach me about the subject when I first came to the church. We are also lucky to have someone in the congregation (Kevin Cribb) who was apprenticed in Eric Gill’s workshop. Kevin did the stone lettering which is on the home page of the Memorial Church. So, nice to find a fellow typophile!

    Oh, and the Christmas Eve service went well – it’s just finished and so Christmas begins.

    Have a good one,


  3. Oddly enough, I’m not nearly so spooked by your application of Spinoza, than the prospect of an optional dualism ascribing an ambiguous value to each party. Next thing (I’d worry) you’d ask me if I’d want milk and lemon.

    Or perhaps because “Nature’s God” is ingrained in the idea of the United States, which I confess isn’t a very good reason to support a theological point, even if the Wellses were patriots and revolutionaries.

  4. Ah, I love type and even have a whole category on this blog dedicated to it.

    And as I tell anyone who will hear: Bringhurst’s Elements of Typographic Style is the most subtle work of theology I know, tho’ I’ve never had the opportunity to preach on the doctrinal differences implied by A4 and U.S. letter paper.

    The sun is setting. I ought to get dressed for worship . . . .

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