"The Worship of a Unitarian Church" (1901)

Table of Content

I'll be refering to this chapter ("The Worship of a Unitarian Church") from the 1901 Handbook for Unitarian Congregational Churches for a few, scattered blog posts,to consider what habits and attitudes in worship and organization remain with us, if perhaps under a different cover.

So I present the following for your reference.

The Worship of a Unitarian Church

1. The traditional Order of Worship in the churches of Congregational inheritance is: --

Prayer.
Singing.
Reading. (Scripture.)
Prayer.
Singing.
Reading. (Sermon.)
Prayer.
Singing.
Benediction.

This order can be modified and altered in many ways according to local tastes and conditions, but it remains the foundation of all Congregational orders of service. In a church which has no Service Book and which depends for its music altogether on the congregational singing of hymns, this traditional order may still be found the most practicable and helpful.

In churches where a choir is employed and where no Service Book is used, the following order of service is recommended: --

Organ Voluntary.
Opening Sentences or Prayer.
Choir Anthem.
Scripture Reading.
Congregational Hymn. (People standing.)
Prayer. (People sitting with bowed heads.)
Choir Chant.
Notices and Offering.
Congregational Hymn. (People standing.)
Sermon.
Prayer.
Congregational Hymn. (People standing.)
Benediction. (People standing.)
Organ Postlude.

In churches where the singing is altogether congregational, but where a Service Book, a Psalter, or Book of Responsive Reading, is available the following Order of Service is recommended: --

Organ Voluntary.
Congregational Hymn (Doxology). (People standing.)
Opening Sentences and Service. (People standing until prayer in service.)
Responsive Psalms.
Congregational Hymn. (People standing.)
Scripture Reading.
Prayer. (People sitting with bowed heads.)
Congregational Hymn. (People standing.)
Sermon.
Prayer.
Offering.
Congregational Hymn. (People standing.)
Benediction. Organ Postlude.

Most Unitarian churches employ a choir and also use some simple Service Book or Book of Responsive Readings, and a few have inherited or adopted a more or less elaborate liturgical service. The following are orders of service which have justified themselves in the experience of many churches and are recommended for adoption wherever the local circumstances permit: --

I.
Organ Voluntary.
Doxology.
Invocation.
Anthem by the Choir.
Responsive Reading. (People standing.)
Choir sings, "Now unto the King," etc.
Choir Hymn.
Prayer. (People sitting with heads bowed.)
Response by the Choir.
Scripture Reading.
Congregational Hymn. (People standing.)
Notices.
Sermon.
Lord's Prayer. (All uniting.)
Collection.
Congregational Hymn. (People standing.)
Benediction.
Choir and People sing "Amen."

II.
Organ Voluntary.
Anthem by the Choir.
Opening Sentences and Short Prayer.
Responsive Reading. (People standing.)
Gloria by Choir and People.
Scripture Reading.
Anthem by the Choir.
Prayer. (People sitting with heads bowed.)
Response by the Choir.
Notices and Offering.
Congregational Hymn. (People standing.)
Sermon. (At the close the minister says, "Let us unite in silent prayer.")
Choir chant "Lord's Prayer."
Congregational Hymn. (People standing.)
Benediction.
Choir and Peopie sing "Amen."

The Order of Service should be printed or legibly written, and a copy placed permanently in the pulpit for the information of visiting ministers.

Services of worship should begin promptly at the hour announced.

In the conduct of the worship great care should always be taken to preserve harmony among the various parts of the service. Reading, music, prayer, and sermon should illustrate the principle of a progressive unity. All should be dominated by the central truth or truths it is desired to impress.

Every Unitarian church should take pride in its reputation for devout behavior and for cordial hospitality. A religious service should solemnize, inspire, enlighten, and refresh those who take part in it. Strangers should be heartily welcomed, and no one suffered to go away unnoticed or lonely of heart because of lack of cordiality on the part of ushers, minister, or people.

2. The number of services that it may be desirable to hold on Sunday differs according to the needs of different communities and the wishes of worshipping congregations. As a rule Unitarian churches hold a morning service at 10.30 or 11 A.M. with a Sunday School at 9.30 or at 12, preferably at the later hour. To this many churches add an evening service at 7.30 or 8 P.M., or a vesper service, largely musical in character, with a short sermon, at 4 P.M. or 5 P.M. In case no second service in the home church is thought desirable, arrangements may wisely be made for holding evening or afternoon services in some neighboring community or mission station.

3. It is recommended that the offering, or collection whether for current parish expenses or for some stated charity, be made a definite and regular part of every service. The minister may introduce it with appropriate words of Scripture, and while the ushers pass the plates the organ should be softly played or the choir chant. When the plates have been passed throughout the church they may be carried to the communion table or in front of the pulpit and received there by the minister. who may offer a brief prayer.

4. In some churches, reading of notices from the pulpit may be omitted at the discretion of the minister and trustees; but when this is done, the more important notices should be printed in a calendar or with the order of service, and distributed in the pews.

5. Special services are customarily held in Unitarian churches on Christmas, Easter Sunday, and Thanksgiving Day, Whitsunday, or the second Sunday in June, is often observed as Flower Sunday, or Children's Day. The first Sunday in November may be observed as Rally Sunday, when special appeal may be made for church loyalty. Other special services may be held as dictated by local custom or appropriateness. It is recommended that anniversaries in local church history, as the date of the founding of a church or the settlement of a pastor, anniversaries of the historic days in Christian history, birthdays of great religious leaders and national anniversaries, as Independence Day, Patriots Day, Decoration Day, and Forefathers' Day be specially observed.

6. Almost all of the older Unitarian churches and many of those established in recent years hold communion service at least four times a year, usually on the first Sundays of January, March, May, and October, and also on Easter Sunday. This service is made primarily one of remembrance and personal consecration. The invitation is invariably extended to all who find the service helpful. No order of service can be here laid down, as it must be dictated by the custom of each independent church and the feeling of each officiating minister.

7. The service of music is in the majority of Unitarian churches, intrusted to the leadership of an organist or choir-master and a choir. A considerable number of churches have congregational singing only, usually led by an organist or precentor; but the larger number employ either a quartette choir or a volunteer or paid chorus. A few churches prefer a varied musical program, changing from Sunday to Sunday, and use both vocal and instrumental selections. A well-balanced religious service requires both congregational and choir singing. The two forms are not antagonistic, but supplementary. Chorus anthems, quartette anthems, solo singing, instrumental music, and congregational hymns are all legitimate and useful methods of religious impression and expression.

8. The organist, who is usually, if not always, the choir-master, should be chosen with careful attention to his or her knowledge of music, taste, skill, experience, and power of leadership. The personal quality of the organist is as important as his musical proficiency. Upon him depends, in only a little less degree than upon the minister, the efficiency and impression of the service of worship. He is the minister's first assistant, and he should be able to work cordially with the minister and strive toward the same ideals.

9. Comparisons between different forms of choir organization are idle, for the machinery is of less importance than the personal elements. There is in some churches a sensitiveness or even a serious division of opinion about the choir, which is made possible only by a common misunderstanding of its true place and function. It should be noted (1) that a choir should never be maintained simply because the custom of a single generation has appeared to establish it in the order of Protestant worship, (2) that a choir should never be maintained to give entertainment or any form of Sunday concert, (3) that the choir should never be maintained as a financial speculation or to secure large audiences and public notice. The choir should be regarded as an integral part of the congregation, having a special function, to lead the congregational singing and by appropriate music to deepen the devotional feeling. The seriousness of this sacred privilege should be understood and appreciated by both choir and congregation. The congregation should endeavor to help the singers by showing them all sympathy and respect, by refraining from captious criticism, and by recognizing the members of the choir as fellow worshippers; and the choir should be made to feel deeply their responsibility, to promptly discharge their obligations, to sink personal ambition and petty jealousy, and devote themselves to devout and skilful rendering of their part of the common worship.

The precise composition of the choir is unimportant if the temper and spirit be right. On the expressive side a chorus best represents and leads a worshipping congregation. On the impressive side a well-balanced quartette is perhaps more effective. The best service is rendered by a paid or volunteer chorus containing a highly trained quartette, all working under the guidance of a competent director, and in close co-operation with the minister.

10. Choir music. Too much care cannot be given by those in charge of the musical service to the choice of appropriate anthems and other musical selections. Show pieces and operatic solos should be rigidly excluded. The choir should be led to feel that the congregation expect from the music devotional quickening, and not merely entertainment. Anthems that may be appropriately used at the climax of a service are out of place in the introductory service; and musical selections which are devotionally preparatory should not be introduced at the close of worship. The words of all the musical selections should be carefully scrutinized. Selections that contain words or texts expressing doctrines foreign to the spirit or faith of Unitarian congregations should be excluded. The indiscriminate use of any words which have a pious flavor or which are commended only by the excellence of the music to which they are set should be avoided. The choir-master before making his selections should invariably consult the minister, and endeavor to fit the musical selections as closely as possible to the spirit and thought of Scripture, prayer and sermon. No pains can be too great to secure an appropriate adjustment of the choir music to the parts of the service next to them and to unify and harmonize the whole service of worship.

11. The congregational singing is the most practicable and important part of the musical service. Its success involves no risk of misunderstanding and no expense. It is always the stimulus as it is the expression of a cheerful, earnest religious vitality. Good congregational singing flourishes wherever there is in a congregation a true religious fervor which craves expression. It languishes in congregations where the spiritual life is subjective or torpid. It cannot be secured without effort, and it will not run of itself. It requires guidance, cooperation, and the personal endeavor of the minister, choir-master, or precentor, and individual members of the congregation. The minister should always be alert to emphasize the value of good congregational singing and to select hymns which will not only be the natural utterance of the emotions of the worshippers, but also appropriate for congregational rendering. The organist or precentor should labor to build up technical proficiency, and by the contagion of personal enthusiasm arouse and guide the co-operation of the people. The people should insist on the privilege of united singing, and be alert to study new and better tunes, and to sing with unity of spirit and hearty good will.

12. The hymn-book should be carefully selected. A list of the hymn-books in common use in Unitarian churches will be found in the Year Book; and supplies may be ordered through the American Unitarian Association. Unitarians have been one of the most prolific of Christian bodies in the production of good hymns, but all religious poetry is not adapted to singing. Hymns are not meditative poems or rhymed didactics, but words written primarily to be sung. They are praise and prayer addressed to an object of worship. The use of garbled or altered hymns is to be deprecated. If a hymn cannot be adapted to the spirit of a Unitarian congregation without alteration, it should be excluded. The music of the hymn-books has been greatly improved in recent years; but minister and organist should alike endeavor to exclude from the common use of the congregation the trivial tunes which are still printed in the hymn-books simply because they are familiar. The congregation should insist upon expressing its religious emotions only in noble verse set to noble music.

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