The arranged reading (for Christmas and otherwise)

It’s a given that old hymns may be re-arranged to suit the particular service better, even if it’s just to choose some verses and not others. And responsive readings are often edited from their source documents to better suit the occasion.

Readings for preaching are chosen, and are sometimes edited for inclusive language, but I wonder how often biblical readings are “compiled” — to use the responsive reading idiom — rather than be read in a standard translation, as cited.

But there is an alternative. I wrote about an early twentieth-century service book intended for Unitarians organizing “lay centers,” that assumed the use of a particular compiled book of readings: The Soul of the Bible. Or as its subtitle calls them, “synthetic readings.”

It must have been popular. The copy I found and bought is about thirty years younger (Beacon Press, 1946) than the service book. (Also noteworthy: the editor, Ulysses G. B. Pierce was the minister of All Souls, Unitarian, Washington.)

Here is the 1908 edition.

So, I wondered, would it have been useful for Christmas Eve services? That’s for later. But for now I wanted to raise the idea, surely against the flow of the last two generations of Christian liturgics, but also having its own honesty. The scriptures do not, at last, preach themselves, and we will shape our interpretation of them.

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