Found: Universalist Leader

I was searching for early Universalist convention records when I happened on a trove of midcentury issues of Universalist Leader and Unitarian Universalist Register-Leader, the magazines which became what is today the UU World.

This is really exciting, since documents from the late pre-consolidation and early post-consolidation (1961 onwards) eras are hard to find, at least working from Washington, D.C. Earlier anyway, denominational business was published in depth with documents drafts, so fingers crossed.

What lead me there? A search which showed groovy maps of Universalist state conventions and Unitarian districts before consolidation, and the UUA districts thereafter. I didn’t know the Alabama and Mississippi conventions survived to consolidation, for instance.

Line map of pre-consolidation Universalist state conventions, clustered in the eastern half of North America

At the Harvard Divinity School Library (Harvard-Andover Theological Library) site:

Universalist Leader, January 1954-December 1954

Universalist Leader, January 1955-December 1955

Universalist Leader, January 1956-December 1956

Universalist Leader, January 1957-December 1957

Universalist Leader, January 1958-December 1958

Universalist Leader, January 1959-December 1959

Universalist Leader, January 1960-December 1960

Universalist Leader, January 1961-April 1961

Unitarian Register and Universalist Leader, May 1961-December 1961

Unitarian Register and Universalist Leader, May 1962-Midsummer 1962

Unitarian Universalist Register-Leader, October 1962-December 1962

Unitarian Universalist Register-Leader, January 1963-December 1963

Unitarian Universalist Register-Leader, January 1964-April 1964

Leader, May 1964-December 1964 with Register/Leader Spotlight

Leader, January 1965-April 1965 with Register/Leader Spotlight

The variously titled Universalist Leader and Christian Leader up through 1927 have entered the public domain and are easy to find. I’ll keep any eye out for issues between 1928 and 1953, and would appreciate leads.


“New” Von Ogden Vogt work in the public domain

Following up on my last article, I went to see if there were liturgical influences from the Free Catholics in the United States. Since there is some overlap with the liturgical portions of Hymns of the Spirit, why not look on that leading Unitarian liturgist and minister, Von Ogden Vogt? He was on the hymnal’s editorial committee, after all.

That search led me (as usual) to the Internet Archive, and a — to my surprise — a full-text copy of his Modern Worship. (There are several scans, this one is the most “book-like.”) Ah: i published in 1927, it came into the in the United States on January 1. I’m looking forward to reading it, but since I read slowly, here’s the opening passage. It’s hard not to see later influences, down to the title of the subsequent hymnal, Hymns for the Celebration of Life. On page one:

“Our first thoughts together will remark some of the relations of form and content in worship considered under the aspect of celebration. The second lecture will discuss the place of form in worship by a brief note of the formal elements in any work of art, whether pictorial, structural, musical or other, and the application of the findings to the particular art of worship. The third lecture will offer some definite suggestions of concrete material for the different parts of the liturgy, some specific content for modern worship. The fourth and last lecture will seek to discover the formal values and content possibilities to be developed not through the liturgy but by the church building, its structural forms and the symbolisms of its decoration.

There are many ways of approaching the problem of worship, some of them of great value and suggestiveness. For the sake of simplicity and clearness I am proposing abruptly to consider worship as the celebration of life. For the sake, also, of the so-called religious outsider, I put the matter thus. There are many modern men and women of high spiritual gifts who do not find themselves at home in any of the households of specific faith.”

Anti-sectarian, pro-beauty

A recent dip into familiar sources about spirituality led me back to A. Elliott Peaston’s The Prayer Book Tradition in the Free Churches (1964; one-hour loan available from Internet Archive) and particularly to its chapter on the Free Catholics. Less than a tradition, but more than a whim, for about a decade after the Great War, the Society of Free Catholics stood against sectarianism, attempted to integrate the heritage of the Church with the contemporary world and in doing so elevated beauty. I’m all ears.

This is a counter-narrative that the war infected the liberal churches with a terminal malaise. Sure, it’s a shame it was a minority interest, but their books — especially the liturgies — remain. When I read about them, I want to know more, and so for a while most of my articles will be linked to this theme, at least tangentially.

There’s a temptation to put the Free Catholics in the Unitarian orbit, but this would be a mistake. While the leading voices had a Unitarian background, they rejected its sectarianism and in their own lives stayed outside (British) Unitarian institutions. Also, the Society of Free Catholics were a diverse bunch, even embracing some Roman Catholics, though admittedly on the Modernist end. All the same, even if liturgies the created Free Catholics — and those that inspired them — found their way into the Unitarian-Universalist Hymns of the Spirit and into the minority consciousness of what deep liberal Christian worship looks like. 

Related articles:

Preparing an online version of “Ancient History of Universalism”

I’ve been writing a blog since 2003, and this is post #4,000. I saw this coming and thought it deserved a little something extra.

Earlier this week I was speaking with a friend and colleague about Universalism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and recalled to him Hosea Ballou II’s 1828 Ancient History of Universalism, which traced the doctrine from the period from the end of the writing of the New Testament to thhe Fifth Ecumenical Council, particularly in the East. Among other things, the work positions Universalism within the entirety of Christian history and not as an innovation then a scant two or three generations old. And given the role Hosea Ballou II played within the denomination, his influence would have been important in his lifetime. I thought to read it, and knowing from my early (1990s) transcription projects that the best way to read one of these old works — and retain any memory of it — is to edit it for web publication, and that’s what I am doing to celebrate post #4,000.

It’s not the first edition nor the second, but the 1872 edition, with added notes. I’m about half-way through, and will post it online as a web page and intend to create an epub edition, suitable for most book readers. (If you want a print reproduction copy of the first edition, get one here.)

And what value is it today? Among other things, to see how a leading and influential Universalist saw his faith and contrasted with others (allegory is silly; reason, good) and to have handy access to those texts (including biblical texts) that early Universalists used to support the faith. And perhaps past both of these, to enjoy a grand piece of period scholarship and to inspire new studies; I’ve since ordered a modern history of Origen to take me where HB2 couldn’t.

I’ll post afresh when and where the files go up.

Low-cost way to launch into church archives

So, can you count the ways you use a smart phone? Here’s another for you: as the working end of an inexpensive DIY image “scanner” for religious texts. This setup, depicted with a workflow, at the Open Siddur Project, might be just the thing for recording church archives or other documents that shouldn’t be lain on a flatbed scanner.

Text Imaging” (Open Siddur Project)

A grim day twenty years ago

Twenty years ago today, Timothy McVeigh blew up a truck bomb in front of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.

I was in the middle of my ministerial internship not so far away in Tulsa, and I was getting ready to go to church when the news came over the television. What I remember more than anything else that day was

  1. How quickly one of the national news anchors suspected Arab terrorists. That made no sense to me. In Oklahoma? I guessed it was a revenge act by someone who felt hurt by the government, like a bankrupted farmer, which was closer to the truth.
  2. I shaved my beard immediately. Tulsa had a decent Muslim population, in part from its petrochemical industry and training, and the mosque wasn’t far from where I lived. I feared for them — if that’s how the news went — and feared for me, since (for reasons I’ve never understood) I read Arab. And, indeed, had to escape a mob of drunk sailors, a couple of years prior. (Perhaps after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.)  But I don’t recall any violence in Tulsa that night.
  3. I do recall the sadness. Particularly at a gay bar I went to that night. Many of the patrons were EMTs and ER nurses. But the devastation was so complete that they weren’t needed in Oklahoma City.

Selected parts from "Universalist Momement in America" available gratis

Ann Lee Bressler’s The Universalist Movement in America is an important resource in understanding Universalist history — and it’s incredibly expensive. A hard copy is now $90. (I got a reader’s copy ages ago.)

The good news is that you can read a “Free sample” — the introduction and chapter one; which are incredibly important — in Google Play, to help you decide if you want to buy the epub ($68!) or rent it ($34!) … or read it at a theological library.

Unitarian worship resource for Union soldiers

This small 1865 American Unitarian Association assortment of rousing songs and Bible readings (arranged for unison or responsive reading, and with headings like “Those who turn from Holiness are condemned”) isn’t explicitly for Union soldiers, but songs like “Arise, New-England’s Sons!” and “The Massachusetts Line” weren’t likely to appeal to Johnny Reb.

The Soldier’s Companion: Dedicated to the Defenders of Their Country in the Field by Their Friends at Home.

Why the Fellowship Movement will never come back

Following on yesterday’s post, we can talk about the Fellowship Movement with either praise or scorn, but either way, it will not come back. We have to understand what it was, good and bad, before deciding what we want. (Or what some of us want: I’m not suggesting Unitarian Universalists need to act as a united front with one missions policy.)

So, we can have something today that draws upon the lessons of the Fellowship Movement, but it’ll come with its own rewards and challenges. We do not live in the demographic world of the 1940s to 1960s. Anything we learn from those days needs to be translated for today.

Let’s count out the obvious differences. Can you think of others?

  1. We do not have a culture that defaults to church membership.
  2. Indeed suspicion of religion is at all time high, and despite our rhetoric of how different we are, we are still a religious institution to anyone criticizes religion.
  3. We don’t have a mass exodus to newly developed suburbs.
  4. There are a few areas where there is no liberal religious congregation. (But many are underserved.)
  5. We do not have a shortage of ministers.
  6. Women, who more likely worked at home in the Fellowship Movement era, and so may have been available for the volunteer roles necessary to run fellowships, are now more likely to work out of the home.
  7. Opportunities for social service in secular settings are more robust now they were in the Fellowship Movement era.
  8. The Internet makes it easier to connect with communities of religious liberals without actually having to be physically present.