Communion service blog news

There were two recent blog posts others wrote that I wanted to lift up respecting Communion.

1. Cee Jay (Cee Jay's Cyber Space) notes how the interim minister of her church recommends a monthly communion service -- either before or after the main service -- and she suggests this might fill a liturgical and pastoral void. Her recollection of Brethren services match what others have said about their beauty and simplicity. Here, of course, I should note that Southern and some Ohio Valley (the old "Far West") Universalist churches were descended from Brethren churches.

As I've written before, despite how an off-main-service communion might be interpreted as (1) the Christians hiving off or (2) the Christians being boxed up, this is how communion was actually practiced in the then still-Christian Unitarian and Universalist churches going back centuries. Indeed, in my last pastorate, a Christian church, post-main-service Communion was the norm up to a generation ago.

And given the rhythm of the liturgy, it really ought to be post not pre.

I would also recommend the officiant be the minister, a regularly invited guest minister or a lay officiant appointed by the whole congregation. This is, after all, a ministry of the whole congregation and not of a rump. Wiser policy and politics, I'd think.

2. Stephen Lingwood (Reignite) writes about a stacking chalice, plate, basin and oil lamp. When stacked -- sans plate -- it looks very much like the flaming chalice well known in Unitarian Universalist circles. But the individual pieces then can be reconfigured for communion (with plate) and baptism (chalice and basin).

OK -- basin might be an overstatement. Soup plate is closer, but I wanted to highlight these liturgical multitaskers. I only wish you could get them in something lighter, like silverplate.

Parson's Handbook: standards of manners can be liberating

I've made it to page 43 -- but still in the Introduction -- in The Parson's Handbook, with much of the intervening text more concerning with period controversy about the licit use of ancient ceremonial which, however interesting and useful it might be to Anglican liturgists, is of limited utility here.

Then Dearmer writes about how ancient ornaments should be claimed by those who want to restore their use with moderation and tolerance, and without aping the customs of foreign (read Roman, particularly of southern Europe) churches. There is enough unwritten ceremonial that is distinctly English after all, but these practices must be learned.

Then he writes this unprofound but easily overlooked maxim, applicable to ministers of any church or sect:

One has not to go far to notice how many of the clergy and other Church officials do as a matter of face stand in very great need of a few elementary lessons in deportment. Such lessons are needed in all civilized society, not to make one stiff or ceremonious, but to prevent one from being still, to make one natural and unaffected.

I think it is natural to any emerging clergymember -- or emerging religious movement -- to make itself known by exagerating those habits thought most philosophically desirable at the expense of custom (which belongs to the church in general) or desirable outcomes.  In short, the new dogma trumps folk wisdom or good production values. The result is the innovator -- a person or cadre -- comes across as ostentatious or lawless and thence untrustworthy.

This can only be remedied if customs are discussed openly and openly shared. Why?  Because it has been my experience that the two main forces for rejecting customs are (1) those who possess an intimate knowledge of the custom -- the insiders -- who depecate their worth because the custom is too near to be appreciated and (2) those who -- because of their social or other position -- don't have access to learning the custom, yet are penalized for not knowing them. In Unitarian Universalist parlance, we call the later groups marginalized (and there are many). The preferred action seems to be to destroy the normal custom rather than inviting the second group to have access. And so Unitarian Universalist becomes more and more peculiar.

"Geeks and God"

Please excuse me, I'll be blogging a bit less than usual this week. I discovered an interesting blog+podcast called Geeks and God that takes Christian and church-related matters of technology and open-source quite seriously. I'll be listening to these and taking notes. I also have to clean up and improve UniversalistChurch.net -- I just upgraded its Drupal content management system -- and work on some long-term church stuff. Will report back later.

Geeks and God

Can the UUA "recognize ordinations"?

Obijuan (Returning . . . .) wrote about the Service of the Living Tradition and then threw this out

What an absolutely boneheaded thing to say in that context as: (1) Many of us already are ordained, and (2) [WARNING: POLITY GEEKING AHEAD] congregational polity means the UUA doesn’t recognize ordinations. Period. That is the job of the congregations. You can welcome us into fellowship, which you’ve just done. Leave it there.

Oh dear, time to say something. I started writing this as a comment, but I believe long, long, long comments by other bloggers are kinda rude, so I brought it home. Here goes, all cut-n-pasted.

I'll see your geek and raise you a wonk. In short, your take on the polity is wrong and I will demonstrate why.

You're confusing independency with congregationalism. In both, a congregation has sole power to ordain. Why? Because, in the church does not exist in some nebulous sense apart from the explicit covenanted community, or as the Cambridge Platform calls them, "visible saints by calling." There just isn't any body, apart from the congregation, that exists to ordain. For independent churches, the matter stops there.

Unitarians, Universalist and others who practice congregational polity recognize that there is a communion between the churches which does not undermine their autonomy. Congregational polity means something different for different bodies that hold it: even Unitarian and Universalists meant different things from each other, and the UUA practices something between the two. (Which is why I bristle when some people say "we're becoming Presbyterian" when it seems to me that we're following some historically-valid Universalist polity choices.) The main difference of application in congregational polity between the Unitarians and Universalists, historically, was whether or not a standing body could exist that could judge whether the basis of communion was being kept for all of the churches which share this mutual communion. Unitarians, no; Universalists, yes. Viscinage councils -- still used in some congregational fellowships, with the practice just surviving among some Unitarians -- for the Unitarians and state and the central fellowship committees for the Universalists.

On this point current practice favors the Universalists, though with consolidation the authority became far, far more centralized. Fellowship, however it is couched or explain, is more than a fitness vetting, though it certainly includes this; it is also a representation on behalf of all the congregations in fellowship. Though your fellowship standing, the member congregations of the UUA are represented in your ordination; upon this lines of mutual responsibilty follows. Very mutual and meta, to use the current slang.

So I'll cut Bill Sinkford some slack. By the UUA, I read how he's increasing using the identity not as the administrative secretariat, but as the fellowship of churches.  And if that's the case: yes, it can recognize some ordinations -- those ordained under fellowship of the UUA -- and not recognize those who aren't.

Universalist prayerbook PeaceBang mentioned

The Rev. Victoria Weinstein (PeaceBang) wrote today about a funeral she performed yesterday and the risks for not having your liturgical elements prepared. She did not have her copy of the 1894 Universalist prayerbook at hand and discovered the canonical text of Psalm 90 isn't the same used in the funeral service. Both her anecdote and the way the Universalists edited the text were about pastoral preparation, including the way she recovered. But more about that another time.

Continue reading "Universalist prayerbook PeaceBang mentioned"

Accidential clericalism

There's a curious Unitarian Universalist practice where a good number of ministers use the writings of other Unitarian Universalist ministers "as a reading" for the pulpit, elevating to the defacto level of scripture. Much of what follows also applies to the endless references to popular writers and poets I heard used in Unitarian Universalist sermons.

I know the intent is to bring fresh ideas to the pulpit. I can appreciate that, if not adopt the practice. It seems to drastically compress the process by which ideas are tested as being normative for a group. Next, it allows preachers to cherry-pick agreeable ideas, leading to insularity. Last -- and perhaps most pressing -- it establishes the insider's view and rewards prestige and power.

A funny conundrum, that. I'll stick to the Bible.