A Universalist witness to the Armenian genocide

The Armenian genocide began in 1915, so in anticipation of the centennial, I'm reprinting this witness -- towards the end of the genocide -- from the April 15, 1922 issue of the Universalist Leader. (I'm not sure what else to call it but "witness," and the people of 1921 don't have the language we do to describe atrocities.)

This is a powerful prayer: learn from it. The references to orphanages demand research. There was a Sunday School fundraiser for a "Near East Appeal" and at least three congregations survive that gave then. Thanks and praise to the parishes in (West) Hartford, Connecticut; Franklin, Massachusetts; and Haverhill, Massachusetts.

There are other witnesses, and I will lift them up as I find them.

But was this a remote act of sympathy? Perhaps not so remote. If you are in Providence this General Assembly, be sure to tour First Universalist Church. It's quite near the convention center and the minister -- Scott Axford -- is a friend; he plans on giving tours then. He once gave me a tour and pointed out the typically Armenian names on a memorial plaque, pointing to a lost and little-known Armenian chapter in our history.


Thou wast slain and hast redeemed us by Thy blood and made us unto our God kings and priests. (Rev. 5: 9-10). Having therefore boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus… Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. (Heb. 10: 19-22.)

ALMIGHTY God who by Thy grace hast not only called us out of darkness into light but hast called us into the Blessed Service of Intercession, we come to Thee with accord on behalf of the people of Armenia. We pray that Thou Thyself wilt undertake their cause, and with great might succor them. We remember the many thousands who, rather than deny Thy Name, have suffered torture and death, and we give Thee thanks for all who have by Thy grace endured and are now in Thy presence, and we ask Thee, for those who remain in the fiery trial of their prolonged agony, to stand by them and strengthen them and grant them a clearer vision of Thee and deliverance from their sufferings. Send them what they need for their material wants--protect the fatherless and widows--remember the orphans still without home or shelter.

Bless the children in the orphanages whom Thou hast committed to our care and those who are giving their lives to help and save them. We thank Thee for all Thy servants laboring for Thee, who have been true to Thy name. Strengthen and bless all by whatever name they are called, who contribute of their substance to feed the hungry and to provide shelter and care for the sick and the helpless.

Give wisdom to all who are seeking to help the Armenians in any way, whether spiritually, politically or materially, give courage and a spirit of responsibility to our statesmen, deliver our country and all who are called Christian from blood-guiltiness, through apathy or fear. Bless all who are serving Thee, and may all our service be lifted on to a higher plane of selflessness and sacrifice through the power of the Holy Spirit of him who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and give his life a ransom for many. In whose Name and through whose merits we offer our prayer and praises, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Adapted from the Armenian Liturgy.)

Holy and eternal Spirit, source of life and light…

Holy and eternal Spirit, source of life and light, thou art our helper in every need, thou fulfillest all our joy. Be thou this day the present help of all who turn to thee, here and everywhere, whether hurt or ashamed, whether sick or disheartened. And when we are strong, be thou a light beyond our present thoughts and pleasures, to guide us into ways of larger right and nobler blessedness. Amen.

Von Ogden Vogt

If you don't have millions to buy a Bay Psalm Book

This week one of the eleven surviving copies of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in English North America, sold at auction.

The owner was Old South Church, Boston, and the sale reminded me of all the old Unitarian communion plate that was sold to keep the staff paid, the furnace stoked or the roof on.

Though I respect our history, I respect the institutions more. And there's something sad when a communion cup or psalter becomes so valuable as an artifact that it loses its intended use; it's like the Velveteen Rabbit in reverse. As treasure, the silver and the printed pages become less real. They were real because they were instruments of praise and thanksgiving. Better then, I think that they can be sold, conserved and placed on display, as indeed the new Psalm Book's owner, David Rubenstein, intends to do. (He owns two of the eleven.)

Better still to keep the Great Thanksgiving at table, and our praises in song. And if you want to pray from the Bay Psalm Book… well, then thank God: you can read it online, in this 1903 facsimile reprint.

"Sending you prayer"

Even before the explosions in Boston, I was thinking about the idea of sending prayers to another person. We often hear the expression "I'm sending you prayers" or the secularized version "I'm sending you my thoughts", as if possible prayers or something that can be packaged and deliver like a letter or parcel. Group in too the often-heard "I'm praying for you." And these were sent in earnest, if my Facebook or Twitter accounts were reliable. It happens any time something awful happens.

I thought about this again because I had been reading about medieval developments in with Christian worship as a way to better understand how and why we worship today. I think people on the liberal end of Christianity like to think that we have little in common with medieval worshippers, ascribing all of our traditions to the seventeenth century or later. The medieval worshiper would understand our attention to color, sound, and movement. They would get our candles and oil-lamps. But they might have a more difficult a time with how little we pray.

Ancient models a Christian prayer had overlapping cycles of the day weekend and year. While the monastics would pray seven or more times a day -- every day -- others might still pray twice a day. Add in a mass on Sunday and other devotions. Plenty of opportunity to get both the continuous rhythm of the life of Christ and the saints with other, special, topical occasions for prayer. Today's Protestants are likely to see that whole week of devotion compressed into the Sunday service. The rhythm of our "faith history" -- and with it, opportunities to learn through worship -- is a rival for time with our special concerns. "Special concern" worship -- votive worship -- is largely seen in weddings and funerals, ordinations, and the occasional community Thanksgiving service and prayer breakfast. We see it in "candles of joy and concern" which our medieval ancestors would recognize -- the original lighters of a votive candle -- if perhaps without the public attention! We see it too in the vigils for the dead…

I think we Unitarian Universalists feel the tension between cyclical worship that teaches, and occasional worship that concentrates on particular themes. (Votive worship can address particular doctrines as well as particular people; for this, today, read worship in reference to a particular cause or movement.) We feel the tension, but may not have the language to describe the variety, which makes our worship look ad hoc or random. (Or simply be ad hoc or random.)

So Sunday -- or today in your own private prayer or thoughts -- consider that "sending prayer" is as core to the faithful life as the best-heard sermon or best-sung praise.

Baha'i centennial in D.C.

Baha'i visitors came to Universalist National Memorial Church this morning, to mark the centennial of the visit of `Abdu'l-Bahá to the United States and to Washington specifically. He was the eldest son of Baha'i Faith's founder, Bahá'u'lláh.

`Abdu'l-Bahá recited a prayer at the Church of Our Father (Universalist) the predecessor to Universalist National Memorial Church; the building is now demolished, so the Baha'is visits (and repeated the prayer) at UNMC because, as one of their number said, "the spirit" of the old church "is here."