The architecture of Universalist National Memorial Church, in detail

I was Googling for a set of 1939 orders of service from the Universalist National Memorial Church — where I was once minister and now, after a long break, am now a member — and found Sixteenth Street Architecture,  a fine architectural survey of Washington, D.C. “avenue of churches” from just north of the White House to just south of Columbia Road, thus missing All Souls Unitarian, but capturing the recently-demolished brutalist Third Church of Christ, Scientist. (I blogged about it a few years ago.)

 The section on UNMC is detailed and valuable, and includes photos of the construction.

Saw in Toronto: picture of the church inside on the outside

I saw something clever when Husband and I vacationed in Toronto this summer. We passed by a United Church of Canada parish church — a huge edifice, with what I guess is historically small congregation. But they did something smart to make it seem welcoming and lively.  Something other urban churches could do.

On the church sign, which many pedestrians would pass, you would see a panoramic photograph of the church interior, taken during a Sunday service. So while I dimly recall the grey stone — or was it dark brick? — of the church, I recall the warm interior view well enough to write about it now…

Last pictures from General Assembly

Sorting through my photos. A few last things to share from 2014 General Assembly.

Standing behind Victoria Weinstein at the UUCF Communion Service
A glimpse of the First Universalist Church spire from the Convention Center.
A glimpse of the First Universalist Church spire from the Convention Center.
Banner Parade begins
Banner Parade begins
Banner Parade begins

Universalist Register 1912: Dining with the Universalists

Selection_006The 1912 copy of the Universalist Register I wrote about had illustrations and advertising in the back. Such fun. One of the images was of one of the locations of the Universalist Publishing House, then on Boylston Street, very close to the Arlington Street Church.

The building is still there, perhaps incorporated into the building next door, thus throwing off the street numbers. And I gather the street-front cafe is this restaurant: Parish Cafe.

Can any Boston readers confirm? Have any eaten there?

Photos from inside First Universalist, Providence

I’ve been to First Universalist Church in Providence a few times over the years, but never so long as over General Assembly, when the church hosted morning prayer and vespers, and the usual Sunday service with a special observance of Holy Communion.

Here are a mix of photos, taken after the services in the sanctuary, lounge and dining room, with a focus on interesing tidbits. You know I’m going to make something of that Universalist Comrades (men’s group) emblem.

Order of Universalist Comrades charter

Cross on pedestal

Sanctuary, from a transcept

Scott Wells
Gratuitous selfie before Sunday service. (I helped distribute communion.)

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Rhode Island Y.P.C.U. banner
Y.P.C.U. is the Young People’s Christian Union

1899 “Five Principles”

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R&E Newsweekly: making use of church buildings in decline

This segment, from this week’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, pushes one my buttons: the experience that churches with just enough space are the ones that tend to survive. A recession following a big building campaign, or a congregation with unaffordable maintainance costs often leads to closure.

That, and once a religious building is lost in an expensive, built-out city (New York, Washington and Boston come to mind) it is very hard to build one later.

Innovation and mixed use is one answer.

A modest thought: standing for worship

Something lighter today. In some old Universalist baptism rites, we hear this traditional question with Satan taking on a new guise.

Renouncing, therefore, the fellowship of evil, will you endeavor to learn of Jesus Christ, and co­operate in the study and practice of his religion?

Fellowship of Evil? Sure I’ll renounce it, especially if it means I don’t have to move folding chairs. Members of fellowships will get that one.

I hate folding chairs. I hate moving them and having them bang my shins. I hate the noise the metal ones make. I hate time it takes. I hate how uncomfortable they are. But they’re pretty darn common for new churches (and some old ones) and I want to make operating a new (and probably small) church as easy as possible.

Here’s a radical thought. Do without them and stand. OK, a few chairs for those (no judgements) who need to sit; perhaps already in the borrowed room. A few wingbacks or the like in the Garden Club room the congregation rents, say.  Plus prime reserved space for wheelchair users. Cushions for small, collapsing children? (No need to wrestle with strollers!) Everyone else, up.

Not so strange a thought. In my experience, people often stand for an hour or more after the service to enjoy one another’s company and a cup of coffee. And we Protestantish types do have standing services, though we don’t often think of them as such: graveside services, small weddings, devotions at campgrounds.

But we think of church and we think of seats, if not pews. Why? Many Orthodox Christians don’t, of course, so perhaps that’s the influence of reading Orthodox missological works lately. (More about that soon.)  But as I’ve written before, it was only a few generations back that owning or renting “a sitting” was highly identified with church membership itself. And those days are over. Of course, you would grow weary in the second or third hour of worship, and would want a rest, but again those days (for Unitarian Universalists) are past.

Provided people are warned, a standing service has some advantages:

  • a wider variety of meeting space available
  • time and volunteer labor saved moving chairs; perhaps a saving of fees, too.
  • standing worshippers take less space
  • freedom of movement fights fatigue
  • standing worshippers can, as a group, better shift to accommodate newcomers. (Think of how people self-organize in an elevator.)
  • likewise, they can better shift to focus attention away from how few there are in a large space

It is, however, strange. And there would be pressure to keep the services briefer than usual. (Is this bad?) But it’s worth an experiment. And I’d like to hear if anyone has tried this.