Universalist Register 1912: Cross and Crown!

Selection_007Another advertisement from the 1912 Universalist Register was for the “Cross and Crown” system of pins and accessories, to award Sunday School participation. You still see these for sale in old-fashioned church supply stores, but while there used to be named versions for all major denominations, you hardly see any other than Baptists today; the generic “attendance” variety prevail today. And they’re not nearly so refined as the one I saw some years ago: the treasured possessions of elder Universalists, kept from childhood. bitb_cross-and-crown

Back in 2002, I bought up the last of the Universalist “Cross and Crown” pins from Whittemore’s, a much loved but now defunct New England church supply house.

It is like a dear home meal…

It is like a dear home-meal, a family supper, where the Elder and the younger brothers meet around their Father’s table. It is like a farewell meal just before a dear one goes away from home on a perilous journey. The breaking of bread together, the cup of wine together, the beautiful words of remembrance that will stay in their hearts all their lives that will stay in the heart of the world forever.

Wonderful words follow. The promise[of] “many mansions”, the new commandment of love, the new name of friend, the gift of his own peace, the prayer for the “little children’s” safe keeping. Under the sorrow of parting is the joy of returning; with his going away the spirit of truth will come. “It is better tor you that I go.”

The uplifted face seems to smile back into God’s face the voice is tremulous with joy as it whispers, “I go to my Father.”

Maria L. Drew , The Sunday School Helper (1896)

Learning Javascript at Code Year: the other lesson

Code Year — a project of CodeAcademy — has taken off like gangbusters.

At the end of 2011, I signed up to take lessons — easy to sign up; free of charge — to learn how to write code. I started my Javascript lesson today. No premininaries — just dove in — and nobody asked me to visit a church, make myself comfortable or share anything about myself. Instead, I got bitesize lessons and little rewards (points! a badge!).

Indeed, in a few weeks, there are twice as many people than are signed-the-book Unitarian Universalists. Let that sink in a moment. And in less than a half-hour I’ve learned enough to feel successful.

I know religious content is different than writing code, but golly I wish there was something like this for the church crowd. And it matters: Codeyear has successfully taken my attention. And I intend to follow my friends and encourage them.

Take note. (And follow me if you’re also taking the Javascript lessons.)

Resource to accompany Universalist prayer book

Regular readers know my affection for the series of prayerbooks first arranged by Charles H. Leonard, Universalist minister and seminary professor, and later extracts and abridgments. The first dates to 1867; the last, a local extract, was printed in 1957. I type out the collects and readings from the former each week.

Careful readers will also my suggestion that, for very small and minister-less Unitarian and Universalist churches, especially the older ones, I recommend reviewing the old church school  literature  for worship forms and themes. The structure are simple but churchly, the themes timeless (good for congregations that meet less than weekly) and are easily “matured” to an adult or mixed-age congregation. The Beacon Song and Tune Book serves as an analog to the hymns and services of the “old red” Hymns of the Spirit.

Now I have just found a parallel to “Dr. Leonard’s prayer book”: Sunday School Hymnal with Offices of Devotion (1912). It’s not quite as evergreen as the Beacon Song and Tune Book but this nearly hundred-year-old book wasn’t meant to be. I’d use it as a resource book: to see what psalms and gospel passages work together to make a service. The prayers, at first glance, can be abandoned and replaced, once the themes are recorded.

A thought about organizing online trainings

If you’ve worked in a office long enough, it’s even odds that you’ve found yourself in an online or video-conferenced training. I’ve taken them, participated in testing them and have secured the vendors for hosting them. The appeal is obvious: it saves money. The presenter doesn’t have to hire a meeting space, so registration fees can be lower. No travel costs, or lost salary in travel time. The hallway interactions are lost, and I don’t think I could stay conscious past the two hour mark — but it’s a useful tool that I’d like to see used more in church-related trainings.

But however cheap it can be to host, it’s probably still more than true bootstrappers or individuals would want to pay. And cheap is relative: with enough participants, with a reliable vendor and a long-enough training, it can run into hundreds of dollars. But what if you don’t want all the bells and whistles, say a hosted recording of the event?

Let’s try to drive the cost to zero. The way to do it is to hack together the services. In a commercial online training, you would login to a service through your computer browser, and get the audio by calling in to a conference line.

Replace the call-in line with Skype, and the call is free. The downside is everyone would have to have a Skype account. (I don’t like promoting proprietary software, and there may be other options, but Skype has been well-adopted.) Something with Twilio would be cheap and fun, too. And there are other options, but these often mean a long-distance call for participants.

But what about the video? For now, I’m thinking slides. Live, interactive video is beyond me right now for more than the smallest groups (in which case continue to use Skype), and not everything needs video. Perhaps if I was teaching you how to use software, but not with, say, church history. (And if I wanted to simply show a video, I’d use YouTube.)

Instead of using PowerPoint and the like, what about the web? You know, that thing you’re looking at right now. If you’re well past 30 years old, this may make sense; younger people, use your imagination. Back in grade school, we had filmstrips. A slide at a time, projected on a wall, with narration on cassette tape. Some fancy filmstrip machine automatically moved from one picture to the next, but they didn’t work very well. The simpler and more common technology was place a tone — beep! — in the narration to indicate that the film should be advanced and the next slide seen. (Here’s a YouTube video of a real filmstrip with new comic narration.) Beep!

The underused and under-appreciated S5 system lets you host slideshows on the web to be seen through a browser. See this S5 introductory slideshow. Use your left and right arrows to flip through the slides. And the good news it this format is in the public domain and relatively easy to create. (This was the presentation standard I mentioned last week.)

Screencast software should allow the presenter to record the narration and his or her own use of the slides, for recording.

So I’d point people to a hosted S5 presentation, have people call into a conference, and give audio cues to let people guide themselves through the presentation. You don’t even have to beep.

Interesting worship tidbit from Chicago

This is a follow-up from that post about posts that I intended to get around to — so I’ll keep this brief and get it out the door. Last June, I noted that two more Universalist worship books appeared at Google Books.

St. Paul's Universalist Church, Chicago 1927 builiding
St. Paul's Universalist Church, Chicago 1927 builiding. Now a school. Photo: reallyboring (Flicker, BY-NC-SA Creative Commons license)

One, from 1891, is from the then long-defunct St. Paul’s Universalist Church in Chicago. The interesting thing is its use of creeds and a catechism, which I doubt much impressed the “Western” Unitarians headquartered in the same city.

The answer to the first question of the catechism anticipated the Universalist “Five Points” Declaration adopted by the Universalist General Convention, meeting in 1899 in Boston, but proposed at the 1897 convention in . . . Chicago. It reads:

I believe in one God, the Creator of all things, and the Father of mankind; in Jesus Christ his Son, who is the true Teacher, Example and Saviour of men; in the Holy Spirit, the Comforter; in the certainty of retribution; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of all men from the dead; and their final holiness and happiness in the immortal life.

And as for creeds, the worship book included two biblical ascriptions, the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed.


Say no five times (sure to irritate everyone)

Two weekends ago, Hubby and I went to IKEA, going most of the way by subway. On the ride, we made a list of habits and practices that we would not accept in the new church. In a low moment, we thought the church just might as well have no people — that’s one way to fix the problem! — but we regained our composure over lingenberries.

But on reflection, there are some things that I will insist on. And I’m sure I don’t have a single reader who will agree with all five. Here goes.

  • No flaming chalice. Apart from being a Unitarian (that is, not Universalist) emblem, the rituals associated with what could be a simple lamp-lighting have gotten too often sectarian and even a bit creepy.
  • No Sunday School. This is a mode of faith formation who’s time has passed. There have to be better options, especially considering the space and liability demands it brings. One of many reason I read Unitarian Universalist minister and blogger Dan Harper.
  • No liturgically-collected financial offering. We’ll take money, and perhaps even on Sunday if there’s no fuss, but if it really is “the sacrament of the free church” then we need to revisit our ecclesiology and class assumptions. And I don’t know a single young person who carries checks; some don’t even have any, and I’m not betting on bills with zeroes on them. Hint: they do use PayPal, Google Checkout and the like. Plus it probably causes more anxiety among guests than the good it creates. Heck, the last time Hubby and I were in church together, the usher passed us by. There’s no winning with this.
  • No membership book. That is, a literal book. Again, this isn’t 1830.
  • No children’s story in worship, also known as “a quaint tale for the sake of the adults using minors as set pieces.” And, on a personal note, at 6-foot-4, I’d have to be folded into thirds to be anywhere near the wee ones.

Whew! that’s a load off. And to think there are still some people who think I’m a traditionalist crank. (I’d add “no fattening snacks with coffee” but that might cause a riot.) Now, surely you can see how reasonable that all is, no?

The church noob

One way to distinguish a well-functioning church from one less well functioning is how it treats its novices — the “noob” or “newbie” — and that includes those entering ministerial life. We were all novices once, and failing to guide and shape the new and inexperienced is no credit to one’s expertise.

A bit of advice from Yehuda Katz, working from a different field where the same phenomenon is alive and well. A good start for Unitarian Universalists: stop the pretense of being so heroic and unique, and drop the frickin’ acronyms.

HT: Luigi Montanez, with whom I work.

Challenge: shopping with Secretary Clinton

Yesterday, among stories about technology deployment, I read one featuring State Department employees who noted, before Secretary Hillary Clinton, a desire have the Firefox browser. I can appreciate that — it’s a good browser — but when an undersecretary pushed back (correctly) that nothing is really, in deployment and maintenance, cost-free, the Secretary replied from a position of stewardship:

Clinton then told her staff to have a look through their closets. “The more money we can save on stuff that is not cutting edge, the more resources we’ll have to shift to do things that will give us more tools,” she said.

“[That reminds] me of what I occasionally sometimes do, which I call shopping in my closet, which means opening doors and seeing what I actually already have, which I really suggest to everybody, because it’s quite enlightening. And so when you go to the store and you buy, let’s say, peanut butter and you don’t realize you’ve got two jars already at the back of the shelf – I mean, that sounds simplistic, but help us save money on stuff that we shouldn’t be wasting money on, and give us the chance to manage our resources to do more things like Firefox, okay?”

I do this. Because I have a strong option for United States-made and union-made clothes, I “shop my closet” for what can be used longer, can be mended or altered. I gave up Netflix because my household video collection has good selections and I occasionally cast through my pantry to see what oddments can be used up for buying more groceries. Indeed, there’s nothing new here; these are old habits inherited from thrifty relatives. Shadows also cast from times of deprivation and want. (You’re welcome to share helpful tips.)

But we have resources other than material ones, and I would like you to examine these, too. Many of us have spiritual resources so close and familiar that they go unappreciated and so get stored away. When times are good — life is easier, we have more exposure to other influences or time to absorb them — it’s possible to try a variety of new spiritual influences. But when the days are long and work is overbearing (or absent), and there’s no time for basic physical needs, then — and I say this with humility, having been on both sides of this — then a lot of spiritual practices just look like self-absorption. From the outside, a free spirit might look like a dillitante.

What’s in your spiritual closet? I can think of a couple of things immediately. First, singing — sometimes humming — hymns along to meditate on the words, to sift and digest their meaning. (I go back to “Eternal Ruler of the Ceaseless Round“; it seems one grandmother went back to “How Great Thou Art“.)  Another is not journaling per se — many do this and know its value — but re-reading old journal entries. Were old prayers answered? An old lesson relearned. Sometimes an old crisis remembered puts a present crisis into a different light.