A spiritual home for the lamb

PeaceBang told a little story of a little lamb (“A lamb of the stage“) that swaps its future as dinner for the easy life on a farm. (Not that I’m opposed to eating a little lamb at Easter. Or a little goat. Both are delicious, and sometimes hard to tell apart.)

But when I read the sheeplet’s new name — Little Compton — I mistook the coastal retreat for the famous religious community, and now sometime spiritual retreat, Little Gidding. Founded by Nicholas Ferrar in 16 and lasting until the Commonwealth, it was a community of prayer and service to children. A prototypical Protestant “family monastery” it seems. Even after the community was broken up (courtesy the Puritans) the church it met in remained and still has worship a few times a year.

Alas, the parish website was taken over by a less than ecclesiastic entity, but it was made famous by a poem, excerpted below. Is part of it familiar?

Quick now, here, now, always–
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well

From T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” in the Four Quatrains.

Forget not the monuments . . .

The front page letter at Anglicans Online this week reminds us western Christians of our all-too-often unawareness of the dead who dwell in Light Eternal as the Church Triumphant.

We forget their presence in heaven, because we miss them on earth. How often do we regard the graves of the dead, even the dead we admire – hope to emulate – are bound as one in faith?

It makes me think about the fate of Universalist persons. A few of us have kept up with buildings (or building sites) that were once Universalist churches. Most are gone, and are devoid of a Universalist congregation. A few at least still have churches. (See here, and here, and here.)

But they are gone, with no need to lament, or at least no use. But I would like to be able to visit something that keeps us in touch with our past. You would think that with the current and past obsession about our terribly important forebears, we would make a habit of visiting their graves.

As it happens, I know of were very few notable Universalists are buried. Henry Noble Couden, “the blind chaplain” of the U.S. House, is buried in Arlington National Cemetary. Elhanan Winchester is buried somewhere in Hartford, Connecticut. John Murray and Hosea Ballou are at Auburn Cemetary near Boston. Judith Murray’s Mississippi burial-place is notewothy by its remoteness. I know of two Universalist graveyards in South Carolina, and one each in Georgia and Mississippi.

But what of the rest? Where are they? Leave a comment, please, and if you have a photograph, that would be nice, too.

Online article about Elhanan Winchester

I’m taking as much time as I can afford and going back to the roots. In the process, I found a good article about Elhanan Winchester, one of the more underappreciated ancestors of faith. What I like particularly is that the writer integrates the former’s American and London ministries.

Do note that a typo or other gremlin crept in: the South Carolina river mentioned in is “Pee Dee” not “Pec Dec”. (I believe the latter is some kind of exercise equipment.) Now if someone (not me) can integrate Winchester’s South Carolina ministry (some work has been done among Brethren historians) we would have a brief current working picture of Elhanan Winchester.

At the Meadville-Lombard Theological School website:

Elhanan Winchester, Junior: Fire for the Gospel, by David Johnson.

Saints: Valentine, Cyril, and Methodius

Sure: today is Saint Valentine’s Day. Love, love, love.

I won’t write much because I meed to get on with a little romantic brunch, so see the listing at the Patron Saints Index. An excerpt:

Others maintain that the custom of sending Valentines on 14 February stems from the belief that birds begin to pair on that date. By 1477 the English associated lovers with the feast of Valentine because on that day “every bird chooses him a mate.” The custom started of men and women writing love letters to their Valentine on this day.

Which makes me think of this entry my friend Terrance blogged about.

Of course, if one loves someone of Slavic extraction, so much the better. Today also commemorates Sts. Cyril and Methodius, missionaries to the Slavs and the inventors of some Cyrillic script.

Who is William Henry Ryder?

Philocrites, in “Fundamentalist no more” asked, “who?” after suggesting he might fit better identifying with William Henry Ryder or James Martineau than the retired-and-his-fifteen-minutes-are up Episcopal bishop of Newark.

I suppose it was too much to ask, but Ryder (1822-1888) was one of the Universalist greats, despite his near anonymity.

A historical note from the Provincetown (Mass.) Banner remembers him as the “wealthiest Universalist minister in the world” at the time of his death, accounting for his gift of land to the town on which Twon Hall now rests. (Calling him “a typical Provincetown boy” begs the question: what is a typical Provincetown boy?)

He is better known for serving the now-defunct St. Paul’s Universalist Church at Michigan and 17th Street in Chicago, and the former Ryder Divinity School — now part of Meadville/Lombard — bore his name. He did have a lot of money to share.

But I recall him more for being a hinge figure. I’m trying to find the quotation in his biography-cum-chrestomath (the posthumous Biography of William Henry Ryder, D.D., by the equally esteemed John Wesley Hanson, 1891) where he said he was too liberal for the Christians and too Christian for the liberals.

It is hard to find out more about him, and building an info site is a long-term, low-priority project. But Ryder represented that band of dedicated Christian churchmen who labored long and gave much — not a bad model to emulate.

All Saints

Protestant usually have a wiggly time around the saints, unless the term is used (as I believe) in its proper New Testament fashion frequently and with learning moments built-in.

Saints are the believers; the ones who are witnesses of Christ Jesus and who have incorporated this reality into their lives in such a way as to live in a dynamic relationship with God. Indeed, the saints live in fellowship (koinonia) with God and with one another.

These saints aren’t perfect or embued with a false holiness. Indeed, the dynamic relationship with God is my working definition of holiness. God gives graciously; we repond thankfully.

Our thanksgiving goes out to be good toward other persons and good stewards for those beings that cannot protect themselves. When Paul speaks of “equipping the saints” there follows an understanding that our good intentions even our “holiness” is not enough without formation and encouragement.

The Church is too complex to be described in trite ways, but it is proper to say that the Church both forms and encourages the saints when it lives up to what it is.

That can go a long way to answering the oldest and most perplexing of Universalist questions: “Why the church?” The logic goes that without the Church holding the keys of salvation that God gives freely though God’s covenant with all persons there is no incentive to ally with any church. (A similar arguement follows about baptism: “Baptism is about washing away original sin, which I don’t believe in, and anyone who doesn’t believe baptism is about original sin is wrong.”)

The Church preceeds any claim about its supernatural power. It is, and it is beloved by God. What the saints will do with it “will sway its future.”

Seth Rogers Brooks, d. 1987

I was online looking up websites that include the phrase “Universalist National Memorial Church” (finding friends, finding slanderers, whatever) and found a nice biography of my predecessor (1939-1987) Seth Rogers Brooks, on the Beta Theta Pi website. He was the fraternity’s General Secretary from 1950 to 1960.

By coincidence, this is his death anniversary, and keeping with my practice of marking “the death of the saints” I make this link (also to be added to the church website at its next update):

Seth Rogers Brooks

John Murray, 1741-1815

The “father of American Universalism” died this day in 1815 in Boston. Much to much to do today to give him full homage, so a couple of links will have to do.
John Murray
image courtesy UUA

His entry at FamousAmericans.net reminded me of a basic fact:

He was chaplain to the Rhode Island brigade that was encamped before Boston in 1775, and was on intimate terms with several of its officers, including Nathanael Greene and James Varnum, who united in petitioning Washington to permit him to remain in that capacity, when the rest of the chaplains urged his removal.

escended in my father’s line from some Rhode Island patriots (who were Sabbatarian Baptist) and one of my ancestors was named Varnum, for the general. Perhaps one of my ancestors heard or knew Murray. A nice thought, anyway.

I’m also glad to see the (online) Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Biography has a new entry on George deBenneville even though it is missing one for either of the Murrays.

Lawrence, deacon and martyr

St. Lawrence, martyred this day in 258, is one of my favorites from the early church. Of course, I first learned of him from the two-degrees-removed association that is St. Lawrence University, the former Universalist college (and seminary.)

Much of what we know of him is legendary. Suffice it to say that he was in charge of the church’s treasury, which the civil authorities demanded. Lawrence assembled poor Christians and presented them, “These are the treasures of the church.”

Yes, that’s enough to get you martyred. First he was beaten, and then (I hope the story is an act of pious fiction) he was roasted alive on a gridiron, with his famous “turn me over; I’m done on this side” quip.

When I was in Rome in June, I took these pictures.

martyrdom sitecloisterstatue

Left to right: (1) the traditional site of his martyrdom, in the Roman Forum; (2) the lovely cloister of the Basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, my favorite of the patriarchal basilicas, St. Peter’s included; (3) a statue of the saint (with his gridiron) atop a column, outside the basilica.

You can see a 360 degree image of the interior of the basilica, constructed over the catacombs where his remains were taken, here.