E&R liturgy?

I have noticed from time to time how there is a gentle, bubbling interest in the liturgies of the (German) Reformed Church, Evangelical Synod, and Evangelical and Reformed Church, which entered the United Church of Christ in 1957.

But there is almost nothing about the liturgies online. Admittedly, the E&R worship book, at the beginning of the E&R hymnal, is still in copyright and presumably the oldest liturgies are in German, which would have a lesser appeal in the United States.

But what about the ones in-between? Is there an interest getting these online? It has certainly made a difference for study of the much-smaller Universalists, if the kind emails thanking me for getting the 1894 prayerbook are any reliable measure.

Associate Fellowship

Y’all should know I’ve suspended my process towards the United Church of Christ and have requested that my ministerial fellowship in the Unitarian Universalist Association, which would otherwise been lost or resigned, transferred to Associate Fellowship.

UCC "E word" resource worth getting, emulating

Mock-euphemizing evangelism as “the E word” is a bit twee and a bit 1990s, but the point is well understood: the UCC has an evangelism toolkit to download offered with a wink. The UCC, like the UUA, has a cultural problem with evangelism and without sensitivity to that feeling it will never be overcome. I only wish it was larger, but it seems to be in active development.

You can use it online or download it and use it at home or the office, which is a help if you only have dial-up. But the download is a Windows executable. Rats! If you’re a non-novice Linux user, you can use WINE. It worked for me.

A nice touch is that the content comes as PDF file and may be distributed freely. (“Permission is granted to reproduce this article.” is on each one.)

This isn’t the only resource I’ve seen like this. The international Anglican The Mission to Seafarers has low-bandwidth version and that version can be kept and used onboard, where satellite Internet connectivity is very slow and expensive. Not that this will be of much use or interest to the non-mariners out there.

The UUA has a really nice suite of church administration resources; wouldn’t it be nice if they could be packaged for download and use.

Joined Grace Reformed Church

Well, I’ve made another major step United Church of Christ-ward by joining Grace Reformed Church, UCC, Washington this morning. I have the certificate of membership and box of offering envelopes to prove it.

The service, after the announcements, had the construction of a confirmation which the Reformed churches historically retained. (No kneeling, though.) I made a number of promises, including financial support to the church (hence the envelopes) and a endeavoring to bring new members. (Polity congregationalists would have noted there was no “congregational affirmation” in the service, which was appropriate given my membership was approved by the elders in Consistory and not by a all-congregation action like a vote in a general membership meeting, as you find in some Baptist settings.)

Ought a theological center be the goal?

Of all the angst-ridden group processes Unitarian Universalists have endured in recent years, none has promised so much and produced so little as the quest to find a “theological center.”

I think that quest asked too much. I was much heartened to read what the Rev. John H. Thomas, the General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ had to say on the matter. He spoke at the Potomac Association meeting on Saturday, on which was piggy-backed one of four UCC polity and history institutes I need as a part of my transition to the UCC. One of his addresses was in the required reading, and he graciously sat in for the first forty minutes of the class and answered questions. (That pilot program is extraordinary for any number of reasons. See more.)

Now, there are differences between the UUA and the UCC. The UCC is a confessional, rather than credal, body and even the basis of this confession enshrined in the Basis of Union and Preamble to the Constitution of the United Church of Christ has lots of wiggle room. For instance, the Preamble says the UCC looks to

Word of God in the Scriptures, and to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to prosper its creative and redemptive work in the world. It claims as its own the faith of the historic Church expressed in the ancient creeds and reclaimed in the basic insights of the Protestant Reformers. It affirms the responsibility of the Church in each generation to make this faith its own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God.

Thomas repeated to the class — he’s clearly said this before — that while these documents speak of the creeds, confessions and reformers they don’t say which creeds, which confessions or which reformers. The field of UCC theology has field-goals, but there is some disagreement where they are placed. The same can be said for the UUA, even if the field covers different ground. So I think Thomas has something to say to Unitarian Universalists.

In his 2001, he delivered a paper “A Theological Heart: Confessional Commitment in the United Church of Christ Reflection on the Preamble to the Constitution of the United Church of Christ” to west coast chapters of the Confessing Christ organization. In it, he wrote

[L]et me first say a word about language. You’ll notice that I have chosen to use the phrase, “theological heart” rather than “theological center.” I do this, recognizing that Confessing Christ has tried over the years to explore the concept of a theological center for the United Church of Christ. In many ways this has been a helpful and constructive effort and I am grateful to many of you for seeking to engage the church in one of its core responsibilities. In the hyper-sensitive, highly suspicious ecclesial environment in which we live, however, center language almost inevitably suggests a spatial image and raises for some—fairly or unfairly—the specter of hegemonic control by some over against others. Center implies for many a contrast with periphery or margin, and to historical and contemporary struggles over ecclesiastical power and privilege. This is a particularly sensitive issue in a denomination like the United Church of Christ, where we are less inclined to ask, “which theological voice is normative?” than “which theological voice or voices have been silenced or ignored?”

He has more to say, and the paper is worth a read.

A Theological Heart” (UCC.org)

Rudolf Koch for typefaces in UCC publications

detail from UCC logoOne of the reasons I love typography is that it is one of the sources of art and design that nearly everyone sees and at some level appreciates. I was looking at the work of German calligrapher and typefounder Rudolf Koch (1876-1934) and recognized the hand (or at least the influence) behind the the legend on the United Church of Christ “cross and orb” logo. See a detail of this logo to the right. (Official UCC logo page)

Which makes me think that we might go back to Koch’s work to find concordant typefaces and art for some UCC churches, associations and conferences, especially now that the intellectual rights on Koch’s work has expired in Germany and homages and memorials (like this one) have been made to him. Why go back, rather than find faces that are currently popular? Because your works will look dated very fast.

The legend typeface looks quite a bit like, but is not a perfect match to, Koch’s “Neuland” face, which itself had several versions. A German type foundry still has rights to the name “Neuland” so Manfred Klein issued his interpretation under the anglicized name “New Country.” A sample of this is seen below, and the face may be downloaded here.

New Country face sample

But perhaps that’s too Jurassic Park or American Spirit cigarettes for you. (Both drew on Neuland.) Koch’s Holla face, again interpreted by Dieter Steffmann, might suit better. I confess I like its retro feel. Perhaps for some nice Midwestern Evangelical Synod-heritage church? (Download here. Check out Claudius, too.)
Holla face sampleEither way, I’d also get Koch’s dingbats and symbols fonts — his work on the subject of symbols is still in use and in print.

Koch Dingbats face sample

Rudolf Koch was a devout Christian, and he drew a number of Christian symbols that he asked be made available for public use after his death. His publisher complied and may be seen and downloaded here. I like the ones drawn with broad strokes, and I think would complement the UCC logo in locally-produced pamphlets.

GA evening worship, so strange?

One of the nice things about slipping out of the inner UU orbit is that I get to be a bit of a newcomer again with the UCC, and that I can make disinterested (and I hope helpful) comments about the UUA. PeaceBang (her most recent word) et alia have kicked up some dust about the Sunday evening/closing worship event. Let’s review.

I’ve not been to General Assembly since 2003, but what was done then was what was commonly done for a good number of years before: there was the Service of the Living Tradition, which honored retiring and deceased ministers, in the morning; the Christians would have Communion that evening — I think the big CLF service was often at the same time — and the Ware Lecture finished Sunday, though I don’t recall ever going to one.

The Service of the Living Tradition meant a lot to me, even though I would make rather broad impersonations of John Buerhens (a page from that era) over-emoting the prayer for the dead. To tell the truth, that’s one of the things I will miss. It was at the 1993 GA Service of the Living Tradition that I resolved to cast my lot with the UUA. The Rev. Daniel Weck, 19 September 1999, Canon, Ga.So thank God for streaming video, because it is important. Goodness! After I linked the page above, I noticed Dan Weck was memorialized in 2000.

He charged the congregation at my ordination, having served a small South Carolina church deep in his retirement. He died shortly thereafter. Dan was the kind of little-known, tireless minister who got their due at the Service of the Living Tradition, and that’s part of its power even when it looks like Commencement. I think it says a lot about the ministerial college that there was so little grousing about it being moved, so a Sunday morning seeker service could take its place. Well, for one year anyway.

I wonder if its this messing around with ecclesiological feelings — deep custom eroded by marketing — that’s at the core of the agita about ending GA with what should be an important service. After all, we don’t know what to expect any more. That’s more than discomfort; rather, it seems to take the “sense of the Assembly” too lightly. Who owns GA, after all? It seems to be an event looking for a rationale, which is rather sad. But perhaps I’m wrong: the GA delegates will have to figure it out for themselves and I’ll be content as long as I have adequate bandwidth.

Lastly, from a logistics viewpoint, now that GA has been shifted to end on Sunday, but really too late to be of much use to most delegates. So they’s resign themselves to not going to the closing celebration or will attend only because they couldn’t get a reasonable flight out that night anyway.

One of the funny things about transitioning to the UCC is that I can see so many parallel actions. I can imagine administators in Boston and Cleveland having each other in their Rolodexes — at least it seems that way.

For what its worth, the UCC’s General Synod 25, last year in Atlanta had no Sunday morning “big service” but did have morning prayer, as GA will have a spiritual disciplines event I suppose. Even if there was adequate UCC church capacity in Atlanta (there isn’t), Sunday morning was full of committee hearings. The main Sunday service was that evening, but comparisons don’t quite work since GS 25 didn’t break until Tuesday.

That said, and without having been to a General Synod, it looks like General Assembly compares well with worship opportunities. Of course, both denominations might as well need to pray more in coming years.

I hear Lo-Fi like Hi-Fi

R.E.M.’s “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” is playing as I re-read Shawn Anthony’s recent post about his Christian faith and how this puts off the Unitarian Universalist Association ministerial formation path. If you’re not a fan of early R.E.M., you’ll have to trust me that this sets the perfect tone. (Rockville is an easy ride on the Red Line, and Hubby and I found a fabu Taiwanese restuarant there — we do go back — but that’s besides the point.)

The point is that Shawn has joined an unorganized society of those who can’t make Christian faith and Unitarian Universalism work, or at least work in practical terms. Michelle Murrain, also a blogger, is another. I’ll be a third, though I’ll announce my formal break at the same time I resign my fellowship with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, probably by the spring. Best to observe the formalities I think. Come April or so, you can read all of us by news feeds if not UUpdates!

Those I feel the worst for are the Christians that stay behind. I always got a lump in my throat or heartburn when I heard “another one left.” After all, there’s no logical reason why this incompatibility has to be. If I lived in certain parts of the US, I could stay Unitarian Universalist since an badly-fitting option is better than none at all. Though I believe in the Trinity now, I could even keep company with the Universalist-less Unitarians in Britain and elsewhere, tucked in nicely under the broad catholicity of their partner, the Free Christians. But in practical terms, anywhere I would choose to live offers the United Church of Christ more accurately matches the Christianity I have, but I have rehearsed that before and vain repetition makes bad blogging. But, as others reminded and remind me, if the faith is true, there is no departure. I am just as close to to the sisters and brethren as before (if not in the same committee room.)

But what do I make of my time as a Unitarian and a Universalist? That’s the hardest part to reconcile. Was it, at last, a mistake? No. A wise colleague once noted that Universalism had a charism in its doctrine and the herzlich tenderness found in its pastoral works, and that wouldn’t be lost. I was reading Philip Schaff’s The Principle of Protestantism (1844) for my upcoming UCC theology class; this was his opening manifesto for a reformed catholic Christianity. He wrote in an appended General Summary:

93. Separation, where it is characterized by religious life, spewing almost always from some real evil in the state of the church, and hence sectarianism is to be regarded as a necessary disciplinarian and reformer of the church in its practical life.

94. Almost every sect represents in strong relief some single particular aspect of piety, and contributes to the fuller evolution of individual activity.

95. Since however the truths of the gospel form an inseparable unity, and the single member can become complete only among with the whole body of which it is a part, it follows that no sect can ever do justice fully even to the single interest to which it is one-sidedly devoted.

96. Sects then owe it to themselves, as soon as they have fulfilled their historical vocation, to fall back to the general church communion from which they have succeded, as in no ther way can their spiritual acquisitions be either completed or secured, and they must themselves otherwise stiffen into monumental petrifactions, never to be revisted with the warm life pulse of the one universal church.

Those words come at the right time. (Perhaps, for you too Shawn.) Christian Universalism has been unable to do more within the UUA than hold on by its fingernails, and not that with much success. It’s time (for me anyway) to keep growing and enrich the Church Universal by getting back closer to it.

I wonder what the churchly Elmer Hewett Capen, Elbridge Gerry Brooks, Fredrick Henry Hedge or James Martineau would make of that?

Less deep UCC mystery

I got my first (and unsolicited) reference as a UCC blogger from Respect the Comma.

What makes this particularly nice is that the author is himself joining the UCC church he found in nearby Frederickburg, Va. on Sunday.

What makes this poignant is that the book that led him in his faith journey was the universalist-theology If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person.

Again, it makes me wish the Universalists had merged with the Congregationalists, meaning they would be a constituent part of the UCC today. But I wouldn’t mind being “attracted in” like the Schwenkfelders, US based Samoan Congregationalists and some MCC churches.