Introducing Menzies Rayor

Menzies Raynor wrote a fascinating little book, the Universalist Manual, which though not terribly successful, and filled with pompous, Latinate reworkings of plain collects and services, nevertheless gives us a window into the reforming yet liturgical edge of Universalist worship. I believe he will be seen as an early example (if not the first) of trying to empower modernized lay-led worship through standard liturgical works. To this end, the Gospel Liturgy of the next generation was more successful. For now, we have an example of his theory and one of his prayers.

Closing Prayers and Benedictions

With respect to praying after sermon [sic], the practice among Universalist ministers is not uniformly the same; nor is it necessary that it should be so. Some close the services, after preaching, with a hymn and the benediction; whist others offer a short prayer after the sermon, either before or after the last singing, and then dismiss the congregation with a benediction. In relation to this matter no advice seems necessary. Let each minister, or leader of the public services, adopt such course as he shall judge expedient, and as shall appear to be most agreeable to the people among whom he officiates.

Some short forms for prayer after sermon are here given.

Closing Prayer

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we would offer unto thee our united thanksgiving and praise for the continued manifestations of thy goodness; and especially for this occasion of social worship. May the religious services in which we have been engaged, have a sanctifying influence on our minds. And grant that the instruction which have here been communicated, as far as they accord with the truth of thy holy word, may by thy grace, be so engrafted in our hearts, that they may bring forth in us the fruit of good living, in the faithful discharge of our duty, and in cheerful obedience to thy holy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

  • In Universalist Manual, or Book of Prayers and other Religious Exercises: adapted to the use both of public and private devotion in churches, Sunday schools, and families, by Menzies Raynor. (New York: P. Price “No. 130, Fulton-Street” also, Boston: “A. Tompkins, 32 Cornhill” and Utica, New York: Grosh & Hutchinson, 1839), p. 99-100.

There are two more closing prayers, and six benedictions to follow.

Memorial Sunday

For “Memorial Sunday” being “Any Sunday in October set apart to commemorate the death, during the previous year, of any member of the Sunday School or family. The room might appropriately be decorated with autumn leaves.” The vertical bars [ | ] are in the original, and are meant for pauses when the prayer is read in unison, “better to ensure reading in concert.”

O Lord, our heavenly Father, who livest and reignest forever, we thanks Thee | for the lives of those whom we have known | upon the earth, but whom we shall no more see | with bodily eyes. We thank Thee | for the pleasure their society has given us and for the hope, sure and steadfast, that Thou still hast them | in Thy holy care and keeping, in a world where there is no death, and where, in Thy good time, we shall meet them, to part no more forever. We thank Thee | that as Jesus, through Thy power, raised again to mortal life | the widow’s son and the ruler’s daughter, so Thou wilt raise to immortal life | all the sons and daughters of men.

And we would ever keep in mind, that Thou are the Home of our souls; that though we sorrow, in Thee are heavenly compassion, and abiding comfort; that all suffering | is to work out Thy glory in our hearts. Help our faith in Thy love. Give us Thy Holy Spirit. May we hold ourselves to be, not beings of this world only, but Thy children; heirs of all blessing and grace. May we now taste of the hopes | and of the joys | of true religion, and, looking forward to the glory yet to come, may we live righteously, soberly, and godly, in this present world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

  • From “Memorial Sunday” in A Year of Worship for Sunday Schools and Homes by G. L. Demarest. (Universalist Publishing House, 1873), p. 90-91.

Correcting the Murray-Potter story

Earlier, I stated the Wikipedia article on Universalism had an inaccuracy about John Murray and Thomas Potter.

I got an email,

In your post about Wikipedia’s entry about Universalism, you mention Murray and Potter. I have only a passing familiarity with the story but find the apparently false version touching. What is the real story?

Wikipedia said

Early universalists in North America include John Murray and Thomas Potter in 1770. The story goes that God told Potter that he was to go and rescue the one swimming from a boat that had hit a sandbar and that this person would be the one he was waiting for. Murray preached to Potter’s neighbours and the word spread like wildfire.

There are three basic problems.

  1. The contextual overemphasis on Thomas Potter and John Murray as “early” without recognizing pietists like George deBenneville and the Rellyan study group in Gloucester, Massachusetts (which included John’s future wife, the author and Universalist catechist Judith Sargent) that made up the core of the first church
  2. Universalism didn’t take off like anything in the environs of Potter’s meetinghouse at Barnegat Bay, New Jersey. Early centers of activity were Gloucester and Boston; the Connecticut River Valley, centering on Oxford, Massachusetts; the Vermont and New Hamphshire hinterland; Philadelphia; and the German settled areas of South Carolina.
  3. The touching story is garbled (but still touching.) The young Murray made passage from England to America on the brig Hand in Hand. It stopped first in Philadelphia, then en route to New York jumped a sandbar. Because the brig was fully laden, it couldn’t pass back over. Murray agreed to the captain transfer some of the cargo to a smaller vessel, allowing the brig to clear the sandbar; he also agreed to get provisions, and went ashore. Cutting the story short, there he found a man who gave him fish: Thomas Potter. Potter was an “enthusiast” and a theological universalist who had been waiting a decade for a preacher of Universal Salvation. The rest, they say, is history. I don’t know how the “swimming” came in. This episode is in the autobiography .

Wikipedia comes close to home

I love Wikipedia, the best open-source online encyclopedia around. When I need terms to distinguish between different kinds of dim sum, or want a list of the world’s subway systems, or how many people live in Malta, I go there.

They seem to have an article for everything. Of course, there’s one for Universalism, but that has an error in the telling of the Murray-Potter legend. So you take the good with the bad.

But who would have thought there’d be a listing for . . .

Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship or the Magi Network?

[2009. Indeed. The Magi Network article has since been deleted for lack of notability.]

"A Brief History of the Universalist Church"

It seems recently I’ve run across a number of resources that make me say, “Jeez, if I had that ten years ago, I would have saced so much time.” In this case, the accomplishment would be figuring out how Universalist institutions worked together, and what the ethos is. The work: A Brief History of the Universalist Church for Young People, by L. B. Fisher.

What was the ethos, the working relationship? Fisher, from the now-defunct Crane Theological School, is rather candid that Universalists have been sloppy to make the jump from being hearers of the word, to doers, especially when it comes to church organizing. And that there was much parochialism. This was couched less as what has been, but what is assumed by all and can be overcome. (So I’m willing to believe it more than if he was “telling what the real problem is.”)

It has no publication date, but this second edition, has enough internal evidence to date it to the first half of 1904, or exactly a century ago. Nice. It was produced for the Young People’s Christian Union, a grandparent of the YRUU, which might explain its directness and small size. I can be read in one longish sitting, even though it is 210 pages.

It shouldn’t be hard to find a copy. (I got mine on Ebay.) Indeed, it will be my next book to get online, should I ever have time for such a project, and if there were twenty of us with a copy and a yen for scanning and typing . . .

Mrs. Unitarian

Philocrites touches on a matter bothers me very much: the false appropriation of Universalism as a moniker for “Unitarianism lite.” Not that the Universalists didn’t originally collude in this arrangement; even in the nineteenth century liberal forces among the Universalists were cozying up along side the Unitarians. But they knew who they were.

Today, “neo-Universalists” pretend the tradition is made up of bumpkins who frequented revivals (quite the opposite) and who were soft-hearted saps. (Again, quite the opposite; if anything, old Universalists were rather fierce, but I wouldn’t want to re-institute their debate mentality.)

If anything, “neo-Universalists” are guilty of applying insulting and anachronistic sex roles to the respective traditions, and make Universalism the fawning, none-too bright wife of Unitarianism, who nonetheless is teeming with mother-love and good feeling for all. Mrs. Unitarian looses her name, identity, home, and income. (The fable paints “her” as poor, but the history is plain about how the Universalists bailed out the Unitarians after consolidation.) If there is a different between the Unitarian ways and the Universalist ways, we know who always loses. (Except for the Central Fellowship Committee qua Ministerial Fellowship Committee, which covers half of the old Universalist role. In the day, Universalist churches were subject to fellowship rules like ministers were. But instead of seeing today’s MFC as an imperfect Universalist inheritance, it is often derided as “creeping Presbyterianism” or worse.)

I used to get mad about this inequity. Now I just keep hammering away about what Universalism is, and what it is not.

"Our Gift" a gift, indeed

There is a recently released public-domain text of a book released by the Gutenberg Project that you should take note of:

Our Gift by Teachers of the School Street Universalist Sunday School, Boston

This is a charming little reader, compiled in 1851. The School Street church was the one where John Murray, when preaching, was nearly killed (or at least injured) by a large rock being thrown through the back window. Lifting the rock, he gave his famous quip that “the argument is weighty but not convincing” and continued the sermon.

This is the same street that Philocrites and I walked down after lunch at my last visit to Boston. King’s Chapel, facing Tremont Street, is at one end of this street which is little longer than a suburban driveway. There is no vestige of the Universalist church,so when I bought a memory card and batteries at the Radio Shack on School Street, I wondered if I was standing in the same place as the former church.

Walking in Boston is a necessary education of how the “big names” interchanged, or didn’t. Perhaps this explains the continuing family-feel of the UUA, for better and worse.

Blast from the past

I’m going to blog less (and prepare for my church plant more) in the next few days. All the same, I couldn’t let my newly arrived purchase from Ebay go unheralded.

I now have a pristine copy of the 1894 Our World and Work for Missions by Henry W. Rugg, and published by Universalist Publishing House. It is mainly about the Universalist mission in Japan. (It survives now as a small independent church; it didn’t flourish after the War, but it is still Christian.)

I’ll have to let you know if anything is of interest in it.

"Community of Christian Universalists"

Here’s a new Internet-based Universalist Christian witness:

Nice to see it, and best wishes to Woody. I don’t see resources here that hasn’t been typed out by others (myself included) so nothing new for the hunters-and-gatherers.