Universalist Society of Sutton, New Hampshire

I sometimes find nice Universalist bits in local histories, but in this history of Sutton, New Hampshire, you get an extended passage on the long-extinct Universalist society (think: parish) there, with organizing documents and a profession of faith.

The history of Sutton, New Hampshire: consisting of the historical collections of Erastus Wadleigh, Esq., and A. H. Worthen (1890)

And speaking of extinct, there is on page 175 this chilling note in the chapter "Casualties and Sudden Deaths":

Rev. Thompson Barron, a Universalist minister of Newport, N.H., was found dead at the home of Jacob Nelson, about twenty years ago.

That's all it says. What a mystery!
And that chapter. Gotta love local history.

(His 1871 obituary, reprinted at uudb.orc, is more detailed but still harrowing. Perhaps a heart attack or stroke?)

Twentieth-century Universalist records available online at Harvard

I'd known for some time that the run of printed Unitarian Universalist Association directories were available to be read online from Harvard Library's site, so I wondered if any of the hard-to-get and not-public-domain (1924 on) Universalist directories and records, prior to the 1961 consolidation, were available there.

Indeed, there are. Here's what I found in chronological order, and I'll add more if I find any. Note that except were stated, the resources were published on a biennial basis.

A Universalist Catechism, part five

So, back in 2004, I set out to type out the 1921 Universalist Catechism, but gave up because I found the theology modernist and dreary. Recently, I read a reference to it, and tried to search for a copy online — only to find my suspended series. (That happens more that I care to admit.) So, I knew I had a copy and have dug it out. Now, I'll finish the series: my theology has changed in fifteen years, and if not that, at least voice recognition software has improved.

The previous parts of this series:


What is God's will towards all men?
He wills that all should be saved.

Can God's will be defeated?
No. He is sure to be victorious.

Will God give up His purpose because men do not find the right way to live in this life?
No. His life is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever, in this world and in all worlds.

What becomes of man at death?
His body dies and wastes away. His spirit lives on.

Why is it reasonable that men shall live after their bodies die?
Men are children and heirs of the Heavenly Father.

Do all Christians accept this faith you have described?
Not all.

Why do you accept it?
Because it exceeds agrees with reason, is supported by the Bible, and is the best expression of Christianity that I know.

What is the name given to the church that teaches this faith?
The Universalist Church.

What are its essential principles?
The Universal Fatherhood of God,
The spiritual authority and leadership of His Son Jesus Christ,
The trustworthiness of the Bible as containing a revelation from God,
The certainty of just retribution for sin,
The final harmony of all souls with God.

When were these principles first taught?
These principles are found in the teaching of Jesus Christ. They were explicitly taught by the early Christian Church.

When does Universalism disappear from the teaching of the Church?
In the sixth century, when it was condemned as heresy.

Where was the first organized church of the Universalist faith?
At Gloucester, Mass.

Who was the first minister of this church?
John Murray, who came to America from England in 1770.

Who is called the father of Universalist theology?
Hosea Ballou, because he first stated many of the doctrines of the Universalist Church.

Where is the oldest Universalist church building?
At Oxford, Mass.

In John Murray's time, upon what was the principal emphasis of Universalist teaching?
Upon the truth that all men will be saved.

Upon what is the chief emphasis to-day?
Upon the Universal Fatherhood of God, implying universal brotherhood among men; and upon the certainty of retribution for sin.

Why has this change taken place?
Because men have come to see the importance of applying faith to life.

What is mean by what is meant by applied Universalism?
The application of the principles of Universalism to the problems of daily life.

Who really believes in the Fatherhood of God?
He who lives as if God were his Father.

Who really believes in the leadership of Jesus?
He who follows Jesus Christ and helps to make his ideals real.

Who really believes in the Bible?
He who uses it as a guide-book to life.

Who really believes in retribution for sin?
He who stop sinning and tries to cure the sins of society.

Who really believes the final triumph of good?
He who works untiringly and unfalteringly for that triumph.

Is it enough to apply Universalism to the life of the individual?
No. It must be applied to every problem of society.

What is the duty of every Universalist?
To understand fully the teaching of his Church, to try to apply that teaching to life and its problems, and to win others to the same faith and conduct.

Happy Public Domain, 1923!

The District of Columbia is mainly laid out in a grid pattern, with streets running north and south, and east and west. Avenues, named for the states, cross these at odd angles, so that throughout the city (and especially downtown) the intersections carve out small triangular plots. They're too small to build on, but if you're lucky, you might get a parklet.

Near my apartment is one such parklet, but it's a sad sight. It's dedicated to Sonny Bono (1935-1998), singer, style icon and member of Congress. There was a piece of legislation named in his honor after his death that has been a more enduring legacy than the parklet, and far uglier.

Bono memorial plaque

Bare parklet from the south
Images available under license, CC-BY (Scott Wells)

Copyright law is complex and confusing, so I won't try to unlock that here. (Neither do I recommend confusing that which is publicly available with the public domain, as some church people fall into.) But extending copyright so long benefits the few who own those rare evergreen properties, and effectively locks down useful but mostly forgotten works. Works about Universalism, say.

Under the law, works published before 1978 went from having a 75-year copyright term to 95 years. The yearly pipeline of new works entering the public domain was cut off for twenty years. And the old term was pretty darn long. For this reason, it's easier to get books about Universalists (and much besides) from 1840 than 1940. (The issue of "orphan works" is problem, but past the purpose of this article.)

Twenty years! I remember thinking "That'll be forever from now."

Forever as it happens, is next week.

On January 1, 2019, new works will enter the public domain, namely works copyrighted in 1923. And each year, we'll get another year's works.

As a Universalist, I'm looking forward to these entering the public domain. I hope Google or some other scanning project has them in the wings to share on New Year's Day.

If you want to read more about the works entering the public domain, Smithsonian magazine as a nice treatment.

What I thought of while watching “Wonder Woman”

A version of this post was originally created as for the June 10 newsletter for the Universalist Christian Initiative.

I don't think it is a spoiler to state the the film Wonder Woman (link plays audio) has been re-set to take place in World War One, and that is has scenes of wartime fighting. (She's been around seventy-five years as a heroic Amazon warrior-princess and was introduced in the Second World War.)

I like the film very much, and if you like action films you should see it; it includes themes that I can't discuss without giving away the plot. It was it in mind that I afterwards started reading John van Schaick's The Little Corner Never Conquered, an account of the work of the American Red Cross in Belgium in World War One, and immediately thereafter. It's available at Archive.org here.

Picture of Red Cross officers including John van Schaick

The "little corner" refers to that part of northwest Belgium unoccupied by the Germans, west of the Western Front, but though unoccupied was still atacked, creating refugees, and maiming and killing countless numbers of people. Van Schaick (pronounced "van skoik") was a Universalist minister, and indeed a ministerial predecessor of mine in the Washington parish, known since 1930 as Universalist National Memorial Church. Even now, the parish parlor is named for him, his wife Julia and her parents. But van Schaick was not there in a ministerial role -- he took a leave of absence -- serving with the American Red Cross; he and Julia and the others were there to help those who could not help themselves, and did so with humility worth emulating. They accepted constraints (still not universally held); they did what was needed by taking the lead and cue from Belgians. They were there to support, not to control. All of this starting a hundred years a few weeks ago...

It's a thrilling read, but not an adventure story; understatement hides horrors. John repeats Julia's work as a nurse's aide -- a matter-of-fact list, from a day book? -- caring for wounded American soldiers behind the lines:

Took down records of the wounded American soldiers, four papers for each. Collected patients' letters, took them to censor, who was a wounded officer on top floor. Translated a letter written in Italian into English, so censor could pass on it. Got the passes for the slightly wounded going out. Fed soldiers helpless through wounds in hands or arms, or very ill. Gave out newspapers, fruit, matches, cigarettes and writing paper. Handed out uniforms for men going out for the day and other clothing like socks and underwear. Washed feet. Prepared special soup on alcohol lamp. Bathed very ill men on head and hands with cologne. Put into English lists of surgical appliances and material the French surgeons were asking of the American Red Cross. Attended funerals of the boys who died and was the only woman at the grave of some of them. Got the wreaths for these funerals, tied them with our colors and put them on the casket. Brought back the American flag from the grave. Wrote to families of the dead boys. Prepared little boxes in which boys could keep bullets or pieces of shell taken out of them. Helped an American sergeant entertain his French sweet-heart and her mother who had come to visit him. Telephoned. Sorted, counted and sent out dirty linen. Got men ready to take motor rides. Wrote letters for men. Interpreted for doctors, nurses and patients. Mended clothes. Picked up trash. (p. 52)

How horribly maimed must have the "very ill" been? The thought of Julia Romaine van Schaick's care, as an stand-in for all those who risked health, safety and life humbles me. She was not there in a religious capacity, but her humanitarian care looks a lot like the soul of ministry to me. Remember them, too, in these centennial years -- and remember those who put themselves at risk today in your charitable giving and, if the opportunity opens, with your talents. And remember: stories like these call us to higher service, if we would listen.

Want more? Yesterday I visited the National Postal Museum. A new exhibit on World War One opened. If you can't make it to Washington, D.C., see highlights on their website.

My Fellow Soldiers: Letters from World War I

“Ancient History of Universalism” is ready

Later: I've already made one fix to a note, and created a pretty hacky PDF of the book -- ignore the title page and how the chapters are numbered at the top -- by request. Again, better asthetics later.

Download the PDF at http://universalistchristian.org/books/ancient-history/ancient-history.pdf.

I've also created an ePub -- to download at http://universalistchristian.org/books/ancient-history/ancient-history.epub -- and I'd appreciate feedback on its readability.


Two days ago, I mentioned how I was processing the Ancient History of Universalism for the web. I've gotten to a good stopping place and would like to share the work with you.

It's on the site I use for my Universalist Christian Initiative, at http://universalistchristian.org/books/ancient-history/.

A fascinating read, but a slow start so you may want to jump into the middle. Chapter nine is a story of intrigue with a vivid mental picture of what is now the West Bank. I imagine it would have been thrilling to those who would have had no other way to "see" it.

And be sure to dig into the footnotes, which in several places show the progress of scholarship in the generations after Hosea Ballou, II, particularly this note on whether Theodoret was a Universalist and whether Universalism was condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical Council. Other notes, apologies from Ballou, for works he could not afford to buy or borrow to consult leave a twinge, particularly since they can be looked up online in scanned reproduction today.

Like this ... A Latin and Greek text condemning Origenism. (extract)

As you may note, it's a very basic design; the whole book with notes and index (no internal links, I'm afraid) is a mere 162 kb. My goal is to make bulky resources like these easy to download on the fly, with aesthetic improvements later. If you see typos -- I couldn't have gotten them all -- send me a note and I'll make periodic fixes.

Some process notes. I got the messy text from https://archive.org/details/ancienthistoryof1872ball, I edited the text with the Atom editor, in Markdown, and processed it with pandoc. (If you're comfortable with the command line.)

pandoc -s -S --toc -c basic.css inputtext.md -o output.html

I was inspired by a set of very vulgarly-named and written websites promoting simple web design, the names of which are outside the standards of this blog. Search for the most vulgar words you know, plus "website" and you'll surely find one, but there's a competition of imitators. I also consulted Practical Typography's section on websites for confirmation.

I've worked up the outline of a style guide for this book, which I learned years ago helps maintain consistancy and easy for modern readers. I really should type that up.

Preparing an online version of “Ancient History of Universalism”

I've been writing a blog since 2003, and this is post #4,000. I saw this coming and thought it deserved a little something extra.

Earlier this week I was speaking with a friend and colleague about Universalism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and recalled to him Hosea Ballou II's 1828 Ancient History of Universalism, which traced the doctrine from the period from the end of the writing of the New Testament to thhe Fifth Ecumenical Council, particularly in the East. Among other things, the work positions Universalism within the entirety of Christian history and not as an innovation then a scant two or three generations old. And given the role Hosea Ballou II played within the denomination, his influence would have been important in his lifetime. I thought to read it, and knowing from my early (1990s) transcription projects that the best way to read one of these old works -- and retain any memory of it -- is to edit it for web publication, and that's what I am doing to celebrate post #4,000.

It's not the first edition nor the second, but the 1872 edition, with added notes. I'm about half-way through, and will post it online as a web page and intend to create an epub edition, suitable for most book readers. (If you want a print reproduction copy of the first edition, get one here.)

And what value is it today? Among other things, to see how a leading and influential Universalist saw his faith and contrasted with others (allegory is silly; reason, good) and to have handy access to those texts (including biblical texts) that early Universalists used to support the faith. And perhaps past both of these, to enjoy a grand piece of period scholarship and to inspire new studies; I've since ordered a modern history of Origen to take me where HB2 couldn't.

I'll post afresh when and where the files go up.

Hiram, Maine Universalist church disbands

No sooner did I beg off following news from the UUA Board than a couple of people kindly noted news in the Board packet for the meeting this weekend. There was -- with a gigantic and startling packet of recent Board correpondence -- the news, that the First Universalist Society, Hiram, Maine had "dissolved." (I prefer the term "disbands" as it seems less like it was dropped in a barrel of acid.)

The Hiram church was not large. In my copy of the 2001 UUA directory, it reported four members. Even in 1878 (a quick look at the registers online) only show 28 families in the parish. The inland town has also never been large, and while in a beautiful setting that doesn't mean that any church could keep residents, or attract ministers. Its existance, in any form, was its accomplishment.

It was listed as federated. I don't know what it's federation partners were, but if they continue I hope they have long years of ministry ahead. (Perhaps this community church, converted last year to a cultural center?) If not, I hope the people of Hiram find and create ministry where they can.

What church is that in the header?

A friend asked if the church in the header was Universalist. Indeed it is, or was. That is Universalist Meeting House, Hingham, Massachusetts. The image, now in the public domain, was extracted and hosted a Flickr.

This is the original source, The History of the Town of Hingham, Massachusetts.

Phoebe Hanaford was one of its pastors. The church disbanded in 1929 -- so many disbanded in that decade -- and the building, which still stands, has been converted to a private house.  Its papers are in the Unitarian Universalist archive at Harvard-Andover Library.