“‘Canned’ sermons wrapped up in celophane”

Could well-mobilized lay preaching have helped the Universalists in their toughest days?

By 1939, deep into the Great Depression, Universalist institutions — conventions and parishes — were disintegrating. General Superintendent Robert Cummins prodded the Universalist General Convention and the affiliated units for women, Sunday School, publications, young adults and men (in about that order of vitality) towards more effective and coordinated work. And work that got past simply having preaching services in otherwise dormant parishes. Ministers were in short supply; money to pay them even shorter.  He reserved his pique for the support of churches that couldn’t ween themselves off mission support, to free up that money for new work. (I wonder if that experience poisoned later mission support of new churches.) How bad was the situation? (Link to the original)

Of our 544 churches, 71 are receiving the services of a resident minister, supporting themselves and contributing to denominational programs; 171 are supporting resident ministers and carrying on independently of outside help, but are lending no support to the Church’s program beyond that sector of it presided over by their own local parishes; 99 are not aided, yet are unable to support a resident minister or the larger work; 100 are receiving aid from some source or sources; and 97 are dormant, although 14 of these make some contribution to the program of the denomination. One of the most serious problems facing us is the large number of our small parishes. 99 are without ministers, 97 are dormant. Populations have shifted. Transportation has altered conditions. Either these parishes have to be put on “circuits” with ministers serving them only part-time (73 are already operating on this basis), or be satisfied with “occasional” preaching (there are 33 of these and 43 holding summer services only), or be persuaded to use a mail-order variety of service such as might go to them in the form of “canned” sermons wrapped in celophane and devised for use by the laity, or the properties should be sold for whatever they will bring and the money used to re-locate the movement….

I pull this out to say that the problems with the Universalist long predate their flirtation and later consolidation with the Unitarians.  (Allowance of dual ministerial fellowship with the better-paying Unitarians was surely devastating, but that was a Universalist problem.)  Population, economic and transportation changes never stopped, of course. As for transportation, I’m sure he means discontinued rail lines, which killed towns as well as churches. A foretaste of the Interstate Highway System. There will never be enough money or labor to do everything. And I have doubts about the seven-day church in a secular era when people have well packed-seven day lives.

The line that really popped for me was that bit about the celophane (Cummins’s spelling) and the role of the laity in worship. Universalists had, at best, an ambivalent view of lay preaching. If your church was on a circuit, it simply wouldn’t meet for worship when the preacher wasn’t in town. (That’s why the railroads were so important.) As early as the 1850s, Universalist leaders recognized that having laypersons leading morning or evening prayer from a published liturgy, plus perhaps one of those canned sermons, was better than doing without services ― but I don’t get a sense that it made much impact.

As a society, far broader than the Universalists who may stand as an object lesson, if we want religious services, we will either have to change how we treat ordination (a nod to my Independent Sacramental Movement series) or have more lay liturgical leadership. Some denominations do this very well. And there are lay preachers who are very good. Besides, I think there’s a lot to be said for a church with a college of clergy and lay preachers, as opposed to “our pastor.” I’d even be willing to hear something carefully pulled out of cellophane.

Every time I find this tension in Universalist sources, I’ll mark it with the tag lay-led-liturgy.

A communion service I’d use for a prayer breakfast

Many years ago a friend and colleague invited me to join him in an ecumenical prayer breakfast with communion. I alluded to it in a 2012 article when I described the communion ware they used.

The prayer breakfast looks like one of those observances that was once more centrist and mainline but has become identified with conservatives today. Or maybe it’s that I’m in too secular an urban center. Or that I don’t like waking up early enough to have a prayer breakfast before work. Or that I’m not in the military or the Chamber of Commerce. Take your pick.

But I enjoyed that one years ago: there was an earnest, retro quality to it and the piety was sincere. I got to visit with new people. It was more of a men’s space than you normally find in devotional life, and I doubt that was accidental. (Butching up devotion has a long and mixed history.) The format can be adapted to many constituencies though, and some I’ve found online are all-women. Let your imagination roam. Church picnics or camps? It might be good for mission church starts that first meet in restaurant party rooms, even.

Surveying the prayer breakfast landscape, I don’t see communion offered as much as I would have thought, but then again eucharistic fellowship is that bridge too far, when simple prayer and singing doesn’t aggravate ecclesiastic sensibilities. Catholics might have one following a mass.

But when I found this from W. E. Orchard’s 1921 The Order of Divine Service for Public Worship I knew I had a winner because it solved the “problem” of distributing the emblems (a commonly-used term among Universalists of yore for the  bread and wine; I love it and will keep it) though you might think it creates new problems for the consecration.

The service is interesting for its simplicity, not the least because Orchard later “crossed the Tiber” and became a Roman Catholic priest. But perhaps he meant, in his developing view of the sacraments, the simplest that was appropriate and effective. Certainly the bare recitation of the Institution from St. Paul would be simpler, and you see that in the “lower” Reformed Churches, ours included, but it’s also wanting in form and piety. I do.

I’d love some feedback and (even better) links to any prayer breakfasts you’ve attended or conducted.

A SIMPLE OBSERVANCE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER

This Order provides for the simplest possible Observance of the Lord’s Supper, giving the words of Scripture to be read by the President, indicating (in brackets) the appropriate actions, and suggesting (in italics) the subjects for silent prayer and private devotion.

The President shall commence by saying.
The disciples did as Jesus appointed them; and they made ready the Passover.

(Here the elements maybe distributed, and those who are to partake may prepare themselves by prayer.)
Now when even was come, he was sitting at meat with the twelve disciples ; and as they were eating, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began to say unto him every one, Is it I, Lord?

Self-examination and Confession.
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread,

(Here the President may take the bread into his hands.)
and blessed.

Here the Holy Spirit should be silently invoked.
and brake it ;

(Here the President may break the bread.)
and he gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you.

Adoration.
This do in remembrance of me.
(Here all partake of the bread.)

After the same manner also, he took a cup,
(Here the President may take the cup into his hands.)
and gave thanks,

Thanksgiving.
and gave to them saying, Drink ye all of it ; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is shed for many unto remission of sins.

Adoration.
This do as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
(Here all partake of the cup.)

For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come.

Prayer pleading the sacrifice of Christ and making offering
of self to God.

(The offerings for the Poor may now be collected, the President
saying: Brethren, ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich.)

THE HIGH PRIESTLY PRAYER

Jesus, lifting up his eyes unto heaven, said, Father, I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given me; for they are thine and I am glorified in them.

Remembrance of the saints and the departed.
Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word;

Remembrance of the living.
That they may all be one ; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee:

Prayer for the unity of the Church.
That the world may believe that thou didst send me.

Prayer for the conversion of the world and the coming
of the Kingdom.

(Here the President may announce a Hymn, saying. And when they had sung a hymn they went out.)

[HYMN]

BENEDICTION

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Where to use the shorter services

Dog at closed elevator door. Caption: "Help"So, I was trapped in an elevator this morning with my dog, so I thought I’d dash out a few good reasons why you’d want a short, structured service if that’s not your usual practice.

  • Additional services at Christmas, Holy Week and other times where demand might outstrip staffing.
  • Trial additional weekly services.
  • Services in a small or mission church, to provide continuity and support quality.
  • Special services in nursing and retirement homes, airports or any place where worship is handled on a shared community basis.
  • As the basis of streaming or broadcast services.
  • For minority-language services.

Other suggestions?

How the Daily Service was framed

It’s amazing that they could put on a religious service each day in only 15 minutes, but what did it look like?

The BBC has an online archive of its magazine Radio Times and I looked at each day in January and July 1941. Despite the name, the Daily Service only took place from Monday to Saturday, but interestingly the book seems to have been used day by day in order, skipping over the Sundays. This fits with the goal, stated in the preface of Each Returning Day to provide a comprehensive arc of prayer each month, rather than in each service. A spot check suggest that some Services may have been omitted in order to keep the book and calendar it sync.

But since the description of each service was only a book page listing in New Every Morning and Each Returning Day we’ll have to look at contemporary accounts and other broadcast services, mainly the longer Sunday service and services for school children. It was, in essence, morning prayer, with an abbreviated psalmody, and no sermon.

The Sunday services did not have a standard format, but — in 1941 at least — oscillated between “high” and “broad” forms, appealing to an all-out audience, both those in the established churches in England and Scotland, and Dissenting churches, Catholics excluded. So it’s possible there was a standard set of texts with elements in common, but not a standard service.

But my interest isn’t re-enacting those services, but seeing how that approach might make Sunday worship easier to plan, and the conduct of worship easier to teach. For next time.

Overcoming wordiness

A word of explanation about why I care about these two (1, 2) BBC pre-war and wartime prayer books.

At some point, perhaps in the early postwar period, American Protestantism became consumed “togetherness” and word-smithing. That cozy togetherness which fit in so well in the baby boom suburbs, but which makes anyone who’s the least bit introverted writhe in the pews. And the temptation in the age of the mimeograph for ministers to craft special liturgies for every occasion, and to use ten words where one would do. (This is not an original thought on my part, and if I can find the reference I will include it later.) In short, Protestant worship (by which I include Unitarian Universalist worship) has become friendlier, more tactile, more community-focused and far wordier. Fine for some, but I can’t say I like it very much.

I appreciate the 15-minute services that the BBC broadcast, even though I’ve never heard one. Because participation is more than repeating the words that are printed the order of service, and comprehension is more than a quantum of words. In that spirit, I won’t labor the point.

Reviewing “Each Returning Day”

A few days ago, a second book arrived from the United Kingdom, the 1940 BBC prayer book Each Returning Day.

Four years had passed since the first BBC service book for the broadcast Daily Service, New Every Morning, and with those years the beginning of World War II. The new book was intended to be a supplement, but it served broader needs. The slim preface, written by F. A. Iremonger suggested its usefulness as a resource for private, family and congregational worship, though it was not specifically authorized in Anglican churches. Each days prayers were not meant to be comprehensive, but part of a monthly cycle, following. My own copy seems to have been the property of a Birmingham congregationalist minister, R. R. Osborn, who himself broadcast the Daily Service from time to time. My copy has those little pencil marks that ministers add to make the book more useful, and to keep from repeating prayers.

The tone is more patriotic, but not as much as I would have expected for a wartime supplement. As Dean Iremonger put it: “To pray about nothing but the war and their relatives may lead, in times of loss or distress — as it did frequently in the last war — to a revulsion against all religion; and for these in particular several sets of prayers are included which have no direct connexion with the war, but which may deepen and develop the sense of union with God through prayer.”

Because it’s hard to find here are the thirty daily services. (For months with thirty-one days, “it is suggested that any set of prayers be used which may be of special relevance at the time.”)

  1. For Faith in God
  2. For the King and the Royal Family
  3. For a New World
  4. For our Children
  5. For the Unemployed
  6. For Rulers and Statesman
  7. For the Grace of Perseverance
  8. For the Church of Christ
  9. For the British Empire
  10. For a Quiet Mind
  11. For all Workers, especially those engaged in war-work
  12. For the Forces of the Crown
  13. For those who Mourn
  14. For Courage
  15. For our Enemies
  16. For the High Court of Parliament
  17. For the Gift of Sympathy
  18. For the Spread of Christ’s Kingdom
  19. For the Spirit of Service
  20. For those at Sea
  21. For Peace
  22. For our Nation
  23. For the Sick and Wounded
  24. For the Protection of Almighty God
  25. For our Homes
  26. For the Spirit of Sacrifice
  27. For Chaplains, Doctors, and Nurses
  28. For Absent Friends
  29. For the Love of God
  30. For the Fallen in Battle, and all Departed Souls

Unlike the first book, this one does not have hymn suggestions, the hymns, psalms and a reading from scripture is noted in the Radio Times listing for the service.

Indeed, the form is spare. An opening sentence, a versicle and response, a brief themed call to prayer, a few appropriate collects, and a notion for use of additional prayers and the Grace.

The appendix has those additional prayers, including the hoary Book of Common Prayer’s collect “for all conditions of men” and the General Thanksgiving; these also show up in the Universalist prayer books, and are worthy for use as-is or in modern editions.

How the wartime Daily Service might have sounded, first notes

It’s been more than a month since I order my copy of the BBC’s wartime supplement prayer book, Each Returning Day: A Book of Prayers for Use in Time of War and I’ve not gotten it, so let’s move ahead with a few notes on New Every Morning I’ve picked up while we wait. This helps us understand how the book was used. I started this series here.

  • The New SCM Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship described the Daily Service as “a simple daily office comprising a sentence of scripture, a hymn, a prayer, a Bible reading, psalmody, intercessions and thanksgivings, a closing hymn and blessing.” With descriptions in the Radio Times it should be possible to figure out how the service was set out.
  • The New SCM Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship also notes that “[w]omen as well as men led the service.” Notes elsewhere about BBC staff leading the prayers suggests that it was a lay office. (Ordained women ministers from Dissenting churches did lead the fuller broadcast Sunday service in this period.)
  • Winter’s Tale describes how tight the service was timed. For example, the Lord’s Prayer might be read at “anything between a brisk 24 seconds and a reverent 36” with blessings timed to choose one to fit the remaining time. It was 15 minutes long.
  • In the article “Hymns on the Air” by Cyril Taylor (Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland bulletin, October 1947), we learn that the Daily Service “contains two hymns, the first being linked with the opening prayers of worship, thanksgiving, or confession, the second with the closing prayers of intercession.”
  • The hymns came from Hymns Ancient and Modern and Songs of Praise (and didn’t vary as listeners followed along in their own books at home) plus metrical psalms and paraphrases “which we know will be particularly appreciated by listeners in Scotland.” Hymns were often shortened for time, and the tune was selected for its suitability for an octet, so none of the grand ones like “NUN DANKET or EIN’ FESTE BURG, or even OLD HUNDREDTH.”
  • Not so relevant to our concern, but interesting all the same: the BBC had a studio specially consecrated, looking something halfway between a period office and a chapel, used until destroyed by German bombs. It was lovely and must have made religious broadcasting seem that much more special.

“New Every Morning” for radio worshipers

I’ve neglected my public writing far too long, but neither have I had much to say. About a month ago, I started reading documents related to World War Two. This is not a new interest, but the occasion was accidental: I found a set of official bulletins from the Office for Emergency Management — entitled Victory — and that prompted a search for more. Turns out there’s a BBC history project, where years of the magazine Radio Times were scanned and the schedules digitized. All of 1939 are available to read, and with them the opening months of the war for the British. Add other documents and you get an amazing story that I’ve just begun to investigate.

The BBC had a basic problem: German bombing could knock out a part of the pre-war regionalized service. The solution was to consolidate the various radio programs into a single Home Service with transmitters blanketing the country. At first, the whole country’s broadcast service was reduced to news bulletins, recorded music and exceptional amounts of theater organ. This was during Hitler’s Phony War, and the BBC developed a other entertainment, documentary and informative programs, plus regional segments, including news and notices in Welsh. Religious broadcasting was a conspicuous part of the programming, including the Daily Service, which marked its ninetieth anniversary earlier this year. Naturally, I’m interested in what they came up with, not the least because they were responsible for a pan-Christian audience. (I’ve yet to find reference to Jewish or other religious programming during this period.)

Since 1936, and through the war and post-war period, the BBC Daily Service used a service book, New Every Morning, with a supplemental book Each Returning Day published during the war. How were they used? Did they appeal to an ecumenical audience? What limitations were put on the service to perfectly hit the fifteen minute broadcast window? I ordered copies of each book from British booksellers, and New Every Morning has since been delivered.

I think there are probably lessons for worship services with wide appeal, worship services for dispersed groups, and brevity. (Brevity being one of my ongoing beefs with Protestant liturgy.)

I’ll let you know what I find.

The bit of Jewish liturgy hidden in plain sight in the red hymnal

For reasons too long to go into now, I was tracking down threads in the Classic Reform tradition of Reform Jewish liturgics a couple of weeks ago. Suffice it to say that it was in parallel with some of the liturgical developments in Unitarian churches in the late nineteenth century. There were some friendships crossing the divide, or at least cooperative parterships. It’s hard to tell how far or wide without a deep dive.

So, I was reading the Adoration ending sequence from the Sabbath evening service in the Union Prayer Book, in wide use in Reform temples through the early 1970s. This is the Aleinu, for those familiar with the traditional Hebrew name. I thought, “this looks familiar.”

As well it should. Capitalization aside, the first part of the Aleinu was dropped in almost verbatim as the Exhortation — that is, a beginning sequence — of the First Service of the Services of Religion, the services prepended to the 1937 joint Unitarian-Universalist Hymns of the Spirit.

So, it reads:

Let us adore the ever-living God, and render praise unto him who spread out the heavens and established the earth; whose glory is revealed in the heavens above and whose majesty is manifested throughout the earth. He is our God and there is none else; wherefore in awe and wonder we bow the head and magnify the Eternal, the Holy One, the Ever Blest.

That’s the same hymnal that has the Jewish text translated by a Unitarian minister, “Praise to the Living God” as its first hymn.

And if you’ve read this far and are at the UUA General Assembly in New Orleans, you may be interested in Shabbat Worship, presented by Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness on Friday, June 23, 5:00 pm in the Hilton Riverside Windsor Room.

Cross-posted to HymnsoftheSpririt.org

Easter Sunday, 1954

A couple of weeks ago, I found the online archive of the Unitarian Universalist Church, in Muncie, Indiana, and found the summary order of service from April 18, 1954: Easter Sunday.

Here it is:

April 18, 1954 service

This was First Universalist Church, as it was know then, and just renamed from St. John’s Universalist Church. Let’s decode the service.

The “tell” is from the first line. The service is the Easter service from Services of Religion, prepended to the “red hymnal,” The Hymns of the Spirit.

This makes the hymns (483) “Fairest Lord Jesus” and (192) Charles Wesley’s famous “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” The doxology (500) begins “Praise God the love we all may share.”

Responsive Reading 72, entitled “Easter,” is mainly drawn from the third and fourth chapter apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon (the citations in the index should read verses 1-9, not verse 19; it’s a mix of KJV and RV, with some heavy edits) and reads:

The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
And there shall no torment touch them.

In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die,
And their departure is taken for misery,
And their going from us to be utter destruction:

But they are in peace: and their hope full of immortality.
And having borne a little chastening, they shall receive great good:

For God proved them, and found them worthy for himself.

And in the time of their visitation they shall shine forth,
And the Lord shall reign over them for ever.

The faithful shall abide with him in love:
Because grace and mercy are to his chosen.

For in the memory of virtue is immortality:
Because it is recognized both before God and before men.

When it is present men take example at it:
And when it is gone they desire it:
And throughout all time it marcheth crowned in triumph,
Victorious in the strife for the prizes that are undefiled.

But a righteous man, though he die before his time, shall be at rest.

For honorable old age is not that which standeth in length of time,
Nor is its measure given by length of years:

But understanding is gray hairs unto men,
And an unspotted life is ripe old age.

Being made perfect in a little while,
he fulfilled long years;
For his soul was pleasing unto the Lord:

And they that be wise shall shine
As the brightness of the firmament,

And they that turn many to righteousness
As the stars for ever and ever.

For the path of the just is as a shining light
That shineth more and more unto the perfect day.


It’s interesting that the anthems proceed thematically from Thursday to Sunday. I tried to track down the organ music and anthems, but none of the titles are distinct enough to shake anything useful out of Google.

And the preacher? The Rev. Sidney Esten (1892-1965) was not the church’s pastor. (That was the famous Russell Lockwood, would be installed that fall; perhaps he hadn’t arrived yet?) After studying at St. Lawrence, Esten was ordained and served at the long-gone Anderson, Indiana Universalist church; he also taught school. Money was tight, and — per his obituary from the Indiana Academy of Science (PDF) — it seems Anderson was his only pastorate. But he married people and supplies pulpits for years. (Sounds familiar.) He later got a graduate degree and taught science in an Indianapolis high school. He was a  “noted authority on birds” — indeed, feeding birds when he died suddenly.

I would have been happy to have been there. Can you image the flowers? Happy Easter to you, when it comes!