Another prayer collection for your reference

Following some fan mail yesterday, I think I'm going to continue this thread of prayer resources for a couple of days more at least.

These days, I rarely write my own prayers. There are so many established prayers with deep and sensitive wordings, and written in the rhythm of human speech, that it makes sense to use those and take what time I have for worship preparation and put it into the sermon. These are not usually new published prayers, which too often look and read like free verse, are breathy in their self-satisfactions and stumble into cliche. I'd rather take something old and tweak it; say, if there are too many generic men or fathers.

One of the reasons I set up hymnsofthespirit.org was so that I could share the liturgical elements I scanned for easier searching. (Despite it being dedicated to the hymnal, the site now is really for the associated Services of Religion.)

I'm looking for other similar resources, and I think I found one: Morgan Phelps Noyes's 1934 Prayers For Services: A Manual For Leaders Of Worship.

This work obviously isn't a denominational work, but comes out of that thought-filled mainline Protestant stream, which included Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Unitarians. Several prayers from the then-standard Unitarian hymn-service book and James Martineau, with Anglo-Catholic Pearcy Dearmer and the evangelical-tinged YMCA being the other bounding limits.  I think it has promise, even if I might not think every prayer is appropriate.

Plus, it's large and well-organized. The table of contents and index are useful alone for inspiring sermon themes. The selection of opening words is well-chosen, and includes occasions outside the liturgical church year, like Children's Sunday.

There are, of course, many prayers. But one feature I look forward to using are "addresses to deity." Fundamentally, collects are modular. You might remove the first part where you address God and replace it with something appropriate. Each section of the book ("The Prayer of Invocation," "The Prayer of Thanksgiving," "…Petition," "…Intercession," "…for Special Days and Seasons," "… for the Funeral Service") starts with these open-ended addresses. This can also be useful for prompting prayers that would be better for you to write or heavily adapt.

Lastly, the prayers are well-cited and the bibliography seems ripe for further exploration. I know I will.

The prayer from Malabar

So, the last prayer choice under "Close of Worship" in the Additional Prayers and Collects, in the 1937 joint Unitarian and Universalist Hymns of the Spirit is cited in the index as coming from "Liturgy of Malabar, adapted."

Grant, O Lord, that the ears which have heard the voice of thy songs may be closed to the voice of clamor and dispute; that the eyes which have seen thy great love may also behold thy blessed hope; that the tongues which have sung thy praise may speak the truth; that the feet which have walked in thy courts may walk in the region of light; and that the souls of all who here receive thy blessed Spirit may be restored to newness of life. Glory be to thee for thine unspeakable gift. Amen.

I think it's lovely.

Loveliness aside, you may ask, how did a prayer from fifth-century India get into something as New England-bound as the old red hymnal?

My first suspicion is that a Unitarian member of the committee recommended it rather than a Universalist member. I keep finding traces of early twentieth-century interest in antiquarian liturgy among Unitarians: an attempt to find the earliest, most authentic and most lowercase-c catholic strata on which to base liturgical devotion.  What keeps this from being simple primitivism is looking past the apostolic age and outside the New Testament. The Liturgy of Malabar is very old, but is the work of a developed church, and one that would have been very foreign to American Protestants. (And provides an link between the Unitarians and their later though brief interest in what we would call the Independent Sacramental Movement. More about that some other time.) Let's put a pin in that curiousity: we will see this interest in a more universal Christian liturgical expression among the Unitarians again, and those influences on the Universalists.

While the prayer appears in different works before the red hymnal and since, its inclusion in W. E. Orchard's The Order of Divine Service for Public Worship is the likely source, as the red hymnal also includes one of his own prayers. (Again, for another time.) This prayer is noted in that index as "(? 5th cent.) Neale and Littledale's Translation." John Mason Neale, better known as a translator of hymns, also translated liturgies. His translation of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" perhaps his best known.

But their translation of what? The Liturgies of SS. Mark, James, Clement, Chrysostom, and Basil, and the Church of Malabar. Is this Malabar liturgy the original East Syriac rite of the St. Thomas Christians, the restored East Syriac rite of the Eastern Catholics or the adopted West Syriac rite of the indiginizing church? There have been Christians in South India from antiquity, and the traditional founder of these churches was St. Thomas. Today the St. Thomas Christians range in theology and jurisdiction from the Nestorian to Eastern Catholic to Anglican. I ask all this with huge caveats: this is not my field, is centuries old and in languages I don't read. Any clarification from readers would be well appreciated. Neale, in his introduction, isn't clear about the source of the text he translated, but presumably from the Eastern Catholics with noted and obvious changes removed.

So what was the prayer originally? One given by a deacon, at the communion of the faithful. You can read it here.

The prayer has appeared in the Armed Forces Hymnal (1950); also here, here (for use after communion), and this textbook on worship.

It's use as a post-communion prayer fits will with a liberal-Reformed use; I'll use it at my next opportunity.

Possible source for non-Biblical responsive readings

Yesterday's century-old Unitarian resource reminded me of another.

The "non-biblical" reading has been a staple of Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist worship for ages; in some societies, it's the default. Of course, even in late antique Christian worship, hymns were adopted in worship as extra-biblical texts but I'm describing something that functions in one hand as a hymn or psalm, but may also be used as a preaching text.

Some time back, while looking for another book online, I found one that looks like an early source of these, edited from the work of "great authors", led by Unitarian minister John Haynes Holmes.

The 1919 edition is in the public domain, and that's the one I'll be referring to. (While the the 1929 edition may be checked out by persons with an archive.org account, only one person may use it at a time.)

It's a bit like the Golden Book of Liberal Religious Wisdom, with arranged readings from Tennyson, Whitman, Jesus, the Buddha and Marcus Aurelius. Some Whitman in his birth bicentennial. And Channing in the bicentennial year of his Baltimore Sermon. It even has Parker's "arc of the [moral] universe."

selection from Parker reading

The red 1937 Hymns of the Spirit has a few non-Biblical responsive readings, and so I've wondered if some of those readings were built from these. That Channing one above has the text for the responsive reading "I Call that Mind Free," a staple of the blue hymnal and the gray (#592).

Sure, some are stuffy, but there's a grandeur to them that deserves respect and perhaps emulation, even if only for private meditation.

Revisiting the Lay Centres book

More than five years ago, I first wrote about a Unitarian effort about 110 years past for the creation of "lay centres" that in many ways anticipated the post-WWII Fellowship Movement.

There's little I can find about this initiative apart from a few articles and a small worship guide. I intended to say more about the book -- famous last words -- but it is fragile and rare enough that I did not want to subject it to a flatbed scanner.

2014-04-02 21.13.36

So I'll pick up where I left off.  A couple of years used my phone camera to first "scan" it, and then produced a version to share. This is part of my ongoing meditation what churches can do with less-than-optimal resources. So far as I know there's a single survivor from that experiment: First Unitarian, Memphis, a.k.a The Church of the River.

Here are those articles listed in one place, to finally launch my review. Hope it's helpful; comments welcome, below.

“‘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.