Is there a definite form of Universalist or Unitarian Christian worship?
Note I wrote, definite because I won't venture into the troubled waters of
figuring out if there is a definitive form.
But the more I compare orders of Christian worship from the Universalist and Unitarian
traditions, the more unity I see, especially in those works composed after the
first glimmerings of American ecumenism. These, in turn, look conspicuously like other
denominational liturgies from that period to the present. That's a good thing, since
today's Unitarian Universalists seem to revel in being
My earlier mistake in trying (and failing) to find a common thread was in comparing Communion orders from too broad a time frame. There is something about the Communion liturgy that brings out the eccentric in just about everyone, but even there there is more in common than one might think.
First, there seems to be more familiarity with what most people call "liturgical worship" than is seen today. The past is littered with liturgies: some Unitarian, some Universalist; some for Sunday school, some for congregational worship; some for churches with ministers, some for preaching stations that waited for ministers and needed to worship with lay leadership.
The Book of worship: for the congregation and the home from the Church of the Disciples, Boston, is a Unitarian liturgy to pique your interest:
search MOA here for "worship."
This afternoon, after worship is over, I'll head to the airport and fly to Providence. From there, a car to suburban Boston, to the
First Parish Church in Weston where my friend
Peter Boullata will be ordained to the Christian ministry. I'll offer him the right hand of fellowship.
I've seen people try to get clever with the right hand of fellowship, and it never
seems to work. The reference is to Galatians 2:9. Here it is, with the verse following:
And when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.
Certain themes are clear: commission, affirmation, unity. These are appropriate for someone
entering ordained life, of course. The act reminds us of the different labors that
ordained ministers might find in their vocations. It also reminds us that none of us is commissioned
to save the world, but that we can and must share the task.
But recall, too, that it is -- or at least, is ours by right -- our practice to welcome
new members, the overwhelming number of whom are not ordained, by the right hand of fellowship. And with
it, more than a handshake, they too receive a commission, affirmation, and a sign of unity.
And a share of the mission.
This has been historically an important day for Universalists because of Christ's promise that "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." (John 12:32, NRSV)
THROUGH thy most dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who, after his most glorious resurrection, manifestly appeared to all his apostles, and in their sight ascended up into heaven to prepare a place for us; that where he is, thither we might also ascend, and reign with him in glory. Therefore with angels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious name;
evermore praising thee, and saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Glory be to thee, O Lord, most high.
Proper Preface for Ascension with Sanctus from the 1894 Universalist prayerbook
No Ascension Day service this year at UNMC, so I'll trundle over to the Church of Ascension and St. Agnes, a Rome-leaning Anglo-Catholic Episcopal Church that has a reputation for "doing" Ascension well. (They should.)