Wise words from Finland


Church decline in the West is a real if unwelcome phenomenon. We may not be able to have Christian life with the same cultural, political or financial force as we once did, but Jesus promised to be with us where two or three are gathered in his name. (Matthew 18:20) It would be lacking in faith to give up only because our numbers are few. But we may need to come up with other options about how we arrange our common Christian life..

As many of my readers will know, Quakers typically organize in a locale and conduct, worship weekly and conduct the business of their meeting (congregation) once a month. This is why a local Quaker church is customarily called a monthly meeting. Monthly meeting may come together in a region as a quarterly (four times a year) meeting, but more often these days in a larger area or in a smaller country on an annual basis, as a yearly meeting. Thus Yearly Meeting is the usual name for the broadest functioning body of Quakers, with these in the United States then often affiliated with one or more of the “denominations.”

Finland Yearly Meeting is one of the smallest yearly meetings in the world, with about 30 individual Quakers in the country. If they can keep body and soul (and website) together, there’s hope for the rest of us.

Fortunately, parts of their site are also in English. Naturally, I look to Northern Finland, assuming it would be the thinnest for Quakers, and indeed there are between five and seven Quakers there. But they still come together. One town has a “quiet room” with a small library.

When we meet it is usually for most of a day with the travel being part of our fellowship as travel can take several hours. We generally meet about 2-3 times a year, but we can usually arrange a [meeting for worship] in response to a visiting Friend.

This arrangement can’t be easy, but I find it encouraging given their current numbers.

Requests open for UniversalistChristian.net

I’ve build some of my sites, including hymnsofthespirit.org, universalistchristian.net (documents) and universalistchristian.org (original writing and perhaps more) using the Jekyll static site generator, but I’ve let them go so long that I’m having a hard time refreshing and adding to them. Did Jekyll change, or did I just forget how to use it?

Either way, I’ve decided to relearn it but that’s taking more time than I thought. I’ll post updates, but in the meantime can you go to those sites, and especially UniversalistChristian.net, and let me know what you would like to see added?

Read this site with a feed

You don’t need to come here to read this site. Like most which use WordPress, this site publishes its content, or syndicates using the Atom and RSS (Real Simple Syndication) formats at revscottwells.com/feed. This makes an open web possible, rather than one where you are locked into closed systems, which seems to be winning. An open web is more free, and feeds give you more options, which is why I promote and support it.

In practice, there are lots of feed readers; I use the Firefox browser, and use its Feedbro extension.

I mention all of this because my feed was broken until last night, but it’s fixed and needs to be celebrated here, in your preferred feed reader, or sites the UUpdates.net that collect these feeds into a common, one-stop site. My thanks to UUpdates’ UUpdater for identifying why the feed was faililng. (Since his name isn’t anywhere on it, I’m not sure how private he would like to be, and err on the side of animosity.)

Article on “The Great Dechurching”

At church yesterday, over coffee, we talked about an article in the Washington Post concerning a new book which studied attitudes of those withdrawing from churches. The trajectory is not good, but the news was better than I thought. Some of the measured decline was about convenience and fitting in, and not just theology or anger towards churches. I wasn’t going to mention it here since I assume most of you do not have a Washington Post subscription. But on rereading it, saw that it was a Religion News Service story, and they have it on their site.

The Great Dechurching’ Explores America’s Religious Exodus

I’m thinking about getting the book. Anyone else interested in it?

How big is this communion cup?

So, at church today I saw this communion cup left in the pew rack. It must have been overlooked the last time we had communion.

So I brought it home to measure, wash and return. And since I have a portable kit with similar glasses, I’ll measure those and see if they are a standard size.

Calipers out (don’t you have church calipers?) I see it is

  • 36.7 mm diameter at the rim
  • 26 mm in diameter at the base
  • 47.1 mm tall

On the scales, I see it weighs 22g empty, and can hold about 10ml to the rim. But that’s an impractical amount for a service; 6ml is about right.

But then on sight, I could see the glasses in the portable case and the church set are different. The glasses in the portable set are

  • 39.8 mm diameter at the rim
  • 25.2 mm diameter at the base
  • 37.5 mm tall

It weighs 16g empty, holds about 7ml to the rim, and should be filled with 4 or 5 ml. A smaller, squatter glass makes sense for a portable kit, to be fair.

But why measure? Threes reasons come to mind: finding matching replacement glasses, details for making communion trays (in the wood shop, or perhaps today 3D printed) and to buy and carry the right amount of wine or juice.

Two glass cups on a black surface
The cup from church is one the left.

Connecting the Philadelphia and New England Conventions

Originally there were two Universalist convention bodies, but the Philadelphia Convention died no later than 1809. It was the New England Convention that eventually developed into the Universalist Church of America, and that was what consolidated with the American Unitarian Association to form the Unitarian Universalist Association.

So, if the Philadelphia Convention (1790-1809) was an ecclesiastic dead-end, then why was its Articles of Faith and Plan of Church Government cited and reprinted? Antiquarian interest?

Richard Eddy comes to the rescue in his Universalism in America (vol 2, p. 432).

it’s because the Philadelphia plan was adopted by the New England Convention in 1794, and later adapted or amplified by the meeting at Winchester, N.H. in 1803. That 1794 meeting was the one where Ballou was famously ordained by Elhanan Winchester, with a bible pushed into his chest.

Quickly-made presentations

Some day I’ll go into my document processing workflow, but I have a workshop coming up and that’ll call for a presentation. That’s the theme today. It won’t be a “PowerPoint” — that semi-genericized term for meeting-killing, over-engineered presentation visuals — mind you, but a set of slides that exist as a PDF file, that are much easier to put together.

First, the text, like almost all of my work products, is set down in Markdown, a simple way of marking-up text to use as-is, or to post-process into other formats. (For those in the know, I use Github-flavored Markdown, an extended version.)

For the production of the slides, I use the beamer class within LaTeX. LaTeX is a hoary and rather difficult typesetting engine. commonly used in the hard sciences and mathematics.

But I want something easier, so I use pandoc, a command-line tool that processes a Markdown file through beamer to get the PDF output. Try pandoc through a web interface; beamer tranformations don’t work though.

“The Easiest Way to Make Presentations! (Pandoc + Markdown)” (Luke Smith)

Confused yet? This video should clear it up, and if that doesn’t appeal pandoc has other presentation options. and since it has found a vital place at the core of my document workflow, I’d recommend try it in any case.

Small Universalist churches aren’t new

Reading though Russell Miller’s The Larger Hope I came across these sentence about the Philadelphia Convention, which I’m reading about now.

Universalist societies in fellowship between 1790 and 1809 were small, weak, and lacked financial resources. With the exception of the Philadelphia church, the largest had only fifteen members and one only had six. (vol. 1; p. 79, citing Richard Eddy, Universalism in America, vol 2, p. 122.)

Cleaning up UniversalistChristian.net

One of the problems of writing about Universalism so long is that when I search the web about something I don’t know, I often find something old I wrote or transcribed, but had forgotten about. Or sometimes, something I’ve written about but have neglected.

I’ve been thinking about how the Universalists viewed elders (the church office) much like I wondered about deacons last year. That lead me back to the 1790 Philadelphia Convention, its Articles of Faith and its Plan of Church Government. Oh look: the page has typographic and styling errors. I need to work on that.

It and Universalist Christian Initiative (UniversalistChristian.org) need a general refresh. I’ve not touched either in three years, and that also means relearning the engine that generated them, Jekyll.

But it’s not just a clean up job, or a polity dive. I’d like to know more about the church building the Philadelphia Universalist had (an interesting story in its own right) and more about a shadowy minister from what are now the far exurbs of Washington, D.C.

So, will I ever blog again? I’ve had some version of this blog for twenty years now and it has had its ups and downs, but I’ve written little in the last few years. My heart’s not been in it. It was a lot more fun when there was cross-talk between blogs, but I don’t expert to see so much of that ever again.

But even if the band got back together, I doubt I would ever go back to blogging the same way with a particular Unitarian Universalist Association beat (it’s hard to muster interest) or a self-imposed writing schedule (as I never had the readership to justify it.) Long form Universalist writing will go first to the Universalist Christian Initiative, which I desperately need to restart or close. But it seems worthwhile, so I’ll put my mind to that.

So let’s see if I can make a proper weblog of it; a place where I can log resources and thoughts that come to mind without getting too caught up in making a presentable article.