Documents I’ve already posted about the decline of Universalism: ecumenical options

Following up on the request I posted on September 13, I thought I’d collect up the documents from that era that I’ve already posted over the years. These are not all doom and gloom. If fact, Universalists were optimistic, earnest or a least put on a brave face. First, ecumenical actions.

Back in 2006, I posted several documents about the overtures towards a working relationship with either the Congregationalists, the Unitarians or perhaps both. I’ve posted these below.

Was there an interest in the Christian Connection (O’Kelleyites) prior to 1931, with the Congregational-Christian merger? That merger is how the 1920s merger dance seems to have ended. Might be a fun bit of research. For someone else.

And a loose (but now wholly incomplete thought) following up on those: UCC getting the Universalists anyway

Recalling “Economic Sustainability”

One request begets another; my comment yesterday about the situation about the UUA today being different than the Universalists in the first half of the twentieth century must have struck a note.

So, by request, I’m recalling the UUA’s report of The Economic Sustainability of Ministries Summit June 2015. You can download the PDF report and read the summary here: www.uua.org/careers/ministers/economic-sustainability

Sometimes I hear, seminarians should be warned about how bad things are. So it’s worth mentioning that there was another report in 2015 about the “economic realities of the ministry”. You can read that here. (Also a PDF.)

But unless you’re going to say “nobody should be a minister” then there need to be some solutions. A fund for service-dischargeable loans and alternate training models (more about those later) come to mind. Overtures (“CWG Approved Revision To M. Div. Equivalency Process”) in that direction were made in a Ministerial Fellowship Committee meeting at the end of 2018 and that is linked here. (Another PDF!)

How did the Universalists manage the twentieth-century decline?

I take reader requests, and reader asked what the Universalists did to address the decline prior to World War Two. This squib of an article is what I plan to do.

  • I’ll consider denomination theological and social adaptation, institutional plans and budgets. I’ll use reports, directories and where available newspapers and books.
  • I’ll work from a hypothesis that the decline in denominational Universalism began in the 1920s and lead to a choice to either merge with another denomination or collapse. There were two contenders: the Unitarians and the Congregationalists. As we know, the Unitarians “won” overall, and some individual parishes joined the Congregationalists.
  • I’ll look at the initiatives to encourage loyalty, minimize the parish losses and raise funds. I’ll try to identify what fell off the table.
  • As I review period documents, I’ll point out and transcribe documents that illuminate the truth, and I’ll modify my hypothesis as needed.

This is a long-term project, and to be clear I don’t think there are parallels to the UUA today. (The money and ministerial supply couldn’t be more different.)

Continuing Congregationalist worship resources

The “continuing Congregationalists” are probably the closest relatives to the Universalists (probably) apart from the Unitarians, so it’s worth to look at their resources.

The National Association of Congregational Christian Churches has a page of worship resources, especially ordinations and installations. There’s a 1978 book, The Congregational Worshipbook, that’s now out of print but can be downloaded. I’ve held it and read from it before, and do not recommend it. An absolute brick, and a bit too particular to its author. Do you really need services with the particular anthems filled in? The very specific dedication services (a Bible? a window? a pulpit?) is the flip side to this particularity and maybe the most useful part of the book.

Hedge’s Communion Service is up

I have posted the communion service of Fredric Henry Hedge, from his 1853 Christian Liturgy: For the Use of the Church, as a resource page. You can find it and others in the menu from the main page; I intend to post other items in time.

Properly speaking, it is the anaphora, or as Hedge puts it “the concluding or cenatory act. In a service so liable to excess of formality, it was judged best to leave a wide margin for such voluntary exercises or such spontaneous expressions of thought and devotion as the Minister or Church may be moved to connect with it.”

I wouldn’t expect anyone to use it today as-is. For one thing, it has phrasings — such as dumb for unable to speak — that reasonable people would find offensive. To tell the truth, I wonder how often it was used then. But it was a source for other Unitarian liturgies (and Universalist, as they seemed to borrow heavily from the Unitarians) particularly via the work of James Martineau.

Or so I think. I’ve never traced out the influences, and liturgical primitivism was in the air. But that’s a future project to prove or refute.

These ministerial ethics look familiar…

I was casting around on the website of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. My home church was once an honorary member of it, and the Jersey Universalist Church in the header image was once a full member. I was looking for inspiration and resources; I’ll roll out what I find as I analyze them.

One of the things I found was this statement of ministerial ethics (“Personal Code of Professional Practice“) subscription to which is required for ministers using the NACCC for settlement (placement) services. I thought, “this looks familiar.”

Then, at the bottom

NACCC Division for Ministry, 2009, originally adapted from the Code of Professional Practice of the Unitarian-Universalist Ministers’ Association, 1985 version

Revised 11/2010

Of course, a lot has changed for the UUMA since then, but it’s interesting to see the influences. I would be fun to see what that UUMA 1985 version was, and how it developed since. Fun might not be the right word. No other thought or subtext to add.

What would it take for the Universalists to have four new churches?

I’m watching the development of the Universalist Orthodox Church with a lot of admiration and a little bit of envy. In about a year it has grown to four parishes and two emerging missions. (Their site has a new page that better explains their approach and what they mean by Universalism.)

Are any of these parishes large? No. Do any have a building that they own for worship? No. Are their clergy compensated for their labor? Doubtful. But do they exist and grow? Yes. Do they ordain or receive new clergy? Yes. Do they have regular, public services of worship (liturgies)? Yes. I’ll take what they have over the unrealized plans for a large institutional church any day.

What what would it take for us on liberal Reformed end of Universalism to have four parishes and two emerging missions? That’s behind so many of the articles I write here. I’m fortunate to live in a city with a Universalist Christian church, where I am a member and preach occasionally. There’s one in Providence, and Tokyo. You might find others, historically related to the Universalist denomination or not. If I were in a city with a Universalist Orthodox church, I’d probably attend liturgies, at least occasionally. But people in most places don’t have the option.

I’m not going to build a church where one’s not needed but you may need to do so. A monthly service of morning and evening prayer led by a lay person for a congregation of three is a hundred times better than wishing that there was a church.

What would it take for the Universalists to have four new churches? A hundred? Even one? Most of all: desire to have one, even if there’s no institution “out there” to help. (That said, I’d gladly do what I could to help a new church. I bet others would as well.)

A look into ministerial formation

I got caught in a YouTube hole and just watched the first of four episodes of the 2012 BBC Wales (“We’re more than Doctor Who“) series Vicar Academy. It is a look into the formation of priests in the Church in Wales.

Even though I went to seminary a quarter-century ago, in a Disciples of Christ school and in Texas, the scenes seemed familiar. (Certainly that first time in the collar was harrowing.) I was also impressed with the practical training.

Worth a watch, and I look forward to the other three episodes.

The church and parish, contrasted (1855 edition)

I’ve twice lately tried to not to make too much of the way Universalists distinguished between the parish (or society) and church, but it’s an important distinction to understand the polity and institutional processes. So dang if I didn’t run into this again as the reason a 1850 committee of seventeen ministers north of Boston presented in 1855 an alternative and resource to what they saw, namely:

1. As a general rule, our societies are organized merely so far as to give them a legal existence, and enable them to hold property, and perform, according to law, the business necessary for the maintenance of public worship.

2. Connected with most of our societies, there are churches, having an organization about as meagre as can well be imagined, in any body claiming to have a corporate existence. These churches meet, at stated periods, at the communion table, and for the reception of members, or the election of officers ; and beyond this, there is little that they attempt to do.

3. While our societies are, for the most part, in a flourishing condition, so far as pecuniary support and attendance upon public worship are concerned, a general apathy prevails in regard to our churches; many of our most active and zealous, as well as worthy and respectable men, not being, even nominally, members thereof.

4. Beyond the mere support of public worship, there is little that either our societies or churches have attempted to perform; that object being attained by the former, the latter have few claims to present, for countenance or support. For this cause, it is apprehended, our churches languish, and are asleep — simply because they have nothing to do, or rather because they have never set themselves, unitedly and systematically, about the great work that they ought to do. The fault is not so much in the men, as in the system of their organization. Our churches are not thus languishing, inactive and neglected, because of a general lack of zeal, or Christian benevolence and charity, among our people. But they do next to nothing, for the simple reason that their organization does not propose to do anything of importance, beyond what could be done by any society having a legal existence. The result is, that the church is looked upon as an extra affair altogether; a thing to bind men’s consciences, rather than engage their hearts and hands in works of charity and love.

The rest of the introduction from which this comes defends the propriety of using modern technology and culture to advance the church, and that the church’s mission needs adequate structures. This anticipated (or prepared) the post-Civil War institutionalization of Universalism, but perhaps conditions did not change so much even then.

Merrimack River Ministerial Circle, The Universalist Church Companion, 10-12.

Write briefly

Writing as briefly and clearly as possible is best for teaching and explaining.

My mouth feels better so I could write a long article, but three, unrelated recent comments have reminded me how much most people appreciate a short and direct message. Unitarian Universalists, as Protestants, make a value of heaping up words, but to what end? As alternatives, there’s the BLUF model, and the inverted pyramid, of course.

It takes time and effort to write briefly, but it respects your readers, who then benefit from quicker, clearer understanding. Your reputation as a truth-teller grows, too. How many word salads add nothing but frustration and papers to the trash? Additionally, this plain language guide has helped me limit jargon, and this typography guide (I cited it yesterday, too) helps make printed works more enticing to read.