Adapting prayers you find

I’m writing this after three and a half hours in a dentist’s chair; it will not be exhaustive.

As I’ve written before, I often use published prayers, particularly older ones and mostly the form known as the collect (accent on the first syllable). But I rarely use them untouched.

Here are three ways to modify a prayer you might find.

First, give in an introduction. If it’s not clear why you are using a topical prayer, introduce it and bid the congregation to pray. Second, to make the prayer more fitting to the occasion, insert petitions. Third, if the prayer has phrasing that broadly impedes prayer, modify it, but try to keep the rhythm intact.  This one is, I think, abused as license to do what you want, no matter how it flows thereafter. I’ll retain some male language for God, but will smooth out excesses; I’ll also remove generic male language where men means human beings. More about inclusion in prayer some time when my mouth doesn’t throb so much.

Here’s a worked example, from the section “Prayers for Family; Parents and Children; Children’s Sunday” in Additional Prayers and Collects from Hymns of the Spirit.

Here is how it originally appears:

Almighty Father of all, who dost set the children of men in families, enable us, we pray thee, so to guide the children committed to our care that they may love the ways of truth and of righteousness, of peace and of goodwill. Fulfill in them our divinest dreams, and through them carry forward the coming of thy kingdom upon earth. Amen.

Here is how I might change it.

Let us pray for children in the church :

Our One Parent, universal and gracious, who dost set children in families, enable us, we pray thee, so to guide those children committed to our care, especially Andrea, Bartholomew and Chiana, that they may love the ways of truth and of righteousness, of peace and of goodwill. Fulfill in them our divinest dreams, and through them carry forward the coming of thy kingdom upon earth. Amen.

These are all straight-forward, common-sense changes… unless you’ve never done it. Using prayer resources is more than pulling them out of the book.

Up next in September

Apart from clearing out half-started old draft articles and making some progress on the Independent Sacramental Movement, this month I’ll write on:

  • Adapting liturgical elements
  • Finding themes in the Revised Common Lectionary
  • Revisiting free and open source tools for their church use
  • Preparing for Universalist “Memorial Day”
  • Perfecting the communion loaf

I take requests, too. Is there anything you, dear readers, would like me to research and write about?

Universalist Christian site from the Ukraine

Saturday afternoon, I got a short email from the editor of a site called Тринитарный библейский универсализм (Trinitarian Biblical Universalism) at It’s all in Ukrainian, of course.

It would be a lie to say I didn’t weep a little. It’s gratifying to know that time and time again, God speaks to the people and calls them to a complete Gospel. Note the reference to Paul Dean, one of the last of the leading squarely Trinitarian Universalists (though they never completely disappeared, or should I say we?) and Edward Mitchell, who led an independent stream of New York-based Universalists early in the nineteenth century. Google Translate got me a little ways (it’s not so good for theology) but the other Ukrainian books the editor publishes are beyond me; perhaps they’ve been translated.

79 years ago, today

I’ve been enjoying “WW2 in Real Time“, a YouTube-based week-by-week documentary wrap up events in the war 79 years ago. (Go, and subscribe if that’s your kind of thing.) That means we’re in 1940, during the Battle of Britain.

I’ve thought about reading the Radio Times in tandem since they’re available, to get a better sense of the nature of the religious broadcasting. So, “today” Sunday, September 1, 1940 I see on the Forces radio schedule a variety of short religious programs, lasting from about five to thirty minutes, and ranging from talks, to hymn sings, to services. Smart: serving people who might not be able to break for a local, organized service or to listen to a fifty minute “full” service on the Home service. Serving people as they are is good ministry. I look forward to other insights.

Also, I note on that day an early show for the Forces featuring that epitome of World War Two home-fires entertainment, Vera Lynn. She is still living, aged 102. This is the past, but not ancient history.

Site updates

I’m going through and cleaning up parts of the site, adding text where text is missing, moving links from the old site and the like. The categories list is now a dropdown menu, and there’s a search bar in the site panel (desktop view).

The obvious change is the header image; it was time for something new. This is the Jersey Universalist Church, Jersey, Ohio, not so far from Columbus. I found the image at Wikimedia Commons, and although it was committed to the public domain, I want to thank user Nyttend for taking and sharing it.

Closeup of door and signI first learned of the Jersey church back in the 1990s but it wasn’t a member of the UUA but the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. Here it is in the 1998 NACCC yearbook, under Pataskala, Ohio. Several Universalist churches became members of the NACCC instead of the UUA, but none with the word Universalist in their names remain today, Jersey included. But guessing by the sign there was some activity as late as 2010.  Perhaps only a burial, as there is a cemetery next door. I wonder if they’re still going.

You can find it today on this Google map.

Updating the joined-since-2003 UUA membership list

In my article about the Western Unitarians, I mentioned my doubts about the UUA effectively starting new churches. And yes, you can correctly read into any number of my articles the suggestion that new churches will be independent, small and boot-strapped. But what has been created? (And surely, this isn’t to suggest they were air-dropped from Boston.)

In 2010, I made up a chart of the 33 congregations that joined the UUA in the seven years since 2003; joined, not formed. (At least three have long histories.) I’ll bring that up to date.

So all those churches since 2003

As before, these are congregations that have been admitted to the UUA, whether or not they had a prior existence. The ones from before 2010 are in the first group. The membership then and now are in parentheses, separated by a slash.

The congregations admitted since are in the second group, with the current membership at the end. The “cite” is a link back to my article about their admission.

  1. Adirondack Unitarian Universalist Community: Saranac Lake, NY (40/38)
  2. Aiken Unitarian Universalist Church: Aiken, SC (68/80)
  3. All Souls Free Religious Fellowship (All Souls UU Society): Chicago: IL, (14/14)
  4. Florence UU Fellowship: Florence, OR (23/43)
  5. Foothills Unitarian Universalist Fellowship: Maryville, TN (72/80)
  6. Ginger Hill Unitarian Universalist Congregation: Slippery Rock, PA (32/15)
  7. Heartland Unitarian Universalist Church: Indianapolis, IN (25/55)
  8. Mosaic Unitarian Universalist Congregation: Orange City, FL (34/22)
  9. New Hope Congregation: New Hudson, MI (30/29)
  10. Northeast Iowa Unitarian Universalist Fellowship: Decorah, IA (57/47)
  11. Northwoods/Chequamegon Unitarian Universalist Fellowship: Ashland, WI (31/84)
  12. Open Circle Unitarian Universalist Fellowship: Fond du Lac, WI (52/70)
  13. Open Circle UU: Boulder, CO (15/disbanded)
  14. Pathways Church: Southlake, TX (90/80)
  15. Prairie Circle Unitarian Universalist Congregation: Grayslake, IL (72/93)
  16. Seward Unitarian Universalist of Seward: Seward, AK (9/disbanded)
  17. The Unitarian Universalists of Central Delaware: Dover, DE (51/53)
  18. Unitarian Church of Hubbardstown: Hubbardstown, MA (13/13)
  19. Unitarian Universalist Church of Blanchard Valley: Findlay, OH (26/20)
  20. Unitarian Universalist Church of Hot Springs: Hot Springs, AR (43/102)
  21. Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Chesapeake: California/Barstow, MD (43/30)
  22. Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tupelo: Tupelo, MS (36/34)
  23. Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Rocky Mount: Rocky Mount, NC (40/28)
  24. Unitarian Universalist of Petaluma: Petaluma, CA (71/89)
  25. Unitarian Universalist of Santa Clarita: Santa Clarita, CA (59/57)
  26. Unitarian Universalist Peace Fellowship: Raleigh, NC (44/57)
  27. Unitarian Universalists of Fallston, MD: Bel Air, MD (41/25)
  28. Unitarian Universalists of Gettysburg: Gettysburg, PA (53/55)
  29. Unitarian Universalists of the Big Bend, TX: Big Bend, TX (31/39)
  30. Washington Ethical Society: Washington, DC (150/166)
  31. WellSprings Congregation: Chester Springs, PA (143/271)
  32. Wildflower Church: Austin, TX (181/123)

And joining in the nine years since. I think you can see the difference.

  1. All Faiths Unitarian Congregation: Fort Myers, FL cite (139)
  2. All Souls: Miami, FL cite (84)
  3. Iowa Lakes Unitarian Universalist Fellowship: Okoboji, IA cite (39)
  4. Original Blessing: Brooklyn, NY cite (since disbanded)
  5. Tapestry UU: Houston, TX (withdrew from multi-site congregation) cite (32)
  6. Unitarian Universalist Fellowship: Lake Norman/Davidson, NC cite (45)
  7. Unitarian Universalists of Blue Ridge: Rappahannock/Washington, VA cite (55)
  8. UU Congregation: Petoskey, Michigan cite (26)

As for the matching list of congregations that disbanded or merged: well, only if there’s time. Not nearly so pleasant.

“Radio Times” archive expanded

Last year I wrote a series of articles on two service books, New Every Morning and Each Returning Day, used by the BBC during (and after) World War Two in their fifteen-minute Daily Service. My goal was to see if there were any lessons to be learned for conducting worship today, and I think there are at least hints. Particularly how much you can simplify worship, and how you can identify themes for worship. (I may pick up this series later.) The series begins here:

“New Every Morning” for radio worshipers

The other articles are here, here, and here.

So, what’s changed? Last year, I used the BBC Genome to read schedules from the Radio Times, which had a little blurb for the Daily Service and longer outlines for the longer weekly services. Unfortunately, when I was writing the series, only the Radio Times issues for 1939 were online. So only the opening months of the war. The BBC’s schedule was still being retooled for wartime (all of the local services were merged into a single Home Service, and later one for the Forces) and Each Returning Day hadn’t been published yet.

Glancing back to that series, I was prompted to look again at the BBC Genome, and lo! the many years of issues filled in! (Which you probably guessed if you saw the title.) Now I have more data to get a sense of the services.

Here is the service for June 5, 1944, the day before D-Day.

from page 61 of ‘ New Every Morning,’ and page 38 of ‘ Each Returning Day.’ Jesu thy mercies are untold ; Psalm 32 ; Help us to help each other, Lord

That is New Every Morning service 14, “Suffered under Pontius Pilate.” The alternate Psalm is 16; I suspect Psalm 32 was the Coverdale version. There is a touching prayer for “the afflictions of thy people.”  I would like to think it was used. Besides “Jesus, thy mercies are untold,” there are five other suggested hymns, but “Help us to help each other, Lord” isn’t one. The service continues at some point with Day 17 in Each Returning Day, “For the gift of sympathy.”

Amen to that.

Theistic worship: notes from “the Unity Men”

I’ve been writing at this site (and earlier, at since 2003, and it amazes me that I’ve written so little about “Western Unitarianism” or “the Unity Men”: those Unitarians of the Western Unitarian Conference who promoted a theistic moral religion, in contrast to the Unitarian Christianity of New England.

This is all I found of mine in 16 years of writing:

A fiddle-and-lecture order of service

To be honest, it’s not my thing. But it is an honest expression of religious faith, has a genuine appeal and is a honorable part of the Unitarian tradition.

And more: I worry that they’re not going to be any new Unitarian or Universalist congregations. The UUA seems to have gone out of the church planting business. Perhaps this is just as well since there’s been noted tendency, even among the Christians, to encourage congregations to have an all-inclusive Unitarian Universalist identity, rather than being true to a particular vision. It never made sense to me, either on theological or polity grounds. This kind of society (and it probably would be called a society) might be very desirable today.

Without banging my “parish and church” drum too hard, the Theist church looks to me to be the perfect modernist parish without a church. By which I mean it’s a public service body, dedicated to education and morals though worship and service. Its “sacrament” is the pulpit. The (missing) church is that body of believers who seek (to keep it brief) closeness to God through profession of faith, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is specific in much the same way the parish is general. Can you guess which side the Unitarians have defaulted to? (And most, but far from all, of the Universalists.)

Of course, the Western Unitarians had a particular focus and context: public morals, personal development and a calm sense of awe and devotion. I’ll defer to those who know it better to describe it in depth. It was progressive in a way that might make us roll our eyes, but what doesn’t these days? Revivals, if anyone wants one, require interpretation.

Looking back to when they Western Unitarians were at their strength, you can also see a parallel movement in Reform Judaism. With its emphasis on the prophetic and universal, and a strong reduction in the use of Hebrew, Classic Reform offer something of a similar liturgical experience to the Western Unitarians. At least you could be excused if you stumbled into either service and confuse it for the other. Classic Reform at its most Classic Reformist had organs in worship, some used hymnals, might refer their pulpit-gowned rabbis as “The Rev.” and some even met on Sundays. I would love to visit one of the remaining Classic Reform congregations, though watching the livestream of services from Temple Emanu-el (New York) or reading the Union Prayer Book, Sinai Edition, Revised puts me close to the tone if not the text of the Western Unitarians.  I think the clearest “bridge” is the hymn “Praise to the Living God,” a traditional Jewish synagogue song, translated into English by a Unitarian minister. It was found both in the Union Hymnal (Reform Jewish, 1897) and Unity Hymns and Chorales (Western Unitarian, 1911). This is the same hymn that would open Hymns of the Spirit, and a version is found in Singing the Living Tradition.

Of course,  Unity Hymns and Chorales is where you go for a words, if you wanted it as a period piece. (Or perhaps from the Hymns of the Spirit, the fourth, fifth, sixth and eleventh services.) It’s lovely, but a new Theist society, eastern or western, will need to find its own voice and its own take on that vital if emotionally constrained approach to speak in this anxious age, beset by demons.

In praise of the pipe organs of Greenland

I don’t travel as much as I like, or I think I’d like, so I let my mind wander instead. As a child, I occupied myself with atlases and encyclopedia. In college, I heard the Iron Curtain fall by shortwave and met strangers by Usenet. Since the early 1990s, I’ve trekked down the back alleys of the internet. Today, I remembered a site I once enjoyed about the pipe organs of Greenland. I could have picked something else as a window into Greenland; indeed, I also look at sales flyers. (Frozen pizza, anyone?) But with pipe organs, I not only get something of obvious ecclesiastic interest — I know nothing of organs but I do like to snoop around a church — but also a slice of what Greenlanders value in music, architecture and religion.

Pipe Organs of Greenland (

I’ve written about churches in Greenland before, but not for ten years or so.

The site has been nicely updated since I last looked it up. Be sure to click on the photos, which cycle you through the images for the town or village. The dramatic landscapes! Both the spare Nordic modernism of the larger towns, and the colorful historic churches. The lighting fixtures!

I think I prefer the more homespun choices. For example, I rather like what appear to be metal house numbers used in lieu of cards on hymnboards. (I’ve seen something like this before, at the now-demolished Third Church of Christ, Scientist, here in D.C.)

That little church in Nutaarmiut (2010 population, 36) is simple but endearing, and I might harbor wistful, romantic notions of the hamlet if it hadn’t been the scene of a triple murder in 2012. (I think that was about the time I stopped looking at Greenlandic churches.) Which, I suppose, is the value of travel — in fact, or by armchair — namely, the appreciation of what is, and not you would imagine to be.

W. E. Orchard, liturgist

For years I have run into the works of W. E. Orchard, and have made references to him twice recently. He was neither a Unitarian or a Universalist, but a Congregationalist minister later becoming a Roman Catholic priest. His service book, The Order of Divine Service for Public Worship, was evidently influential in Unitarian and Universalist circles.

I make reference to his works in the following articles:

Additionally, a prayer of his own composition appears in Hymns of the Spirit, in the Thirteenth Order of Service, for Easter :

O Thou who makest the stars, and turnest the shadow of death into the morning: on this day of days we meet to render thee the tribute of our thanksgiving. We praise thee for the resurrection of the spring-time, for the everlasting hopes that rise within the human heart, and for the gospel which hath brought life and immortality to light. Receive our thanksgiving, reveal thy presence, and send into our hearts the spirit of the risen Christ. Amen.

But I also introduce him here, because he will appear again as an associate of Unitarian minister Joseph Morgan Lloyd Thomas. Both of whom were member of the Society of Free Catholics, which will get me back to my ongoing series about the Independent Sacramental Movement.