A liberal license in a liberal service book

Free-culture and free software advocates easily identify art and technology as fields of interest. Software to share creates common tools for further creativity and interoperability. Riffing on existing films, photos and songs unlocks creativity. Drawing from the public domain preserves human accomplishment and refreshes it. These are easy to see, but worship?

Copyright and liturgy — literally, “work for the common good” — exist (for some sensitive souls) in tension. The bonds on what comes from God, or what is given to God, ought to be loose, if made at all. Since this attitude predates personal printing — think spirit duplicators in the pre-computer ago — little wonder the limits of liberal licensing extend to redistribution or free (that is, sponsored) distribution (one example) and not adaptation. In the United States, the public domain ascription of the Episcopal Church’s prayerbook is the exception that proves the rule: it has been widely adapted and modified. Unitarian Universalists could take this attitude to heart.

Gladly, I can point to one example that should still be effect and, for some, still useful. From the introduction to the 1937 Services of Religion prepended to Hymns of the Spirit (the red hymnal).

All of the services are intended to encourage a larger participation by the people than is sometimes to be found in what is called “Congregational worship,” but which too often is carried on only by the minister and choir with the people as silent auditors. To ensure full participation by the people the printed services should be in their hands, and they should be instructed to respond audibly in those parts assigned to them, which are printed in bold face type. In churches which lack the printed services or wish to follow a simpler form, it is suggested that the order of service, in a sense of the main sequence of events be printed on cards to be placed in the pews or hinged into the hymn books, the minister drawing upon such of the materials included in this book as he finds suitable for the occasion. Ministers wishing to reprint single services on leaflets for use in their own churches are liberty to do so but the words “Copyright by the Beacon Press” must appear in every such reprint and reprints may not be sold.

An imperfect license, but there are better ones today. Might I suggest, like the Open Siddur Project, a free/libre license using their license decision tree? (It refers to these licenses.)

In place of cheap church gear

Hubby and I wandered into a well-known church supply house on Saturday.  I was struck by how shabby so much of the gear and books looked. Were the 1980s and 1990s the high mark for church design?  Must everything come in plastic.

Consider the home communion set made of a plastic clamshell box (which will surely wear badly), containing the kind of plastic bottle one would carry shampoo while travelling in (for the wine), another thin plastic tub containing thin plastic cups, and a tiny spun aluminum vessel with a tight fitting lid — serving as something between a pxy and a ciborium — for the wafers. The price for this disaster? $80.  It was neither large enough to be useful not small enough to be tucked into a handbag or laptop case. Of course, there are also fine church artisans, but it’s hard to justify so much a premium on goods when church budgets are under such pressure. And frankly, do we need another generation of neo-Gothic, neo-Byzantine or neo-Colonial whatsits?

I’ve written before about how church goods should be fairly sourced, and how secular goods can be repurposed for church use.  For the next little bit I will consider alternatives of the economical parson who wants well-made and tasteful equipment. And I’d like your help if you have ideas.

The shape of services in Hymns of the Spirit

The old 1937 joint Unitarian and Universalist hymnal, the Hymns of the Spirit had orders of service and liturgical elements that I suspect were well used through the 1960s and 70s, with use continuing til today.

You could divide the services into clearly Christian, something other than Christian but familiar and services for holidays and special occasions.  Leaving the holiday services aside, I was pleased to discover that all but one of the other services walked down the well-established path of Morning Prayer with Sermon, with its origins in the Elizabethan prayer book. The not-Christian services were (on the whole) simpler, and the Christian services had the — or rather, a — litany preceding the collects,  but the lineage is unmistakable. Certainly to the Episcopalians and others heralding to the same tradition — optional Presbyterian service books come to mind — since Morning Prayer and Sermon would have been the default service back then.

Which should make me happy? Not quite. Morning Prayer and Sermon is a hybrid affair, and the sermon feels like an indigestible afterthought.  But with really good music and a careful preacher it functions like a stimulating alternative to Evensong. Alas, I have small congregations with little access to fine music in mind. More mission post than cathedral. 

For these, the service which was the exception might help. More about that next time.

For the record,  I’ve written this on my phone with the WordPress app — a first for me.