Introduction from "Services of Religion" (1937)

The following Orders of Service have been compiled by the Unitarian and the Universalist Commissions on Hymns and Services, jointly, for the use in the free churches of America. They include sixteen Orders for the usual Sunday morning worship, responsive readings from sources ancient and modern, a service for the reception of new members into the church, and two forms of the Communion service.

The Orders for the Sunday services are planned to provide sufficient variety of form and content to meet the needs of ministers and congregations holding to a rather wide diversity of practice and outlook. The first five services are of a traditional type, based upon forms long familiar, but printed with greater detail and choice of content. The Sixth to the Ninth Services follow a similar but simplified sequence of events, and are ethical in tone as are the Tenth and Fourteenth Services. The Tenth and Eleventh Services follow a somewhat different pattern, which has proved acceptable in some churches. The Twelfth to Sixteenth Services are for use at Christmas, Easter, a Spring Festival, Thanksgiving Day or Harvest Festival, National Anniversaries or service for International Peace. For other special occasions, – Whitsunday, All Souls’, Children’s Sunday, etc. – the usual order of service can easily be adapted by the use of appropriate scripture and responsive readings, and of prayers selected from the section entitled Additional Prayers and Collects.

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.

It is the sound liturgical principal that every service of worship should be a clear and easily understood expression of a definite interpretation of religion. All the services have been framed as the expression of the religious views of the free churches of America, and in accordance with their congregation tradition. They include certain alternative forms, and materials from extra-Biblical sources not hitherto widely used for such purposes, as well as much drawn from the great treasury of liturgical literature. That literature has been carefully searched with what, we hope, has been a sympathetic understanding and appreciation of the traditional forms of other branches of the Christian church. Although the theological content of those traditional forms, whether of the Roman Catholic Church or of the older branches of Protestantism, frequently expresses a way of thinking about religion which is far removed from what that of the modern man, the pattern upon which the older services have been built up is often beautifully and nobly devised, and offers a norm which way well be followed in the attempt to provide services which shall give expression to the religious ideals of our own day. Traditional materials and patterns have, therefore, been used so far as they serve that need, but passages from modern literature have also been embodied in some services, and fresh formulas have been devised to give utterance to the purposes of the modern congregation. The emphasis on the social and ethical aspects of religion has also been largely increased, to give more adequate expression to the religious mood of today. In a word, the aim has been to present a set of services which shall have, so far as possible, the dignity and beauty which has characterized the traditional worship of the church, but which shall express in language familiar to the modern man the religious point of view which he holds.

It is no doubt necessary, in view of the independent attitude of the free churches, to state that these services are not offered as prescribed forms which require literal adherence. They do indicate what the editors believe to be a sound norm which can be followed to advantage. But, where they do not fit the need of a given congregation or minister, they can be altered, or other services can be substituted for them. The editers would only urge that such alterations or substitutions be not made hastily or carelessly, but with discrimination and sound judgment. Personal idiosyncrasies in the utterance of opinion or erratic modes of procedure on the part of the minister inevitably distract the attention of the worshipper and mar the effect which the service is intended to have. It is, of course, of the essence of worship that it should be sincere – in spirit and in truth – but the minister must always remember that he is the representative of the congregation and is not speaking for himself alone. He is giving utterance to the common thought and emotion of those present rather than expressing his own particular convictions and beliefs.

The familiarity with noble forms of worship gained through the repeated use of an established procedure contributes much to the value and effectiveness of the customary Sunday morning service. The services printed herewith give opportunity for such familiarity combined with a variety and flexibility which it is hoped greatly enrich the religious life of the churches using them.


The Unitarian Commission on Hymns and Services

Henry Wilder Foote, Chairman

Edward P. Daniels

Curtis W. Reese

Von Ogden Vogt


The Universalist Commission on Hymns and Services

L. Griswold Williams, Chairman

Alford S. Cole

Edson R. Miles

Tracy M. Pullman


The editors have prepared a pamphlet containing recommendations for the conduct of the various services, which will be furnished by The Beacon Press to any minister using the book.

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