What Does Universalism Look Like Today?

Universalism as a specific religious approach did not disappear when the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association combined in 1961. It is not only a broad influence in Unitarian-Universalism, but it also lives on as a specific practice in many historic Universalist churches (now UU), as well as in the hearts of individual Universalists everywhere. However, many people, Unitarian-Universalists included, have never had the opportunity to observe or participate in a service from the traditional Universalist side of our family. Therefore, to give a little taste of what that part of our heritage is like, here is a transcript of one such service, from The Universalist Church of West Hartford, held on Sunday, February 17, 2008. It is a standard service for this church (i.e. the format is usually the same from week to week, including the doxology, affirmation, prayers, etc).

If possible, imagine the setting while reading: the church has pews that seat about 350, a stained glass depiction of Jesus and four of the evangelists behind the chancel, with a pulpit, lectern, and altar table, and behind the congregation in the balcony is the great organ. The is a cross above the chancel, an American flag to stage right and a Connecticut state flag to stage left, next to the baptismal font. This building dates from 1931, but the congregation itself dates from 1821. The order of service handed out at the door includes the procedures of the service, as well as announcements, such as times for the various social action programs the church is running, the weekday gatherings for seniors, and the Buddhist meditation group.

PRELUDE: Kleine Präludien und Intermezzi
-by Hermann Schroeder (performed by the church organist)
(offered by church laymember)

(by the ministerial intern)

HYMN: #10 “Immortal Love”
(in unison)

(by two lay members of the church)

(in unison)

Love is the spirit of this church, and service its law.
This is our great covenant;
To dwell together in peace,
To seek the truth in love, and to help one another.

SINGING THE CHILDREN OUT: “We Will Keep a Place For You”
(in unison)

READING: Psalm 31 (9-13, 17-18, NRSV):
(read by the ministerial intern)

Be gracious to me, Oh God, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.

For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.

I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.

I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.

For I hear the whispering of many- terror all around! –
as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life…

Do not let me be put to shame, Oh God, for I call on you…
Let the lying lips be stilled that speak insolently against the righteous with pride and contempt.

MUSICAL OFFERING: “O Sing Unto the Lord”
-by Hans Leo Hassler
(sung by Universalist Church Choir)


Call to Prayer: Hymn #123, “Spirit of Life”
(in unison)


(offered by the ministerial intern)

Lord’s Prayer:
(in unison)

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.

Musical Response

OFFERTORY: “Child of God”
(in unison, led by church member David Rioux on electric guitar, with piano accompaniment. David wrote this new Universalist song; this was its pubic debut.)


When you came through the door did you blend with the wood?
Are you timid or shy, deeply misunderstood?
Wanna tell you right now, you’re a child of God.

Will you take off your mask? Will you show us your face?
Do you think you’ll be judged? Well you’re in the wrong place.
Wanna tell you right now, you’re a child of God.

Might have had your doubts about the human race.
But we can all get through it somehow.
All the answers found are never in one place,
So we’ll go right on searching for now……….


If you’re from uptown, downtown
Or maybe streets that aren’t so clean.
To the house of the Lord, let us welcome you,
If you’re seeking out some peace.
If you’re from inside, outside
Or reaching out from in between.
To the house of the Lord, let us welcome you
And we’ll take you sight unseen….
Child of God.


Were you led to believe that you couldn’t be saved?
That your spirit was flawed for the way you behaved?
Wanna tell you right now, You’re a child of God.

Would you give up the grief that is chained to the past?
When the soul is released there’ll be freedom at last.
Wanna tell you right now, you’re a child of God.

Might have had your doubts about the human race.
But we all get through it somehow.
All the answers found are never in one place,
So we’ll go on searching for now……….

(Repeat chorus)

-by David Rioux, copyright Fishlips Music 2008

(in unison)

Praise God for love we all may share,
Praise God for beauty everywhere,
Praise God for hope of good to be,
Praise God for truth that makes us free. Amen

READING: Prayers of Steel (excerpt) – by Carl Sandburg
(read by the ministerial intern)

Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a crowbar.
Let me pry loose old walls.
Let me lift and loosen old foundations.

Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a steel spike.
Drive me into the girders that hold a skyscraper together.

Take red-hot rivets and fasten me into the central girders.
Let me be the great nail holding a skyscraper through blue
nights into white stars.

HYMN: #170 “We Are a Gentle, Angry People”
(in unison)

SERMON: “Radical Hospitality”
(by Craig M. Nowak, ministerial intern)

[The sermon drew on multiple Biblical quotes relating to the incident of Sodom’s destruction. Often used as an excuse to justify bigots’ homophobia, Craig described how it is really a condemnation of people who are inhospitable, especially toward those in need or those who are different. He related this to his own struggles as a gay man in an intolerant culture, and how he feels Unitarian-Universalists must take up true hospitality as a practice if they hope to live out their deepest religious principles. A few quotes taken from the sermon will help to clarify his point]:

“True hospitality is bold; it is challenging; it is scary; it is… radical! Hospitality is radical because it turns conventional wisdom on its head, it asks that we embrace, rather than flee what we fear most; it challenges to take up the hard task of love.”

“Hospitality is a way of relating to each other and ourselves rooted in the belief that we are all children of the divine nature. It is to make your heart a refuge for the weary; it is living at our most human and humane level.”

“Hospitality challenges us to replace the labels we use to describe ‘the other’ with a human face. The ‘illegal’ immigrant becomes a human being; the gay kid becomes a human being; the single mother, prison inmate, and homeless veteran become human beings, all carriers of a divine light; all children of God.”

“Radical hospitality demands we muster the will to demolish barriers that blind us to our kinship with each other and find the courage to hammer away at the very foundation upon which we stand so that we may rebuild the world upon a foundation of inclusiveness; mindful of the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

HYMN: #140 “Hail the Glorious Golden City”
(in unison)


Go out into the world in peace,
Have courage,
Hold on to what is good.
Return to no person evil for evil.

Strengthen the fainthearted,
Support the weak,
Help the suffering,
Honor all beings.

POSTLUDE “Poco Vivace”
-by Hermann Schroeder
(performed by the church organist)


1 Comment

Filed under Unitarian-Universalism, Universalism

One response to “What Does Universalism Look Like Today?

  1. Pingback: Does Your Unitarian-Universalist Church Perform Communion? « Transient and Permanent

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