Prelude Mother Spirit Father Spirit
Norbert Čapek, sung by Waco UUC
Today we are celebrating our Flower Communion, which was created by Dr. Norbert Čapek for the Liberal Religious Fellowship he founded in Prague, then Czechoslavakia, in 1925, and which became the largest Unitarian Church in the world. He sought a ceremony that would celebrate love and community and the interdependent web of life and love among a new and diverse congregation drawn from many backgrounds, and which would be a celebration not tied to any older religious ceremonies, which many of his congregation had rejected. Nearly a hundred years later, it is celebrated by Unitarian Universalist congregations everywhere.
Chalice Lighting (Unison)
Please join in reading the chalice lighting words:
We light this chalice for the light of truth;
We light this chalice for the warmth of love;
We light this chalice for the energy of action;
We light this chalice for the harmony of peace.
Song: Gathered here in the mystery of this hour.
Gathered here in one strong body.
Gathered here in the struggle and the power.
Spirit draw near.
Consecration of the Flowers
We consecrate these flowers with the words of Dr. Čapek:
“Infinite Spirit of Life, we ask thy blessing on these thy messengers of fellowship and brotherly love.
May they remind us, amid diversities of knowledge and of gifts, to be one in desire and affection, and devotion to thy holy will.
May they also remind us of the value of comradeship, of doing and sharing alike.
May we cherish friendship as one of thy most precious gifts.
May we not let awareness of another’s talents discourage us, or sully our relationship, but may we realize that whatever we can do, great or small, the efforts of all of us are needed to do thy work in this world.”
Principles of Unitarian Universalism:
Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote seven Principles:
The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Story: The Flower Communion
The short story of the Flower Communion is that it was started by the Czech Unitarian minister Norbert Čapek and brought to the United States by his wife Mája.
The longer story is one of two working class Catholic Czechs who became scholars, Unitarians, and friends, their American wives, and the forming of a new democracy. Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was the first President of Czechoslovakia. His father was a Slovak coachman; his mother, a maid, came from a German Moravian family. He grew up in Moravia, when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He trained to be a teacher, worked as a locksmith’s apprentice, but eventually went to colleges and universities in Brno, Vienna, and Leipzig, where he met and married an American music student, Charlotte Garrigue, who grew up as a Unitarian in Brooklyn. When they married, he took her name as his middle name. She influenced Masaryk’s thinking, although his work as a professor of philosophy and sociology, and his spiritual and ethical attitude as a realist had led him to conclusions close to Unitarianism. Mazaryck became a professor of philosophy in the Czech university of Prague. He was liberal in religion and politics, and a believer in democracy. He defended the rights of all sorts of religious minorities in Central and Eastern Europe, Jews, Slavs, Serbs, Croatians.
When World War I started, he went to western Europe, where he represented the underground Czech liberation movement, and then, after the fall of the Russian Czar, to Russia to organize Czechoslovak war prisoners. After the Bolshevik Revolution, he came to the United States and negotiated the terms of Czechoslovak independence. He met William Taft, who was our last Unitarian president, and then working against war through the League to Enforce Peace before becoming Chief Justice of our Supreme Court. In 1918, Czechoslovakia was recognized as a country, and Masaryk was elected President.
Meanwhile, Norbert Čapek was born the only son of a tailor in southern Bohemia in 1870. Brought up a Catholic, he became a Baptist when he was 18, and was ordained a Baptist minister when he was 25, after working his way through theological school. He became head of all the Baptist churches in the area that became Czechoslovakia. Traveling as an evangelist in Moravia he was influenced by the free Christianity and the Moravian Brotherhood. Čapek’s faith slowly became very liberal. His research in the Moravian archives at Brno convinced him that a free Christian faith was native to his people. Though its history was buried and forgotten, free Christianity had been widely practiced for centuries before the coming of Roman Catholic missionaries and subsequent state Catholicism. As the First World War started he was in danger of being arrested because of his political and religious writings and decided to move to the United States. In 1914 he and his wife, Marie, and their eight children fled to the United States, where Marie soon died. He met Mája Oktavec at the New York Public Library where she worked. Mája from western Bohemia, came to New York when she was 19, and went to the School of Library Science at Columbia University. Čapek became the minister of a Baptists church in New York, but was tried for heresy, and then became minister of the Czech Baptist church in Newark, New Jersey, but his liberal views caused him to be tried again for heresy.
Masaryk, in a friendly conversation with Čapek, said “Čapek, you are a born Unitarian!” motivating him to take the step in the direction which became his life’s mission. With help from the American Unitarian Association, Čapek received this theological degree from Meadville-Lombard Seminary in Chicago.
In 1921 the Čapek family returned to their newly independent country, and together with daughter Bohdana and her husband, Karel Haspl, built a nation-wide religious movement, centered in the Liberal Religious Fellowship in Prague. It became the largest Unitarian church in the world, with 3,000 members. Mája Čapek was ordained in 1926.
Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia in 1938. In early 1939, the Čapeks decided that Mája should go to the United States to speak to Unitarian churches across the country about the situation, and raise funds for relief work in Czechoslovakia. American Unitarians told him he could have a job in Boston if he wanted it, to escape the Nazis, but Norbert decided that he had to stay. In 1939 Mája came to the United States to raise funds for Czech refugees, and served as a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts. She introduced the flower communion, first at the Unitarian church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mája was unable to return to Prague because of the outbreak of World War II.
During the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, although he was 70 years old at the time, Čapek decided to form a committee of resistance that met in the Unitarian church and helped those in danger to escape. He encouraged his fellow citizens to have courage in the face of the growing Nazi madness: “We are today” he said in 1938, “the only nation in the whole of Europe that is ready to resist oppression…. Confronting our descendants, we will never have to feel ashamed of the fact that as a small nation in the middle of Europe we were ready to defend human dignity, freedom and justice from violence, lies and lawlessness.” Finally in 1941 he declared “I can bear it no longer. I must speak the truth,” and in the next Sunday’s sermon he directly challenged a recent speech of Hitler’s. A few days later, the Gestapo broke into Čapek’s apartment, confiscated his books and sermons, and arrested him and his youngest daughter for listening to foreign broadcasts, which was a capital offense, and of “high treason.” Mája did not know until the end of the war that Norbert was taken finally to the infamous Dachau Camp – where he was executed, one year after his arrest in 1942. Before his death his courage in the face of torture and starvation was a source of inspiration to his fellow prisoners.
Mája stayed in Massachusetts and worked at the headquarters of the American Unitarian Association in Boston, for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, and with Displaced Persons in Egypt and Palestine. After her retirement, she continued to preach at Unitarian churches and to give lectures to gatherings in Europe and North America in support of the Prague church. She died in 1966.
As for Czechoslovakia, after just 10 years of free existence, it remained under German and then Soviet domination for 50 years, until the revolution of 1989. In 1993 it divided and became Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The German and Russian occupations almost destroyed the Prague congregation, but it still exists today as does the Religious Association of Czechoslovak Unitarians founded in 1930.
Offering and Response (Unison)
For the gifts which we have received—and the gifts which we, ourselves, are—may we be truly grateful. Yet more than that, may we be committed to using these gifts to make a difference in the world: to increase love and justice; to decrease hatred and oppression; to expand beloved community; to share, and to keep sharing, as long as ever we can. Amen.
Song: Bring Out the Festal Bread
Even though Jesus’s crucifixion happened during Passover week, and Easter is named for the Passover in most languages, because of long centuries of disagreement over lunar calculations, symbolism, and rejection of Judaism, Easter is celebrated in most American churches today, and Passover this year doesn’t come until after the next full moon, in April. But we are going to sing this Passover song, written by a UU minister to a Hebrew folk tune, to remember the roots of our religion, and because it both celebrates liberation and urges us to continue the work of freedom.
Randall Kidder, First UU of Marietta, Ohio
Chorus: Bring out the festal bread and sing songs of freedom.
Shout with the slaves who fled, and sing songs of freedom.
What modern Pharaohs live in arrogance crownéd
Who shall be sent to challenge folly unbounded?
Chains still there are to break; their days are not finished.
Metal or subtle-made, they’re still not diminished.
Still does resentment bind each brother and sister
Still do the plagues affect us red as the river
Long be our journeying yet justice is worth it
dance, sister Miriam, and help us to birth it
O, people lift your heads and look to the mountains
Bushes aflame still call us, rocks still gush fountains
The prelude today, Mother Spirit, Father Spirit, is one of Norbert Čapek’s many hymns. Here is a poem he wrote in his last year, in the concentration camp.
View the starry realm of heaven, shining distant empires sing.
Sky-song of celestial children turns each winter into spring, turns each winter into spring.
Great you are, beyond conception, God of gods and God of stars.
My soul soars with your perception, I escape from prison bars, I escape from prison bars.
You, the One within all forming in my heart and mind and breath, you,
my guide through hate’s fierce storming,
courage in both life and death.
Life is yours, in you I grow tall, seed will come to fruit I know.
Trust that after winter’s snowfall walls will melt and Truth will flow, walls will melt and Truth will flow.
I always enjoy researching all the various roots of our feasts and holy days when I am doing a service. I learn so much, and fortunately for you, I am not going to try to cram it all in this morning. For Easter, Passover, the Persian New Year, and the various rites of spring, there is far too much, and much argument, as there has been for many centuries. When they are celebrated, the various rituals to be carried out, and even what it all means, has been argued for thousands of years. The modern pagan holiday Ostara, for instance, is ultimately based on a single mention from the Venerable Bede in the 9th century, who said there was a month named for a goddess Oestre, but the likelihood is that it was named, like the other Anglo-Saxon months, for a characteristic of the month – “Eosturmonath” probably meant bright shining month” — and there is no record of ancient worship of her. Different parts of the Christian church have been arguing over the proper date for Easter since the beginning, and still celebrate it at different times. Present day Zoroastrians claim the Persian New year as a Zoroastrian holiday, but it probably goes back farther than that. Modern Iranians believe their custom of colored eggs was borrowed from the West, but it only goes back to the 1600s in Europe, and came from the Eastern Orthodox, who still do not just colored, but elaborately decorated, eggs, and who may have borrowed it from their Persian neighbors. The Persian New Year, and Passover have in common spring cleaning, the rituals of cleaning out every bit of dirt from the past year and starting fresh. Early Christians continued to celebrate Passover, the celebration of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt, and one of the six ritual foods is an egg baked in the shell.
Every celebration in the calendars and liturgies of all religions had a beginning at some time. And the greatest ones have common themes around the world – harvest festivals, communion with the dead as winter starts, the celebration of light in the dark of winter, and celebrations of rebirth in the spring. The Passover was rooted in celebration of a new nation, a tribe who had escaped from oppression and headed for a land of their own, with a new religion. Easter, which began at Passover, was a celebration of the sacrifice of a rebel who wanted to renew that religion and the relationships among people. The Flower Communion was devised for a people in a new democracy which had been part of an oppressive empire, and who had just recently gained religious freedom. All of them celebrate new beginnings, an escape into freedom, and the renewal of life, but also an escape in to solidarity as part of a community.
A member of the Prague congregation in the 1930s who is now a liberal minister in New York said
“I was at that time a young person trying to clarify my own identity. I recognized in all religions certain humanistic, spiritual and moral values but I rejected their authoritarian, superstitious and irrational content. The conventional concept of God was unacceptable to me. I was at that time what I would call today an ethical atheist. When I listened to Čapek and Haspl and engaged in personal conversations with them I started to realize that there is another spiritual dimension. They introduced me to a liberal kind of religious thought and action, an attitude which uses reason in everything and therefore also in religious matters, which respects religious freedom, helps people to know themselves, to develop their harmonious personalities, aims at the unification of all humankind and the improvement of social conditions. Čapek and Haspl rejected the belief in biblical miracles and saw God in the creative energies of the universe and therefore also in humans as part of nature. They helped me to find a way to a God concept which has moral meaning, doesn’t contradict reason and is realistic. They also introduced me to the art of relaxation and meditation, which helped me to overcome difficult situations in my life.”
He describes the best of our Unitarian Universalist faith today, and we hope that our own new congregation here continues that tradition. Like the Prague congegation, we are something new in our place and time, but we also stand on a long tradition. There is a place for the conservative in the world – conservatives honor the past and maintain what is good. But change is constant, learning to cope with change is constant, and the liberals of the world, like Tomas and Charlotte Masaryk, like Norbert and Maja Čapek, like the long lines of liberal Christians, Buddhists, and political liberals, are our heritage as Unitarian Universalists.
The Flower Communion is a new ceremony for a new time, celebrating what became two of our principles:
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
I would like to end with the thought that, while we celebrate our own community, we also celebrate the world community, and honoring all others, especially those with whom we disagree. Another Unitarian minister, Edward Markham, had an aphorism that UUs often quote:
- He drew a circle that shut me out–
- Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
- But Love and I had the wit to win:
- We drew a circle that took him in!
Dr. Čapek’s Prayer at the First Flower Communion Service
“In the name of Providence, which implants in the seed the future of the tree and in the hearts of men the longing for people living in brotherly love; in the name of the highest, in whom we move and who makes the mother, the brother and sister what they are; in the name of sages and great religious leaders, who sacrificed their lives to hasten the coming of the kingdom of brotherhood – let us renew our resolution – sincerely to be real brothers and sisters regardless of any kind of bar which estranges man from man.
In this holy resolution may we be strengthened knowing that we are God’s family; that one spirit, the spirit of love, unites us; and endeavor for a more perfect and more joyful life leads us on.
Flower Communion/Song: De Colores
De Colores is a Latin American folk song, and became as song of solidarity as the unoffical anthem of the United Farm Workers.
Please come forward and choose a flower and then remain standing while Sonny plays De Colores, and we will all join in singing when everyone has chosen a flower.
Joys and Sorrows
If you woke this morning with a sorrow so heavy that you need the help of this community to carry it; or if you woke with a joy so great that it simply must be shared, now is the time for you to speak.…..
For the joys and sorrows that haven’t been spoken, but which remain in the silent sanctuaries of our hearts.
These joys and griefs, spoken and unspoken, weave us together in the fabric of community.
Song: Go Now In Peace (3 times)
Go now in peace, go now in peace
May our love and care surround you
Everywhere, everywhere, you may go
Closing: “Let our clean conscience be the highest authority, let all good people be our saints, let the aim of salvation be the liberation of humankind, let all of nature be our temple, and let the reign of love be our ultimate aspiration and ideal for everyday living”. – Norbert Čapek
The chalice flame is extinguished
Until once again ignited by the strength of our communion.
Go now in peace.
We will have a potluck dinner and egg hunt following the service at Robert Helfer and Lisa deGruyter’s house in Clarksburg. Ham and potato salad will be provided. Please bring a dish to share and baskets for collecting eggs. There will be cascarones. Your friends and family are welcome, too.