Sunday, June 19, 2022: How We Worship

The primary benefit of practicing any art, whether well or badly, is that it enables one’s soul to grow.

— Kurt Vonnegut

Worship, simply put, is an art, one that Unitarians and Universalists have sometimes failed to understand. This Sunday Robert Helfer will explore some of the history of Unitarian Universalist worship and spirituality.

Our services are Sundays at 10:30 a.m. at the Progressive Women’s Association Event Center, 305 Washington Ave. in downtown Clarksburg, behind the Courthouse.  A coffee hour, a time for discussion and socializing, will follow from the end of the service until 12:00 noon.

Classes and worship are replaced by Spiritual Outings on the first Sunday of each month during the summer, with brief worship, a potluck picnic, and outdoor activities. The schedule is in the sidebar.

We would love to have you come worship with us.

Children are welcome. 

The building is wheelchair accessible, with an accessible restroom.

Map

The schedule for the current adult religious education class is here.

Email westforkuu@gmail.com or use our contact form for more information

or write to us at PO Box 523, Clarksburg WV 26302

Sunday, 30 January, 2022: Right Intention: Justice, Equity and Compassion

Three Pure Precepts

I vow to refrain from all evil.
I vow to make every effort to live in enlightenment.
I vow to live and be lived for the benefit of all beings.

– from the Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts

Buddhist psychology teaches that intention is what makes the pattern of our karma. Karma, the cause and results of every action, comes from the heart’s intentions and precede each action. When our intentions are kind, the karmic result is very different from when they are greedy or aggressive. If we are not aware, we will unconsciously act out of habit and fear. But if we attend to our intentions, we can notice if they spring from the body of fear or from our deliberate thoughtfulness and care.

– Jack Kornfeld, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

The second UU Principle is “Justice, equity and compassion in human relations” and the second step of the Buddhist Eightfold Path is Right Intention. Lisa deGruyter will lead the service.

Please Join Us for Worship.

We are forgoing meeting in person during the coronavirus epidemic, meeting on Zoom. We share music, readings, and hymns on our usual presentation slides, have a story and a talk, and share joys and sorrows, as well as a virtual “coffee hour” discussion starting at 10:30, with the service at 11. If you prefer not to be seen, video is optional. If you would like to participate, please email westforkuu@gmail.com for details and a link, or for help with using ZOOM.

If you are a regular attendee, we have added you to our Google Group if we had an email address. If you have not gotten a group email already, please email westforkuu@gmail.com so that we can add you to the group, which we will be using for staying in touch with each other during this time. Public announcements will continue to be posted here on the website and on our Facebook page and Twitter account, as usual.

Email westforkuu@gmail.com or use our contact form for more information or write to us at PO Box 523, Clarksburg WV 26302

Sunday, 16 January, 2022: Does Our Past Matter?

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? … There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

Does our religious past matter, or should we focus exclusively on what we want our religion to be, here, now? Robert Helfer will lead the service.

Please Join Us for Worship.


Welcome before prelude

Good morning and welcome to West Fork Unitarian Universalists. I’m Robert Helfer and I feel blessed to serve this congregation as a lay leader. I’m glad to see all of you here today.

Thank you for joining us.

[If guests] I’d like to welcome our guests. Thank you for taking a chance and taking the time to walk through our doors and join us for worship.

Let us use the prelude for centering. We are about to enter sacred time. We are about to make this time and this place sacred by our presence and intention.

Please silence your phones… and as you do so, I invite us also to turn down the volume on our fears; to remove our masks; and to loosen the armor around our hearts.

Breathe.

Let go of the expectations placed on you by others—and those they taught you to place on yourself.

Drop the guilt and the shame, not to shirk accountability, but in honest expectation of the possibility of forgiveness.

Let go of the thing you said the other day. Let go of the thing you dread next week. Be here, in this moment. Breathe, here.

Prelude: End of the Line, The Traveling Wilburys

Welcome: Look to This Day, attributed to Kālidāsa
Hymns for the Celebration of Life, #472

Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendor of beauty;
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.

Welcoming Song
Let us rise in body or spirit and join in singing “Come, Come, Whoever You Are”

Come, come, whoever you are
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving
Ours is no caravan of despair
Come, yet again, come

Chalice lighting: Audette Fulbright Fulson
https://www.uua.org/worship/words/chalice-lighting/light-we-kindle

This light we kindle
is set in the lamp of our history.
We inherit this free faith
from the brave and gentle, fierce and outspoken
hearts and minds that have come before us.
Let us be worthy inheritors of this faith
and through our good works, pass it boldly to a new generation.

Principles of Unitarian Universalism
(https://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/principles)

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.

Invitation to Offering

I shall pass through this world but once. Any good thing, therefore, that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

– Henry Drummond, “Love, the Greatest Thing in the World”

Remember that our being here, together, all of us, in this virtual space, is part of our offering, our sharing and building of this community. Let us use the time during the offertory to contemplate how we can use out time and talents during the next week for this community and for our larger society.

Offertory

Épitaphe de Seikilos, Petros Tabouris Ensemble

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.

Reading: from Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?  Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.

Music: Minyan Man, Shlock Rock with The Maccabeats

Story: But He Reads the Newspaper in Synagogue!,
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, The Lubavitcher Rebbe
https://www.chabad.org/therebbe/letters/default_cdo/aid/2187478/jewish/But-He-Reads-the-Newspaper-in-Synagogue.htm

Rabbi Schneerson was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the chief rabbi of the Lubavitcher sect of Orthodox Hasidic Jews, from the early 1950s until 1994. Some time in the 1960s he responded to a letter from one of his congregants who had moved away.

In case you, like me, are unfamiliar with Jewish tradition, I’ll just add that a “minyan” is a quorum of ten, the minimum number of Jews (in Orthodox usage, adult male Jews) required for certain rituals to take place and certain prayers to be said.

You write about meeting a Jew in the course of your travels who comes to the synagogue to help make up a minyan, yet at the same time reads the newspaper. Everyone, or course, reacts to an experience in a way that is closest to him. Thus, for my part, I make the following two extreme observations: First I see in it the extreme Jewish attachment which one finds in every Jew. For here is a person who has wandered off to a remote part of the world, and has become so far removed, not only geographically, but also mentally and intellectually, as to have no concept of what prayer is or what a house of G‑d is, etc.; yet one finds in him that Jewish spark, or as the Old Rebbe, the founder of Chabad, expressed it in his Tanya: “The Divine soul which is truly a part of G‑d.” This Divine soul, which is the inheritance of every Jew, seeks expression as best it can, and in the case of this particular Jew, it seeks expression in at least enabling other Jews to pray congregationally, and he therefore goes out of his way to help them and at the same time to be counted with them.

My other observation, following from the above, is as follows; If, where the odds are so great against Jewish observance, yet a Jew can remain active and conscious of his Jewishness, it can easily be seen what great things could have been accomplished with this particular Jew if, at the proper time, he should have received the right education in his early life, or at least the proper spiritual guidance in his adult life. This consideration surely emphasizes the mutual responsibility which rests upon all Jews, and particularly on those who can help others.

I will not deny that the above is said not in a spirit of philosophizing, but with a view to stimulate your thinking as to your own possibilities in your particular environment, and what the proper attitude should be.

We must never despair of any Jew, and at the same time we must do all we can to take the fullest advantage of our capacities and abilities to strengthen the Jewish consciousness among all Jews with whom we come in contact. For one can never tell how far-reaching such influence can be. To conclude this letter on the happy note of the beginning of your letter relating to your marriage, may I again reiterate my prayerful wishes that you establish and conduct your home on everlasting foundations of the Torah and Mitzvos, and thus enjoy a tally happy and productive life, both materially and spiritually, which go hand in hand together.

A much shortened version of this story is also given in the Youtube video “Minyan Man” by the Jewish Learning Institute, (https://youtu.be/WZxCp3rNKbM)

Lesson: Does Our Past Matter?

Robert Helfer, Lay Leader

As usual, there’s a lot going on in the world. Some of it is just noise, but some of it does, or will, affect us, this tiny community. And some of it should just be noted.

Yesterday, 15 January, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would have turned 92. His life and work will be commemorated tomorrow as a federal holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, and we will hear many pious tributes. I hope that within all the ceremony we can also manage to remember the man himself, flaws as well as strengths.

And today, 16 January, is National Religious Freedom Day, marking the 236th anniversary of the adoption of the Statute for Religious Freedom by the Virginia State Assembly in 1786, which five years later became the model for the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The text of the statute was written in 1777 by Thomas Jefferson, who described himself as “a Unitarian by myself.” For all his flaws, he was instrumental in making the United States into a fabled land of peace and freedom, that attracted, and continues to attract, immigrants from the whole world, and has affected the quest for freedom in many countries. May all of our flaws be so productive.

Perhaps not totally coincidentally, we should note that 28 January will mark the 454th anniversary of the Edict of Torda, a declaration of religious liberty enacted in 1568 in Transylvania by John Sigismund, the only Unitarian king to rule any country. This Edict, too, was flawed, and partial, and it remained unknown outside the eastern edge of Europe, but it nevertheless represents a significant moment in the growth of religious liberty.

And a potentially major winter storm is expected to be soon upon us. And let’s not forget that COVID-19 is still around. We are always in the midst of history.

I suppose it’s not too surprising that I would start a talk about Unitarian Universalist history with comments about history, and I suppose no one really thought that I might argue that our past does not matter.

The word History, like so many words, means more than one thing, and we easily confuse at least two of those meanings. History, first of all, is what actually happened in the past. Unfortunately, this can never be known fully, nor, probably, to any large extent. There is always something more that we cannot see, for which there is no record, for which the record is obscure and difficult to understand.

History also means the ongoing effort of humans to understand what happened in the past and how it affects the present. New information about past events is discovered, old records can be clarified, reinterpreted (or misinterpreted), possibly found to be false or forged. The past is constantly reexamined against the knowledge, beliefs, prejudices of the present. History in this sense is a dusty window through which we try to see something important, and one of our difficulties understanding it is that we tend to judge it all according to our own current morals and culture.

Lisa and I have recently watched reruns of Bergerac, a popular British detective program, on Britbox, the streaming service by BBC and itv. The series was produced in the 1990s, but nevertheless, some of the episodes are flagged with these words before the episode begins:

Bergerac is a classic programme which reflects the broadcast standards, language and attitudes of its time. Some viewers may find this content offensive.

Note that “its time” is only some 20 years ago. The world and attitudes can change very quickly. Now I suggest that we all take a moment to think about what we currently accept as “language and attitudes” of our time, and speculate which of these will be considered possibly offensive in the future.

But that’s just an aside. Our history is what we understand it to be now. And our history, as it is currently understood, contributes to our sense of community, or perhaps to our sense of isolation; it shows us that we’re not alone, or maybe that we’re totally on our own.

Community is an important factor in our lives, and for that to exist we need shared values and shared history. We need heroes, and we need crises, and we need to see how the past has shaped — continues to shape — our present. And we need to know that we are not totally alone.

A little while ago I read a letter written by Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, The Lubavitcher Rebbe. I think his comments are of interest to me because of what they tell us about the importance of traditions within the Lubavitcher community, and, by extension, to any religious group. The Minyan Man song and story strike a chord with me in their quest for community. Such traditions have contributed to the survival of many communities in a hostile world.

And our Unitarian Universalist history shows us heroes. It shows us Michael Servetus, and Francis David, and Joseph Priestly, and John Murray (and the unnamed young woman whose simple arguments confounded Murray and led to his conversion from Calvinism to universalism), and all those who persisted in their beliefs despite attacks and threats of death. It shows us James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, who died while supporting the rights of others. We’ve talked about Reeb in the past, but we should also talk about Liuzzo, an apparently ordinary, White, 40-year-old mother of five from Detroit, who was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan while driving protesters between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, during the Selma Voting Rights March of 1965. I certainly don’t deny the importance of James Reeb, but we need to talk more about Viola Liuzzo.

The stories of such heroes may help give us hope and courage to persist when our beliefs and values are rejected by the world around us.

And our history shows us models for thinking, models for beliefs, models for behavior that we might incorporate into our own lives. Sometimes the models revealed illuminate, make us wonder about the world or help us find a way to make sense of it all.

But after saying these things, I remember Emerson’s words: “There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.” And I wonder whether we should be abandoning a past that might not apply to our new thoughts, “our own works and laws and worship.” Is it time to forget?

Identifying closely with a community is not invariably a good thing. As the economist and peace activist Kenneth Boulding has said, “One of the main purposes of national education is to distort the image of time and space in the interests of the nation … It is the history teachers above all who create the image of the Englishman, the German, the American, or the Japanese.” And adds, “This also is an important source of war.” While Boulding didn’t continue that thought, it’s clear that religious community, too, can become a source of prejudices and conflict. Could it be the religious education teachers who create the image of the Lutheran, the Catholic, the Unitarian Universalist?

A few years ago a great protest arose against remembering Thomas Jefferson as a .., well, as a semi-Unitarian, I guess. He never became a Unitarian formally, although he did attend Joseph Priestly’s Unitarian church in Philadelphia, and even described himself as a Unitarian in some sense, while maintaining his connections to the Episcopal church in Virginia — he sounds a bit like a number of people I’ve known over the years, who attended UU churches while remaining close to their religious past, often retaining old memberships.

But the protest wasn’t really about whether he could be claimed as a Unitarian, but about whether UUs should claim him. He was judged and found lacking, not up to the standard of a good Unitarian Universalist.

But in my opinion, the flaws are part of the story, part of what we need to learn and remember about how we got here, where we are now, and possibly where we are going. I don’t think we need unflawed heroes. And if we decide to purge our history of anyone who can’t be shown flawless, then we’re not likely to have any heroes at all.

One thing about Viola Liuzzo, actually, is the scandal her murder revealed. Liuzzo was a middle-class, white housewife from the north who had been inspired by stories of the Mississippi Freedom Summer project in 1964, and answered Martin Luther King’s call in 1965 for people to come to Selma in support of those who would march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, to carry their protest to the state capitol in Montgomery. When she was noticed by four Klansmen, she and another volunteer, a young black man, were alone in her car. They shot her, but didn’t realize that the young man had not been killed.

The four Klansmen were arrested and indicted within 24 hours, but nine days later one of them, Gary Thomas Rowe, was revealed to be an FBI informant, and all charges against him were dropped. And then, the smear campaign started, reportedly driven largely by the FBI director himself. She wasn’t perfect, she wasn’t pure, she wasn’t squeaky clean, and it wasn’t hard for those who wished to to find scandal in her life, to reinterpret simple facts of her life into reasons to accept her death as in some way justified. But we, here, now, cannot let any possible flaws prevent us from honoring the greatness of her life.

And here, for me, is one of the most important lessons we — I — should learn from our history. Our heroes were — are — human, not saints or angels; they — we — are flawed. And those flaws and falls from grace are often enough key to what makes them great. We honor them poorly, and serve our own history poorly, if we forget that.

Music: Garden Song, Dave Mallet

Joys and Sorrows
(Please save announcements and comments until the end of the service)

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.

Silent Meditation
Let us join our hearts and minds in silent meditation

Song Go Now In Peace (3 times)
Let us rise in body or spirit and join in singing Go Now In Peace

Go now in peace, go now in peace
May our love and care surround you
Everywhere, everywhere, you may go

Closing: Through our temporary lives, Carl G. Seaburg
https://www.uua.org/worship/words/closing/6039.shtml

Through our temporary lives the great currents of history run.

Let us keep the channels open and free so not to obstruct purposes greater than our own.

Let us keep our minds set upon the high goals that here bind us into one sharing fellowship of loving hearts.

The chalice flame is extinguished
Until once again ignited by the strength of our communion.

Go now in peace.

Announcements, Comments, Shameless Self-Promotions, Etc.

Sunday, 21 November, 2021: On What Authority?

The authority of Jesus, as of all teachers, one would naturally think, must rest on the truth of his words, and not their truth on his authority.

Theodore Parker, The Transient and Permanent in Christianity

On what authority have we Unitarian Universalists built our beliefs? And by what tests do we determine their Truth? This Sunday Robert Helfer will lead us as we begin to explore these ideas.

Please Join Us for Worship.

We are forgoing meeting in person during the coronavirus epidemic, meeting on Zoom. We share music, readings, and hymns on our usual presentation slides, have a story and a talk, and share joys and sorrows, as well as a virtual “coffee hour” discussion starting at 10:30, with the service at 11. If you prefer not to be seen, video is optional. If you would like to participate, please email westforkuu@gmail.com for details and a link, or for help with using ZOOM.

If you are a regular attendee, we have added you to our Google Group if we had an email address. If you have not gotten a group email already, please email westforkuu@gmail.com so that we can add you to the group, which we will be using for staying in touch with each other during this time. Public announcements will continue to be posted here on the website and on our Facebook page and Twitter account, as usual.

Email westforkuu@gmail.com or use our contact form for more information or write to us at PO Box 523, Clarksburg WV 26302

Sunday, 20 June, 2021: Thinking Too Freely?

Freethinkers were fine people, but they shouldn’t go around thinking just anything. — Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent

In the turmoil of early 19th Century religious thought in the United States, the Universalist minister Abner Kneeland set a high standard for controversy. A supporter of radical social reform, women’s rights, birth control, and interracial marriage, his views were too much even for the Universalists, who by 1830 had kicked him out of the denomination. In 1838 he became the last person imprisoned in the United States for blasphemy.

Welcome before prelude

Good morning and welcome to West Fork Unitarian Universalists. I’m Robert Helfer and I feel blessed to serve this congregation as a lay leader. I’m glad to see all of you here today.

Thank you for joining us.

Let us use the prelude for centering. We are about to enter sacred time. We are about to make this time and this place sacred by our presence and intention.

Please silence your phones… and as you do so, I invite us also to turn down the volume on our fears; to remove our masks; and to loosen the armor around our hearts.

Breathe.

Let go of the expectations placed on you by others—and those they taught you to place on yourself.

Drop the guilt and the shame, not to shirk accountability, but in honest expectation of the possibility of forgiveness.

Let go of the thing you said the other day. Let go of the thing you dread next week. Be here, in this moment. Breathe, here.

Prelude: Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show, Neil Diamond


Welcome: To Learn More About Being Human — Erika A. Hewitt
(https://www.uua.org/worship/words/welcome/learn-more-about-being-human)

Welcome to this morning, this day, and this opportunity to be together in community — which is a time of joy, comfort, and sometimes challenges. This Unitarian Universalist congregation is a place where we come to learn more about being human. We’re not here because we’ve figured out life’s questions, or because we think we’ve got it right.

We come here to learn more about being in relationship together: how to listen, how to forgive, how to be vulnerable, and how to create trust and compassion in one another.

Let us move into worship, willing to be authentic with each other, honest within ourselves, and opening to connection in all its forms.

Song

Please rise in body or spirit and join in singing “Come, Come, Whoever You Are”
(Singing the Living Tradition, 188)

Come, come, whoever you are
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving
Ours is no caravan of despair
Come, yet again come

Chalice lighting: In Memory of All the Flames – Amarette Callaway
(https://www.uua.org/worship/words/chalice-lighting/memory-all-flames)

In memory of all the flames that didn’t die —
in the midst of darkness,
in spite of the darkness,
we light this flame today.


“The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5 NRSV)

Principles of Unitarian Universalism
(https://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/principles)

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: How the Wren Became the King of the Birds
A tale from the British Islands, retold by Elizabeth Simpson
(http://littlebrownwren.com/2015/11/24/how-the-wren-became-the-king-of-the-birds/)

Invitation to Offering

Say to thyself, ‘If there is any good thing that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now; let me not defer it nor neglect it, for I may not pass this way again.’
– Anonymous

Remember that our being here, together, all of us, in this space, is part of our offering, our sharing and building of this community. Let us use the time during the offertory to contemplate how we can use our time and talents during the next week for this community and for our larger society.

Offertory
Épitaphe de Seikilos, Petros Tabouris Ensemble

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: We Are the Earth Upright and Proud
(Singing The Living Tradition, #303)

Readings:

Abner Kneeland, from “Letter to Thomas Whittemore”

Kneeland wrote the following letter to Thomas Whittemore, editor of The Trumpet, in December 1833.

Dear Sir: You observed to me the other day, that people still consider me a Universalist, and said to me “If you will acknowledge that you are not, I will publish it.” I told you, in substance, that in some respects I am still a Universalist; but that in others, I am not. I shall now answer you more at large, which I hope you will publish in full, and thereby redeem your pledge.

I still hold to universal philanthropy, universal benevolence, and universal charity. In these respects, I am still a Universalist. Neither do I believe in punishment after death; so in this also I agree with the Universalists. But as it respects all other of their religious notions in relation to another world or a supposed other state of conscious existence, I do not believe in any of them; to that in this respect, I am no more a Universalist than I am an orthodox Christian.

1. Universalists believe in a god, which I do not; but believe that their god, with all his moral attributes, (aside from nature itself,) is nothing more than a chimera of their own imagination.

2. Universalists believe in Christ, which I do not; but believe that whole story concerning him is as much a fable and a fiction, as that of the god Prometheus, the tragedy of whose death is said to have been acted on the stage in the theatre in Athens, 500 years before the Christian era.

3. Universalists believe in miracles, which I do not; but believe that every pretension to them can either be accounted for on natural principles, or else is to be attributed to mere trick and imposture.

4. Universalists believe in the resurrection of the dead, in immortality and eternal life, which I do not; but believe that all life is mortal, that death is an eternal extinction of life to the individual who possesses it, and that no individual life is, ever was, or ever will be eternal.

Hence, as Universalists no longer wish to consider me as being of their faith, and I no longer wish to be considered as belonging to their order, as it relates to a belief in things unseen, I hope the above four articles will be sufficient to distinguish me from them and them from me. I profess to believe in all realities of which I can form any rational conception, while they believe in what I believe to be mere ideal nothings to which they give both a “location and a name.”

In giving the above a place in the Trumpet you will let me tell your readers, in my own language, what I do, as well as what I do not, believe and thereby oblige your once brother of the same faith with yourself, and still your personal friend.

Abner Kneeland

Abner Kneeland, “A Philosophical Creed”

I believe in the existence of a universe of suns and planets, among which there is one sun belonging to our planetary system; and that other suns, being more remote, are called stars; but that they are indeed suns to other planetary systems. I believe that the whole universe is NATURE, and that the word NATURE embraces the whole universe, and that GOD and NATURE, so far as we can attach any rational idea to either, are perfectly synonymous terms. Hence I am not an Atheist, but a Pantheist; that is, instead of believing there is no God, I believe that in the abstract, all is God; and that all power that is, is in God, and that there is no power except that which proceeds from God. I believe that there can be no will or intelligence where there is no sense; and no sense where there are no organs of sense; and hence sense, will, and intelligence, is the effect, and not the cause, of organization. I believe in all that logically results from these premises, whether good, bad, or indifferent. Hence, I believe, that God is all in all; and that it is in God we live, move, and have our being; and that the whole duty of man consists in living as long as he can, and in promoting as much happiness as he can while he lives.

Lesson: Thinking Too Freely?
Robert Helfer, Lay Leader

“Freethinkers were fine people, but they shouldn’t go around thinking just anything.”
— Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent

Today marks West Virginia’s 158th birthday. It’s also Father’s Day, and, by coincidence, the 111th anniversary of my father’s birth. The United Nations reminds us that it’s also World Refugee Day. And at 11:31 p.m. today the sun will stand still (or something like that), making today the longest day in the year — tomorrow the days begin to shorten again. (Midsummer is still four days in the future.) But as notable as all those things are, I’m not going to talk about any of them. Instead, I’m going to talk about Abner Kneeland.

Some years ago I discovered Kneeland while browsing aimlessly in Ernest Cassara’s Universalism in America: A Documentary History. I was taken by his short “A Philosophical Creed”, which I just read to you, and was somewhat startled by the fact that this statement of faith that seemed so modern and radical dated to 1833. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been, since I’ve known of other, even more radical religious sentiments that date from centuries before Kneeland. But somehow it seemed out of place in the early 19th century. And so, since today I’m to speak on Unitarian Universalist history, Kneeland sprang to mind.

But I need to start this story a bit closer to the beginning.

Abner Kneeland was born April 7, 1774, in Gardner, Massachusetts, to Timothy and Moriah Stone Kneeland. When he was 21, he and his older brother moved to Vermont to follow their father’s carpentry trade. In 1801 Abner joined a Baptist church in Putney, and shortly after that he began to preach. While still preaching as a Baptist, he began reading the works of Elhanan Winchester (the Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography describes Winchester as “the most wide-ranging and successful 18th century American Universalist evangelist”) and was converted to Universalism. In 1803 he met Hosea Ballou and formed a close friendship with him, and also adoped Ballou’s theology.

In 1804, with John Murray preaching the sermon, Kneeland was ordained as a minister-at-large, and soon became an itinerant preacher in New Hampshire. In 1805 he was ordained again, as settled minister of the church in Langdon, New Hampshire, this time with Ballou delivering the sermon. Lisa has discussed Ballou in the past, and I hope she will again.

Clearly Kneeland was among the stars of Universalism in the early 19th century. He was active in New England Universalist General Convention affairs, serving as treasurer in 1809 and standing clerk in 1811, and with Ballou and Edward Turner compiled a Universalist hymnal. Kneeland contributed 138 of the 410 hymns, but apparently he was getting more radical, and confrontational. One of his hymns, for example, included the words: “As ancient bigots disagree, The Stoic and the Pharisee, So is the modern Christian world/ In superstitious error hurl’d.” — words probably not conducive to good ecumenical relations with more conservative Christian ministers. The Convention declined to publish the hymnal.

In 1811 Kneeland moved to the church in Charlestown, Massachusetts, but in 1814 he suddenly resigned his pulpit and opened a dry goods business with his wife. When the Convention urged him to return to the ministry, he explained that he left the ministry for financial reasons. But he was struggling with doubt. He had come to doubt the authenticity of scripture and the authority of revelation. He turned to his friend Ballou, and they engaged in a debate by correspondence on these issues. Ballou reassured Kneeland, and he returned to the ministry. In 1816 he was settled in the church at Whitestown, New York. But Kneeland’s doubts persisted, and he sought out and read any skeptical literature he could find, including works of Joseph Priestly, beginning a drift toward unitarianism.

Perhaps this is a good time to widen the screen a bit. From around 1790 through 1840, the United States was immersed in what is now called the Second Great Awakening. This was a period of great religious turmoil and enthusiasm. It was a period of intense reassessment of Protestant Christianity. It was the era of Methodist circuit riders seeking out isolated settlers in the wilderness, emotional preaching, religious revivals, including “camp meetings” (such as “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show”), great increases in church memberships in new churches and, in Wikipedia’s words, “personal connection with God instead of relying on a minister”. New colleges, seminaries, and mission societies were founded. New denominations appeared — Latter Day Saints, Baptists, Shakers, the Adventist movement, and Spiritualism. And it was a time of social activism — abolitionist groups and the Temperance movement.

And in the midst of all this, Kneeland doubted Christianity.

In 1818 he was called to the Lombard Street church in Philadelphia, where he seems nearly immediately to have alienated a portion of the congregation with his non-traditional opinions. He was quite energetic during his time in Philadelphia. The Dictionary of UU Biography reports: “He published sermons and tracts, edited denominational and secular newspapers, compiled a hymnal, made a translation of the New Testament, and developed a new system of spelling. … In addition to these ecclesiastical and scholarly pursuits, Kneeland found time to help his wife with a new store and to serve as government inspector of imported hats.” He also met Robert Owen.

Owen was a Welsh-born industrialist, and Utopian socialist. In 1824 he moved to the United States and soon invested much of his fortune in an experimental socialist community at New Harmony, Indiana. But the frontier in 19th century North America was littered with failed Utopian communities. New Harmony failed after about two years, and in 1828 Owen returned to England. His followers and supporters, called Owenites, continued some of his efforts, but ultimately failed as well. But his thinking was influential in development of cooperatives and the trade union movement, and led to child labor laws and free co-educational schools.

In that brief time, Kneeland became a disciple of Owen. But before his new ideas could affect his position in the Lombard Street church, he moved to the Prince Street church in New York. He was in residence there from 1825 until 1827 when his transformed thinking divided the church. Kneeland and those who supported him then created a new congregation, the Second Universalist Society. And by 1829 Kneeland had managed to alienate this congregation as well.

He had become a notorious freethinker, denounced by churches all through the denomination. But perhaps the last straw for the Universalists was his support of the even more freethinking and scandalous Frances Wright. Fanny Wright was a Scottish-born social reformer. In the Encyclopedia Britannica‘s words, her “revolutionary views on religion, education, marriage, birth control, and other matters made her both a popular author and lecturer and a target of vilification”. And Kneeland didn’t just support her ideas or her right to speak them, he allowed her the use of his pulpit when no one else would let her speak.

Clearly, as far as the Universalists were concerned Kneeland was thinking too freely, and they had had enough. In 1829, under pressure from Ballou, Kneeland voluntarily withdrew from fellowship, and the following year the Convention automatically disfellowshipped him.

Losing his pulpit wasn’t really such a bad thing. His ideas may not have pleased the Universalists, but he definitely still had an audience. In 1831 he moved to Boston and became lecturer for the newly formed First Society of Free Enquirers. The Dictionary of UU Biography reports that he “spoke to over two thousand people at gatherings on Sunday mornings at the Federal Street Theater in Boston, and to as many at his Wednesday evening lectures.” He also published his own newspaper.

Kneeland’s scandalous career eventually caught up with him. He had spoken out not just on religious issues, but also social issues, expressing opinions that must have distressed the conservative population. In 1838 the authorities brought him to trial under the blasphemy laws of Massachusetts’ colonial charter. Quoting once again from the Dictionary of UU Biography,

The prosecution portrayed his blasphemy as part of a pattern with his social thought. They were, in effect, trying him not just for his theology, but for his politics. For Kneeland had not only denounced the conservative influence of religion on society, but he had called for equal rights for women and equality of races. He had suggested women keep their own name and bank accounts. He had spoken out in favor of birth control, divorce, and interracial marriage. The prosecuting attorney for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts warned the jury that if Kneeland were not punished, “marriages [will be] dissolved, prostitution made easy and safe, moral and religious restraints removed, property invaded, and the foundations of society broken up, and property made common.”

It took 5 trials to finally convict Kneeland, and there was a huge uproar. He had many supporters. William Ellery Channing produced a petition to pardon Kneeland, based on freedom of speech and press. Among the many who signed were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore Parker, George Ripley, William Lloyd Garrison, and Bronson Alcott, stars of liberal religion at the time, but not his old friend Ballou. To be fair, though, I should note that petitions in support of the authorities carried more signatures, showing continuing public support for the old law. Channing’s petition was not successful; Kneeland served 60 days in the Boston jail, the last person to be imprisoned for blasphemy in the United States. After his release he moved to Iowa, where, like a good Owenite, he started a small Utopian community that he called Salubria. The community did not survive long after his death in 1844.

Is there something we can learn from this story? I don’t know. But I do think that I need to learn more about this person, who fits so amazingly into a time of transition and who propounded a wide range of social reform. It seems that much of what Kneeland supported would be supported by most current Unitarians and Universalists. And for me it’s a bit disturbing that so much of what he tried to accomplish has not yet happened, some 188 years later. Maybe we’re slow learners.

Music: Drift Away, Dobie Gray

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.

Silent Meditation
Let us join our hearts and minds in silent meditation

Song Go Now In Peace (3 times)
Please rise in body or spirit and join in singing Go Now In Peace

Go now in peace, go now in peace
May our love and care surround you
Everywhere, everywhere, you may go

Closing: Cherish Your Doubts — Michael A Schuler
(https://www.uua.org/worship/words/closing/6006.shtml)

Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the servant of truth.

Question your convictions, for beliefs too tightly held strangle the mind and its natural wisdom.

Suspect all certitudes, for the world whirls on — nothing abides.

Yet in our inner rooms full of doubt, inquiry and suspicion, let a corner be reserved for trust.

For without trust there is no space for communities to gather or for friendships to be forged.

Indeed, this is the small corner where we connect — and reconnect — with each other.

The chalice flame is extinguished
Until once again ignited by the strength of our communion.

Go now in peace.

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Birth of The Unitarian Church in Transylvania

“Dávid Ferenc” (@unitariandavidferenc) posted this earlier today (6 January 2021) on Facebook:

On this day, January 6, in 1568 king John Sigismund assembled a Diet to be held in the town Torda (today Turda in Romania). At this Diet our Bishop Francis David inspired the delegates to later approve the first toleration edict of freedom of faith among the Christian religions.

This was a new and revolutionary idea of freedom of religion at that time, and therefore January 6 1568 also is considered by tradition to be the birth of The Unitarian Church.

Here’s the famous painting by Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch showing Bishop Francis David at the Diet of Torda. A painting well known by Unitarians.

Francis David at the Diet of Torda, 6 January 1568

Sunday, December 6, 2020: Creating Christmas

Can you in your Conscience think, that our Holy Saviour is honoured, by Mad Mirth, by long Eating, by hard Drinking, by lewd Gaming, by rude Revelling; by a Mass fit for none but a Saturn or a Bacchus, or the Night of a Mahometan Ramadam? You cannot possibly think so.

— Cotton Mather, Grace defended: A censure on the ungodliness, by which the glorious grace of God, is too commonly abused. A sermon preached on the twenty fifth day of December, 1712.

Christmas is a much loved holiday in the United States, celebrated to some extent by Christians and non-Christians alike. But that wasn’t always the case. For a generation during the 17th century, all celebration of Christmas was banned in Massachusetts, as it had been in England after the Puritan victory in the English Civil War. For a century or more after the law banning Christmas celebrations was repealed, Puritan ministers like Cotton Mather continued to preach fiery sermons against such activities. When Christmas finally returned to respectability it was, we are told, largely through the encouragement of Unitarian and Universalist ministers and laypeople.

Welcome before prelude

Good morning and welcome to West Fork Unitarian Universalists. I’m Robert Helfer and I feel blessed to serve this congregation as a lay leader. I’m glad to see all of you here today.

Thank you for joining us.

Let us use the prelude for centering. We are about to enter sacred time. We are about to make this time and this place sacred by our presence and intention.

Please silence your phones… and as you do so, I invite us also to turn down the volume on our fears; to remove our masks; and to loosen the armor around our hearts.

Breathe.

Let go of the expectations placed on you by others—and those they taught you to place on yourself.

Drop the guilt and the shame, not to shirk accountability, but in honest expectation of the possibility of forgiveness.

Let go of the thing you said the other day. Let go of the thing you dread next week. Be here, in this moment. Breathe, here.

Prelude: “The Sound of Silence”, Simon & Garfunkle

Continue reading

Sunday August 30, 2020: The Great Showman

P.T. Barnum Circus poster

The noblest art is that of making others happy — P.T. Barnum

Welcome before prelude

Good morning and welcome to West Fork Unitarian Universalists. I’m Robert and I am blessed to serve this congregation as a lay leader. I’m glad to see all of you here today.

Thank you for joining us.

Let us use the prelude for centering. We are about to enter sacred time. We are about to make this time and this place sacred by our presence and intention.

Please silence your phones… and as you do so, I invite us also to turn down the volume on our fears; to remove our masks; and to loosen the armor around our hearts.

Breathe.

Let go of the expectations placed on you by others—and those they taught you to place on yourself.

Drop the guilt and the shame, not to shirk accountability, but in honest expectation of the possibility of forgiveness.

Let go of the thing you said the other day. Let go of the thing you dread next week. Be here, in this moment. Breathe, here

Prelude: Entry of the Gladiators, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus Band

Continue reading

Sunday August 9, 2020: The Great Showman

P.T. Barnum Circus poster

The noblest art is that of making others happy — P.T. Barnum

Our forays into Unitarian and Universalist history normally focus on our heroes, the stars of social justice and liberal religion. But perhaps we need to be equally aware of our slightly less reputable past. This Sunday Robert Helfer will venture into the world of Phineas Taylor Barnum, Universalist, the master of “flimflam” behind the revelation that “there’s a sucker born every minute

NOTICE: This service was postponed to Sunday, August 30, 2020.

We are forgoing meeting in person during the coronavirus epidemic, meeting instead through the magic of ZOOM. We share music, readings, and hymns on our usual presentation slides, have a story and a talk, and share joys and sorrows, as well as a virtual “coffee hour” discussion starting at 10:30, with the service at 11. If you prefer not to be seen, video is optional. If you would like to participate, please email westforkuu@gmail.com for details and a link, or for help with using ZOOM.

If you are a regular attendee, we have added you to our Google Group if we had an email address. If you have not gotten a group email already, please email westforkuu@gmail.com so that we can add you to the group, which we will be using for staying in touch with each other during this time. Public announcements will continue to be posted here on the website and on our Facebook page and Twitter account, as usual.


Email westforkuu@gmail.com or use our contact form for more information or write to us at PO Box 523, Clarksburg WV 26302