Let's Start Here #1 of many
Protestant churches in the 40’s and 50’s were about the Sunday service; and the Sunday service was about the sermon; and the mission of the church was to spread its particular message. The message was some variation of the Christian doctrine. Sunday morning was not “a celebration of community.” it was the proclamation of the church’s understanding of the truth. The ministry was the message. The message was the ministry. The church was an institution to support the message.
This is the religious environment out of which contemporary U/Uism grew. The eldest among us remember it as the church of their childhood.
The leading churches of our denominations were that kind of church, but with one key difference. Our message was different. We were skeptics about the traditional doctrines of Christianity. And, we were committed to an individual’s freedom of belief. How our message had evolved to that point is a longer story, but by the 40’s and 50’s, that was where we were.
We were non-creedal. We were non-dogmatic. Many of our churches still called themselves Christian, but some UU’s didn’t believe in God at all, and the ones that did, did not believe often in a personal God. Many of our churches, especially outside of New England were humanist.
Our hymnal was the red hymnal. It was published first in 1937 and lasted until the early 1960’s. It contains complete orders of services; some of those orders of service are completely humanist and others are theistic and Liberal Christian. Readings those days were from a variety of sources — a little pair of volumes from Robert French Leavens was popular, published in 1927 and published again and again. Other popular sources were the Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore and Kahlil Gibran, of Lebanon.
That was us in the postwar period: the most liberal and broad-minded of the Protestants religiously, and in the public sphere, Unitarians thought they were the most enlightened wing of the establishment. In many cities and town, the Unitarian church was one of the elite churches. Our public ministry was focused mostly on maintaining the separation of church and state. We were more afraid of Roman Catholicism than Evangelical Protestantism.
But let’s widen the view a little. There were three historical trends that were to re-shape those Unitarian and Universalist Churches. Watch this space.
Please Comment: What else do we know about U or U Churches of the postwar-Eisenhower era? What about the emerging fellowships? What was the structure and programming of the small lay-led bodies like?