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In the late nineteenth century, Unitarianism began to move away from its Christian moorings to a post-Protestant, post-Christian perspective. This shift can be clearly seen not only in denominational debates between the more radical Western Unitarian Conference or Free Religious Association on the one hand, and the American Unitarian Association on the other, but also in their practices. These two hymnals offer glimpses of this shift towards a Unitarianism more like what we know today.
It is my hope as Director of Harvard Square Library, that making these two hymnals and service books available online will help increase our contemporary understanding of the history of liberal religious practices. I also hope that they can provide a sense of ritual tradition that is sometimes criticized as being sorely lacking in our eclectic faith. The translation of festivals such as Christmas and Easter into events of the natural, seasonal calendar began in the late nineteenth century, and are not as modern of inventions as might be assumed. Similarly, the Flower Service has an alternative history in American Unitarianism that predates Norbert Capek’s twentieth-century creation of the Flower Communion in Czechoslovakia. As we enter into another winter holiday season, I hope that these materials will provide sources of reflection, enjoyment, and inspiration.
Emily R. Mace, Director November 2012