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Flower Communion


I used these words to introduce the Sunday service at TPUUF on 6/21/98, entitled Community at Midsummer:


This is midsummer - since time immemorial the peoples of the world have noted the passing of the longest day of the year with feasting, revelry, reflection and, from time to time, a bit of sacrifice, human and otherwise. We will refrain from sacrifice today and take note of the turning of the earth, while pausing to honor fathers and fatherhood, to welcome a new member to the human community, and to share our annual flower communion. We'll sing a bit, smile a lot and the revelry will come later, at our annual year end picnic.

But first, announcements.


The following is the text of an address which I have used to introduce the flower communion in that service. Much of it comes from other sources, including the Encyclopaedia Britannica article on Rev. Norbert F. Capek and several web sites:


Across North America and Europe, on this day, or one close to it, Unitarian Universalists are sharing the Flower Communion. We are not a creedal folk but a covenantal community and thus we have few ceremonies and no sacraments. However, the Flower Communion has come to be a common experience, binding each to each, and expressing, through sharing the momentary beauty of flowers, the preciousness and fragility of the brother and sisterhood of all believers.


Begun in Europe, and an instant popular success, it was brought here in 1940 by First Parish (Unitarian) Church of Cambridge, Mass and rapidly spread through both the then Unitarian and Universalist congregations of North America as well as being taken up by many Baptist, Catholic and other denominational congregations.


We owe the Flower Communion to Dr. Norbert Capek. He was born in 1870 in southern Bohemia, the only son of a tailor, was educated in Germany, ordained to the Baptist faith and became the head of the Baptist Church in what is now the Czech and Slovak Republics. As WW I approached, governmental disapproval of his outspoken liberal religious views forced him to leave Germany. He came to the US. Here he became active in the Unitarian church, and returned to Europe after the war as a Unitarian missionary, founding the Czech Unitarian church in 1921. He was a frequent visitor to this country, earning a Doctor of Divinity degree from Meadville Theological School in 1934, while organizing and nurturing a growing Czech Unitarian movement. He wrote more than 90 hymns, 3 of which, in translation, appear in our hymnal, but he is best remembered for the Flower Festival Service or, as it has come to be known, the Flower Communion.


In 1942, for his role in the Czech underground and his continuing criticism of the Nazi regime, Dr. Capek was arrested and sent to a concentration camp, with a note in his records, "return unwanted." He was executed in Dachau the following year. Before his death, his courage in the face of torture and starvation was a source of inspiration to his fellow prisoners, of whatever faith. At the end of the war, survivors of camps in which he had been testified that the Unitarian minister could not have been sent to places where he was more needed. Fortified by his words, they held on despite the grim rigors of mere existence.


This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Flower Communion and the 55th of his death.


The service was conceived out of Dr. Capek's feeling that people had a psychological need for symbolic ritual, which, while acting as an emotional outlet, would bind them together. Furthermore, he sought a ceremony which former Roman Catholics and orthodox Protestants as well as former liberal Jews could attend and take part in, without reservation. In his church, as for us today, it was the last service of the year before the start of the summer hiatus.


As originally performed on June 4, 1923, it was a simple service. People were asked to bring a flower of their choice, from garden, field or roadside, or even a twig. As each person entered the church, they placed the flower in a vase, as we did today, to signify that it was by their own free will that they joined the others present. The flowers, gathered together, symbolize the unity and diversity of the church.

Each year, Dr. Capek preached a sermon on Brotherhood; two hymns, of his composition, were sung; a prayer was offered and the flowers were blessed. Then the congregants came forward, one by one, as we shall, to select a flower and to share in the treasury of grace that comes through brotherhood and unity of purpose.


Before I ask you to come forward and share this communion, I will give the blessing of the flowers, as written by Dr. Capek:


"Infinite Spirit of Life, we ask thy blessing on these thy messengers of fellowship and love.

May they remind us, amid diversities of knowledge and 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."


I begin the flower communion by setting aside one flower in memory of all those who, while part of our community, are present today only in spirit.


Now, holding these ideals in your mind, and with calm spirit, please come forward to receive a flower, in communion with those here and our fellows in faith worldwide. In the spirit of Thich Nhat Hahn, let us make it a silent, walking communion.