We are excited to have Rev. Michelle Ma here with us at our church as our interim minister and she is excited to learn more about coastal living in North Carolina. An invitation to all parents and children: Reverend Michelle would like to meet all of the parents and children of our fellowship and say hello, so we are planning a Meet and Greet Picnic Lunch on Sunday, October 10th at 12:30 at Shevans Park, 1501 Evans Street in Morehead City. We will be providing a variety of subs from Jersey Mike’s, chips, cookies, beverages, plates, napkins, cups and silverware. If you would like to have other picnic items for your family, please bring them along. Masks are encouraged. If it is raining, we will reschedule for a later date. If you have any questions, please email Sarah Sutherland at firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope to see you on the 10th.
This month is our third of a seven-part series of our UU History and how we came to be. Last month we hear about John Murray coming to America and how he decided to preach again and to let his light shine. This month we will learn about the Flower Communion that we care deeply about in our Fellowship.
The Flower Communion – 1923
A Plain and Simple Beauty
By: Janeen K. Grohsmeyer
In the city of Prague, in the land of Czechoslovakia, in the year nineteen hundred and twenty-three, a time between the two World Wars, there was a church, but the building did not look much like a church. Some churches have towers with bells that ring out over the land. Some churches have tall spires that reach to the sky. Some churches have massive doors of carved wood, or enormous windows of stained glass with colored light shining through. Some churches have great organs with hundreds of pipes, from small ones like drinking straws to huge ones that touch the ceiling. Some churches have statues or pictures or candles or chalices.
This church had none of those things. It had no bells, no spires, no stained-glass windows. It had no organ to make beautiful music. It didn’t even have a piano. It had no carvings of wood or statues of stone. It had no candles or chalices. It had no flowers.
The church did have some things. It had four walls and a ceiling and a floor. It had a door and a few windows. It had some hard wooden chairs. But that was all, plain and simple.
Except . . . the church also had people who came to it every Sunday, and they were the most important part of the church of all. Because without people, a church-any church-is just a building, no matter how tall its spires, or how loud its bells.
We have a plain and simple church,” the people declared, “because we are plain and simple people.
We need nothing more.”
The church also had one other very important thing. It had a minister, and his name was Norbert Ĉapek (pronounced CHAH-peck). He had been the minister at the plain and simple church for two years. Every Sunday, Minister Ĉapek went to church, and he spoke to the people while they listened, sitting quiet and still in those hard wooden chairs. When he was done speaking, the people talked a little bit among themselves, and then they went home. And that was all-no music, no candles, no food. Not even coffee or doughnuts.
Minister Ĉapek had wondered, sometimes, if there might be something-perhaps just a little bit of something more. He wrote some songs, and the people sang them, but nothing else came to his mind, so the church went on, as plain and simple as before.
Springtime came to the city of Prague, in the land of Czechoslovakia, in the year nineteen hundred and twenty-three, and Norbert Ĉapek went for a stroll. The rains had come, the birds were singing, and flowers were blooming all over the land. The world was beautiful. Then an idea came to him, simple and clear, plain as the day. The next Sunday, he asked all the people of the church to bring a flower or a budding branch, or even a twig. Each person was to bring one.
“What kind?” they asked. “What color? What size?”
“You choose,” he said. “Each of you choose what you like.”
And so, on the next Sunday, which was the first day of summer, the people came with flowers of all different colors and sizes and kinds. There were yellow daisies and red roses. There were white lilies and blue asters, dark-eyed pansies and light green leaves. Pink and purple, orange and gold-there were all those colors and more. Flowers filled all the
vases; the church wasn’t so plain and simple anymore.
Minister Ĉapek spoke to the people while they listened, sitting quiet and still in those hard wooden chairs. “These flowers are like ourselves,” he said. “Different colors, different shapes, and different sizes, each needing different kinds of care-but each beautiful, each important and special, in its own way.”
When he was done speaking, the people talked a little bit among themselves, and then they each chose a different flower from the vases before they went home. And that was all-and it was beautiful, plain and simple as the day.
More About the Flower Communion (adapted by Sarah Sutherland)
Norbert Ĉapek is featured in Sessions 28 and 29 or Around the Church, Around the Year. The hymnal Singing the Living Tradition contains three of his hymns (No. 8 “Mother Spirit, Father Spirit”, No 28, “View the Starry Realm” and No. 78, “Color and Fragrance”) and two readings (No 723, “The Flower Communion Prayer” and No. 724, “Consecration of the Flowers”).
Ĉapek was born in 1870 in Bohemia, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was raised in the Roman Catholic faith but converted to the Baptist faith at the age of eighteen. He became a minister and a missionary and was very active in that religion. As World War I began, he feared arrest by the Austrian authorities for his nationalistic and anti-Catholic writings, so he moved with his wife Marie and their eight children to the United States in 1914. He continued his ministerial work as pastor of the First Slovak Baptist Church and others and was widowed soon after arriving in the U.S. In 1917 he married another Czech expatriate, Mája Oktavec in 1917. In 1919 he resigned as a Baptist minister, having decided that he could no longer in good conscience by a Baptist.
In 1921, he and his wife, Mája (left), and their children joined the First Unitarian Church of Essex County in New Jersey. Six months later the Ĉapek family left for their native land of Bohemia which had become a part of Czechoslovakia after the war. There they started a Unitarian church, with Norbert and, after 1926, Mája as ordained ministers. Twenty years later, it was the largest Unitarian church in the world, with over thirty-two hundred members.
However, war came once again. Norbert and his daughter were arrested in 1941 by the Gestapo and they confiscated his books and sermons. He spent a year in prison, then was sent to the concentration camp at Dachau. He died in 1942 at Hartheim Castle in Austria, poisoned by gas. Mája had gone to the United State in 1939 to help raise funds for the refugee program that was sponsored by the Unitarians and the Friends (Quakers). She learned of her husband’s death after the war was over. She stayed in the United States for the duration of the war, serving as a Unitarian
minister in New Bedford, Massachusetts for three years. From 1944 to 1950 she worked for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, helping displaced persons settle in Yugoslavia, Egypt and Palestine. She died in 1966.