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Congregation of Abraxas (site under construction)

Essay on Worship .......Vestments   ....Worship Reader (under construction)......... Historical Notes (under construction)

HISTORICAL NOTES (under construction)

The Congregation of Abraxas was founded by Duke the Dumb  (Gray), Fred the Full (Gillis), Stephan the Spare (Papa) , Harry the Holy (Thor), and yours truly, Vern the Void (Barnet) after the 1975 Buck Hill Falls UUMA Convocation.  Later joining the order were such as Wayne the Wide (Arnason), Mark Belletini and Dick Boeke.  The first public witness of the group was at the 1976 UUA General Assembly. The history could be reconstructed from a 20-page single-space Chronicles of the "missionary and liturgical order" and from a number of newsletters it published. At its height, I think there were over a dozen members of the order and a number of postulants.
    We were especially proud of Fred serving on the 1980 UUA Commission on Common Worship and Mark for chairing the Hymnbook Commission.
    As I reflect on those days, these points seem to me most important:
   a. The group was committed to a discipline of collegiality. Although the group distributed materials written by its members and others, nothing could be published in its name unless all members of the Order agreed to it. Since the group ranged from born-again UU to Buddhist/atheist, the writing of liturgy was often painful but joyfully endured because of the breath of understanding gained by discovering was of being inclusive. I remember a conference call that cost us over a hundred bucks as we argued over whether to include the word "seeming" as a modifier of the word "evil."
    Especially significant publications were the basic "Essay on  Worship," the "Matins," the "Compline," and the "Eucharist."  The liturgical materials were always published in "draft" form to give the invitation for growth.
    b. The Congregation had a  great sense of humor, as the "shadow vows" to the three vows required of Ordering (not poverty [economic], chastity [focus of purpose], and obedience [authority] but equity, utility, and collegiality -- and my vows prevent me from revealing their shadows).
    c. I remain perplexed these many years later that the group found more receptive ground among lay people than the clergy. I remember the challenge the Congregation faced in doing the Eucharist in the then rabid Santa Rosa Fellowship -- with amazing success because of the virtuoso rather than charismatic execution of the liturgy we had developed.
    d. Especially surprising was the number of lay people who wanted to come to our retreats, the length of which varied from 3 or 8 days at a time, from Berkeley to Boston, several each year. We did not anticipate the popularity of the retreats which were originally designed as consultation meetings to work on the liturgical writing. But we developed an "ordered day" with matins, eucharist, vespers, and compline, and a wonderful schedule which included Abraxas volleyball and eating with specific disciplines. The discipline most popular was the rule of no conversation between compline and matins.
    e. The development not only of daily and seasonal cycles of worship and devotion but also of a 4-part structure for the liturgy itself (outlined in the 1980 Commission's work and detailed in the Congregation of Abraxas Worship Reader (see below), has continued to ring true and may be the most important work the Congregation did. That's why (below), I lament it being reduced to stoles.

aspects of the Congregation's work:

1. stoles: window-dressing, alas!

The 1980 October newsletter (710.15 in the Abraxas agenda) tersely explained the alb, the stole, the cincture, and other items of dress the Congregation adopted. I will see if the Chronicles of Abraxas also contains materials about this. The newsletter was produced a month or so before I purchased the first computer for my church, so I don't have the text in electronic form. I have made a gif file of it, however, which can be accessed at or go to and click on the 8-button on the bottom of the page.  The approved exclamation at the Abraxas retreats was not "Bless my soul," but "Bless my stole" as participants came out of the closet and into the sauna. Ha.
    The purpose of vestments was not to further distance between congregation and the clergy -- but that is another discussion.
    My impression is that when Abraxas presented President Gene Picket a stole at General Assembly (he had hinted that he would like one) AND HE WORE IT, the clergy brothers and sisters began to imitate the practice which has become increasingly popular.
    Which brings me to my lament. I recall modernist architects discussing the impact of their work. I think it was Mies van der Rohe who said, "Yes, but what do we have to show for it but the picture window?" The central work of Abraxas, liturgical renewal, has been pretty much reduced to the stole and maybe a few worship features, but the overall conception of worship still seems to be primarily a set up for the sermon. In my opinion,  the ground-breaking 1976 Abraxan essay "Worship" has yet to receive the serious and widespread consideration it merits. Am I wrong?

A statement requested from Vern -- 2011 January 4

Religion begins with awe which develops into gratitude and matures into service. Worship prepares us for, and sometimes actually opens us to, the mystery too big for words. The Congregation of Abraxas, which exulted in the freedom possible only with the discipline of form, and which required us to work toward complete agreement among us on every word of all the liturgies we presented from our wildly different theologies, taught me that our words at best only point to what is too deep, too large, too amazing for words. But those pointers, carefully ordered, often led to fresh awe, unspeakable gratitude even in the horrors of existence, and a constantly renewed commitment to serve others -- energized by that awe and and shaped with gratitude. Even when worship was in ordinary, rather that sacred time and space, it was a rehearsal, a practice session, that made me ready anywhere for unexpected experiences and insights channeling and purifying what some call love.