Sunday, June 4, 2023

Unitarian Flower Communion—A Right of Spring Centennial with Murfin Verse

Today we hold our annual Flower Communion at the Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry.  It is a Unitarian Universalist tradition, one of the few original ones that we didn’t inherit from our more conventional Christian roots or simply rip off from somebody else’s tradition.  It is also the 100th anniversary of the first such service held in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

These Days the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) encourages folks to call the service a Flower Ceremony in deference to the denomination’s most hard core humanists/atheists/agnostics who break out in hives at any suggestion of Christian practice.

The UUA explains it thusly:

The Flower Ceremony, sometimes referred to as Flower Communion or Flower Festival, is an annual ritual that celebrates beauty, human uniqueness, diversity, and community.

Originally created in 1923 by Unitarian minister Norbert Capek of Prague, Czechoslovakia, the Flower Ceremony was introduced to the United States by Rev. Maya Capek, Norbert’s widow.  [Capek died in a Nazi concentration camp.]

In this ceremony, everyone in the congregation brings a flower. Each person places a flower on the altar or in a shared vase. The congregation and minister bless the flowers, and they’re redistributed. Each person brings home a different flower than the one they brought.


The Rev. Norbert Capek of the Prague Unitarian Church invented the Flower Service for his diverse congregation of former Catholics and Protestants, Jews, and humanist agnostics.  After his  death at the hands of the Nazis his widow Maja introduced it to American Unitarians.  It is now, other than than the lighting of the Chalice, the most widely observed Unitarian Universalist ritual.

I have been participating in this tradition now for more than 30 years with this congregation through four name changes, six ministers called or interim, three intern ministers, and two buildings.  It is a highlight of the church year.

This is the latest Tree of Life has ever celebrated.  Most congregations have the service sometime in the Spring when flowers begin to bloom, usually in April or May.

Tree of Life youth gathering flowers from the baskets for distribution a few years ago.

In 2016 as I watched it unfold again, I began to scratch a note in my Order of Service.

Flower Communion

Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation

April 17, 2016


Those Unitarians have a thing,

            a ritual if you will—

                        yeah, I know, hard to imagine.


They call it Flower Communion

            or if that gives the congregation hives

            for sounding damned

            you know, churchy and Christian,

            the Flower Service—

like FTD delivery


But don’t worry,

you know the details are fuzzy

and it will be different everywhere

you know—

            no Pope or Book of Common Prayer

            to set the rules just so.


They can’t even agree on a date

            though most of ‘em do it in the Spring

            sometime around when,

            if you’re lucky,

            it has been warm long enough

            to pluck some blossom

            from your yard—

                        If you have one.


Where I have parked my ass

            on Sunday mornings

            these last several years,

            Spring cheated us

            unless you planted daffodils

            or are unashamed

            by a handful of dandelions.


The supermarket flower wagons

            got a workout this year

            I’m guessing

            by the bright look

            of the vases and baskets

            on the table by the Chalice.


In some churches they try

            For proper liturgy—

            prayers or meditations

if they are queasy,

songs and blessings.


Folks file orderly 

            to lay their blooms in baskets

            or fill lovely vases

            and then some tidy system

            is employed to deal them out again.


But at our place we defy order

            and occasional attempts

            to impose it—

                        the poseys are supposed

                        to go in the baskets

                        before the bell is rung.


But a lot of us are late

            or left the bouquets in the car,

            wander in

and add their nosegays

to haphazard piles

after things a have started.


The timid and confused

            have to be called up

            for last moment deposits.


Then the Children and the Youth

            are beckoned from their seats

toddlers and teens

grab fistfuls and  plunge randomly

among the seats offering flowers

and bouncing off each other

like bumper cars

until everyone has a flower—

or  three or four

and the kids can’t find

anymore takers.


Ah, the happy chaos.


—Patrick Murfin

The happy chaos.

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