Weaving the Web

Where did our benediction come from? Dan and I were talking one day about different ways to end the service. For a long time it has ended with applause, which feels like a strange sound to have ringing in our ears as we leave—as if we have been to a performance. I wanted something that carried a feeling of uplift and purpose. Dan, always thinking pedagogical- ly, liked repetition.

We both had stories relating to the benediction said in the Concord, Massachusetts, church, where he grew up and I have visited. Actually, it was the same story: of going to the home of someone who belonged to the congregation (different someones in our two cases) and finding that they’d put the words of the benediction on their doors, where they would see them each time they left the house. The benediction had become a blessing that they bestowed on themselves daily:

Go out into the world in peace Have courage
Hold on to what is good
Return to no person evil for evil

Strengthen the faint-hearted Support the weak
Help the suffering
Honor all beings.

I knew those words and liked them, and wondered where they’d come from, so I poked around a little. The Rev. Dr. Brent Smith has this on his website–I’m not sure whether it was, and/or is still, a regular feature at All Souls UU in Tulsa, where he previously served:

Be of good courage.
Search all things, and hold fast to that

which is good.
Render unto no one evil for evil. Strengthen the faint-hearted, support

the weak, help the afflicted.

Love all men. Love all women. Love all children.

Love all souls, serving the Most High;

And rejoicing in the power of the Spirit. Amen.

I’m guessing that both have their origins in the Presbyterian Worship Book, because I found another site listing this, used by the Rev. Herb Swanson when he was interim pastor at St. John United Church, Columbia, Maryland, and described as “adapted from the Presbyterian Worship Book and the Bible” (1 Thessalonians):

Go out into the world in peace; have courage; hold on to what is good; return no one evil for evil; strengthen the faint-hearted; support the weak; help the suffering. Honor every person that you meet, and Love and Serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Of these, I liked the Concord version best, and after tweaking the language in places, I pondered if it omitted anything essential to my theology. I came up with two things: beauty and–to a lesser extent, since it was already implicit–love. I wrote two more lines and ended up with these now-familiar words, to be said as we took hands:

Go out into the world in peace Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good Return no one evil for evil Strengthen the faint-hearted

Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed Honor all beings.

After about a year, people began to spontaneously hold hands before
I suggested it (though it’s always fine to opt out). The words are now posted on the wall of every classroom, and Elaine Dodd made small laminated versions that you can get at the UUCPA Bookstore. And although I never trust my memory with it, I see lots of regulars saying it by heart, which always makes me smile. Where and how do these words play a role in your life? —Blessings, Amy

P.S. I will be on vacation the week of March 29, traveling to Arizona to see family and the glories of nature.