Midwestern Unitarian christening ceremonies of the late 19th C.

The christening ceremonies of the Western Unitarian Conference contain many elements still used in contemporary Unitarian Universalist christening and child dedication ceremonies, including gender-inclusive language, the incorporation of flowers, and even the language of “dedication” rather than “christening.” You’ll find two complete christening services below:

1893 “Service of flowers and christenings” using gender-inclusive language
1884 “Christening service” including the term “dedication”


1893 “Service of flowers and christenings”

By the 1890s, Unitarian churches in the Western Unitarian Conference were combining a flower service with a mass christening service. The following “service of flowers and christenings”, published in the 13 July 1893 number of Unity, vol. XXXI no. 20, (Chicago: Unity Publishing, 1893), p. 222, is particularly notable because it uses some gender-inclusive language. Note also the reference to a “church home,” a characteristic phrase and idea of Unitarian women ministers of the day; one wonders if this anonymous service came from a church with a woman minister. Also notable is that the father’s only role in this service is as an onlooker; the mother does the naming alone.


The following service, daintily printed, comes to us from one of our parishes. It is designed to give one to the parents of the child after the name has been inserted in the proper place. It may be too late for others to copy this service of flowers and christenings; but it will surely be interesting reading to many who are doubtful about the possibility and feeling in connection with natural religion. The rational faith has large place for the sentiments.

The People sing:


My child is lying on my knees;
The signs of heaven she reads;
My face is all the heaven she sees,
Is all the heaven she needs.

I also am a child, and I
Am ignorant and weak:
I gaze upon the starry sky,
And then I must not speak.

For all behind the starry sky,
Behind the world so broad,
Behind men’s [sic] hearts and souls doth lie
The infinite of God.

Lo! Lord, I sit in thy wide space,
My child upon my knee;
She looketh up unto my face,
And I look up to thee.

   George Macdonald

The Pastor reads:

Then were there brought unto Jesus little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

And again the disciples came, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven; and whoso shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.

And he took them up in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

The Children come for flowers and remain clustered around the table.
The Parents enter with their little ones, the Children singing:

Lead us, Heavenly Father.
Lead us, Shepherd Kind!
We are only children.
Weak and young and blind.
All the way before us
Thou alone dost know;
Lead us, Heavenly Father,
Singing as we go.

Welcome by the Pastor:

Dear friends, amid the beauty of the new-born flowers we welcome these, your new-born children, to the family of God upon the earth. By bringing them to be given their names in our Church Home you bear witness to your grateful joy that they are yours in God. We share with you that sacred joy. and greet as kin of ours your little ones who will to-day receive their names among us.

Mothers, fathers, you can scarcely deepen here, or at this moment, the consecration which your children have already laid upon you by their birth. By that birth which you, not they, invited, you stand alreadv pledged to them, and pledged to God who gave, to make them pure and beautiful and holy, as far as in you lies,— pure like this clear water, symbol from old time of baptismal purity; beautiful in their unfolding, like these flowers; happy as child-life can be made by prayer-led love. Behold in us the witnesses of your consecration to the duties, the dignities, the joys of parentage.

Mother, by what name shall this, your child, be known upon the earth?

The Mother answers.

Thus shall it be. Henceforth thou shalt be called __________, the name thy parents give thee now. May thy name be blessed to thee, and be honored among men!

May the Father’s holy spirit, which is in thee, keep thee noble, keep thee pure!

May God, the Mother and the Father of us all, be dear to thee, as thou art dear to God.

After each christening the Pastor gives a flower, and the children softly sing:

Hallelujah, Amen!

As the Parents withdraw, the Choir sings:

O beloved little children,
Blessings upon you fall!
Heavenly peace and blessings
Gather on your way!
Ye are all weak and helpless;
But the good Father guards,
Watches and shields you always,
With merciful love and care.
O beloved little children.
Blessings and light descend
On the dear love parental,
Which hath offered you here!
Hallowed and consecrated
By holy song and prayer,
May love be filled with wisdom
To guide the feet of the child.

The People sing:


All hidden lie the future wavs
Their little feet shall fare!
But holy thoughts within us stir,
And rise on lips of prayer.

To us beneath the noonday heat,
Dust-stained and travel-worn,
How beautiful their robes of white,
The freshness of their morn !

Within us wakes the childlike heart:
Back rolls the tide of years;
The silent wells of memory start
And flow in happy tears.

O little ones, ye cannot know
The power with which ye plead,
Nor why, as on through life we go.
The little child doth lead.

   F. L. Hosmer.



1884 “Christening service”

The above christening was made a part of a “Flower Service.” The “Flower Service” was an innovation of Western Unitarian Conference churches in the 1870s and 1880s — an intergenerational worship service in late June where children brought flowers into the church. A typical Flower Service is printed in Unity Festivals by James Vila Blake (Chicago: Western Unitarian Sunday School Society, 1884). Unity Festivals also has a christening service, which is reprinted below. Of particular interest is the last formula for christening, which doesn’t use the word “christen” at all; instead, the minister “dedicates” the child/ren.

Christening Service.

The children and parents being assembled before the pulpit, the Minister makes a brief address: after which—

The Minister. Do you bring your children hither in this spirit?
The Parents. We do.
The Minister. By what name shall this child be known on the earth?

(One or both parents repeat the name.)

The Christening by the Minister [see below].

After the christening of each child, let the children of the Sunday school, or the choir, sing this


Or these words:

Bless the Lord, | O my | soul:
And all that is within me | bless his | holy name
Bless the Lord, | O my | soul:
And for- | get not | all his benefits!

After the children are christened, a short


While the little ones are being taken away, let the children of the Sunday school, or the choir, sing this


I also am a child, and I
Am ignorant and weak:
I gaze upon the starry sky,
And then I must not speak.

For all behind the starry sky,
Behind the world so broad,
Behind men’s hearts and souls doth lie
The infinite of God.

Lo! Lord, I sit in thy wide space,
My child upon my knee;
She looketh up unto my face,
And I look up to thee.

G. Macdonald.
From Unity Hymns and Chorals.


The following forms of words for the Christening, in actual use by different Ministers, are given as suggestions:

I christen you _________ in the thought of God, our Father, from whose hand you come; in witness of the joy, gratitude, and consecration of your parents; and in testimony of the love, care, and fellowship of this church.


Henceforth you shall be called ________, the name your mother [or father, or parents,] gives you now. May the name be very blessed to you and honored among men. And may God, our Father and Mother, be dear to you, ________, as you are dear to God.


Then in your behalf I publicly consecrate to virtue, to truty, to love, to duty, to the service of God and humanity, these your dear children [or this your dear child] ________. May their lives [or his or her life] be pure, noble, wholly consecrated to what is beautiful and good. May the love and the prayers of this assembly be for you and for them: and may the blessing of God, our Father, rest ever upon you! Ame.


In the Name that is above every name, the Name in which all the families of the earth are one, we receive these little ones in this place and give them the names which henceforth they are to bear.

I christen thee _________ in the name of God our heavenly Father, and into the fellowship, joy, and service of human life on earth. Amen.


I baptize you in the name of the Father whose child you are, and of Jesus who loved little children, and of the HOly Spirit which is within you.


I baptize thee into the love and service of God, into the Divine Fatherhood, into the Divine Sonship, into the HOly Spirit, and the life eternal.


_________: We dedicate thee to God: to the keeping of his love: to the service of his righteousness and truth.

The minister who uses this form says: “I say ‘we’ instead of the more private ‘I,’ because with the few preliminary remarks I make, I try to have all the church feel that they individually and unitedly enter into this act, its validity depending upon the sense of responsibility we all feel toward the young life we now receive among us and consecrate.”