I want to start with a word of gratitude for the STJ hymnal commission, who thought to include some short responses in this slim volume. It would have been easy to only include bigger songs and hymns, but they knew (probably because most of them were music directors themselves) that we needed fresh music to fill those spaces in our worship – spaces where we receive the offering, or send the children to religious education classes, or respond to a prayer, or welcome us in, or send us out.

This short piece – another beauty composed by Tom Benjamin – is a pretty setting of the Theodore Parker words (a fuller version can be found in STLT, reading #683).

Be ours a religion
which like sunshine goes everywhere,
its temple all space,
its shrine the good heart,
its creed all truth,
its ritual works of love.

I could see this as an introit – welcome to this faith community, and here’s what we’re like – or as a benediction – go bring this out to the world. Either way, it’s a lovely little piece. I think it’s a bit tricky, but once you learn it, it’s in your bones.

I wish I had more to say today. Parker’s words are in some ways a call to arms, and in some ways an admonition – this is who we say we are, but are we? It’s easy to puff ourselves up and say “we are this” but I think it’s more important that we say “we strive to be this.” Parker’s words are a vision of Unitarianism (and, by modern extrapolation and extension, Unitarian Universalism). And on this day when we remember Dr. King’s dream, we can remember our own dreams for who we strive to be.

I’ve been wandering around the house for the better part of an hour, singing this sweet little piece by Tom Benjamin, with two questions on my mind:

First, what can I possibly say about this piece I quite like, when it’s short, theologically and ethically sound, and just plain pretty?

Second, and perhaps more importantly: is it an introit, a chalice lighting, a prayer, a response, or a benediction?

Be Thou with us,
now and always,
now and always,
blessed be.

Seriously, it could be any of those things. It could be sung to welcome all into the worship space at the top of the service. It could be sung as we invite the light into our chalices (reminiscent of a pagan line when calling in the directions, “be thou with us, spirit of fire.” It could be sung at the end of a pastoral prayer, or be the prayer itself. It could be a sending forth as a variation on “we extinguish this flame, but not the…” that many congregations use for extinguishing the chalice. It could be sung as the final notes of a service, blessing all who leave the worship space.

This might be the most utilitarian short piece we have, and one of my favorites.

Blessed be.