The Flower Communion
This is our second annual Flower Celebration, in memory of Dr. Norbert Capek, who originated the custom in Czechoslovakia in the 1920s, and who was martyred in 1942. This service is held in many UU congregations each spring, to welcome the season and celebrate the emergence from the dark of winter into the light of renewal.
Most religions have this ritual as part of their traditions, Easter in the Christian faith, farther back into pagan history with Eostara emerging from Germanic and IndoEuropean myths, to Persephone from the Greeks and Hebe from the Romans, and countless other manifestations of joy at the retreat of winter, and the coming of flowers and stirring of animal life. As Lynn Unger wrote recently in an article for the CLF, “ Metaphor or not, there is a certain magic to this season which people have been celebrating for millennia – not out of ignorance, but out of joy and gratitude and hope.”
From the darkest periods of history, yet hope remains for a better day and the spirit’s renewal.
Here is the story of Dr. Norbert Capek, founder of Unitarianism in Prague in 1921.
He was born in 1870 in Bohemia, into a Roman Catholic family. As a young man he became disillusioned with the Church, and became an ordained Baptist minister. He traveled as an evangelist, but became more and more liberal due to Moravian and free Christianity movements. He wrote and published articles on psychology and politics and anticlericalism, drawing unfavorable notice by the German authorities. In 1914, he fled to the United States. Becoming ever more liberal, he was subjected to trials within the Baptist Church, and in 1921, left to join the Unitarians in Essex, New Jersey. He met and married his second wife, Maja, and together they returned to Czechoslovakia in 1921, where Norbert founded the Unitarian Church of Prague. At that time, the services had no hymns, no rituals, and featured lecture style sermons. The reaction against the Catholic communion by the members discouraged this kind of demonstration, but there was a felt need for more spiritual content. So Dr. Capek devised his special flower service to celebrate spring, choosing symbols inspired by the natural world.
The flower service was brought to the United States by Maja in 1940, when she was touring, and introduced in the Cambridge Massachusetts congregation. Because of the outbreak of WWII, she was unable to return home; her husband remained in Prague. He continued the practice of flower celebration on the last Sundays before summer recess, where adults and children participated in colorful flower exchanges, giving concrete expression of their liberal faith in life affirming principles of Unitarianism.When the Nazis took over Prague in 1940, their court records showed, Dr Capek’s gospel of worth and beauty of every person to be an anathema, that he was “too dangerous to the Reich (for him) to be allowed to live.” He was arrested and sent to Dachau. His fate was not learned until later, but it was found that he died during medical experimentation in 1942.
The significance of the flower communion was that as no two flowers are alike, so no two people were alike; yet each had a contribution to make. Together the different flowers formed a beautiful bouquet. Our common bouquet would not be the same without the unique addition of each individual flower, and thus it is now with our church community; it would not be the same without each and everyone of us. Thus this service is a statement of our community. By exchanging flowers, we show our willingness to walk together in our search for truth, disregarding all that might divide us. Each person takes home a flower brought by someone else, thus symbolizing our shared celebration in community, essential to a free people of a free religion.