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“Flower 100”

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Flower Communion Ritual. The Story of Flower Communion begins in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in June of 1923 with a Unitarian minister named Norbert Capek. The city of Prague was in turmoil as it tried to recover from World War I. Czechs had traditionally been staunch supporters of religious freedom. But during many years of German rule, they had been forced to practice Catholicism. The people of Prague, embracing their new freedom, were trying to rebuild their community. But they were faced with widespread hunger and were lacking necessities such as warm clothes. Rev. Capek was the minister of a new and growing Unitarian church in town. He was known for his uplifting hymns and welcoming community. Capek knew that during these hard times, people needed something even more special. He wanted a religious ritual that would bind his diverse community of people together in hope and care. He knew the traditional Communion service of the local Catholic Church would not be comforting to many of his parishioners, some of whom had felt let down by what they saw as corruption in powerful Catholic leadership. But what kind of ritual would work? What kind of ritual could he create to help his community, healing the wounds and unifying the people? Rev. Capek looked to the beauty of nature to find a solution. For this special ritual, he asked everyone to bring a flower to church. It could be from a cultivated garden, or it could be a wildflower from the side of the road. Even a twig and leaf would be fine. As people entered the church, their flowers were collected in a large vase. At a special point in the service, the children brought forward the truly spectacular bouquet. The flowers were consecrated with prayers and hymns written by Rev. Capek. At the end of the service, everyone was invited to take home a flower. But they were to take home a different flower than the one they brought. And they were to take flowers just as they came, without regard for where they came from or who had brought them. This was the first service of what came to be called Flower Communion. Rev. Capek wanted the diverse flowers in his Communion service to symbolize people. Many different flowers can make a beautiful bouquet and many different people can make a community. All have value and all are important. The service was very successful, touching many people deeply. It became a church tradition.

This story also has a sad part. Hitler’s troops began to occupy Prague in 1939 and by 1940 the Prague Unitarian Church was under the surveillance of the Nazi police, who believed that Capek was “too dangerous to the Reich for him to be allowed to live.” In 1942, he was taken to the Dachau concentration camp and died in the gas chambers. Capek remained a good minister to the very end; a kind presence to those in the camp with him and, writing home letters of encouragement to Unitarians in Prague when able. As UU’s, we have religious martyrs who died for their faith and we count Capek as one of our heroes, because he was willing to stand up for what was right and true even if it meant he would be killed for doing so. Capek shows us an example of courage to speak the truth of love even when faced with the threat of death.

In 1939 Maja Capek, Norbert Capek’s wife and a minister herself, brought the Flower Communion service to the United States. It has been celebrated in Unitarian Churches all over the continent ever since. Norbert Capek may have died, but his touching ritual and his strong belief in affirming and celebrating the importance of everyone lives on today. Capek’s message lives on in this very service as we celebrate our Flower Communion. i

I want to publicly express my gratitude to my colleague, the Rev. Erika Hewitt, curator of the UUA Worship Web and her team for the work they put into making this year’s celebration of the Flower Communion special for all of us, providing worship and study materials to be used today. I listened to several video interviews between Rev. Hewitt and the Rev. Petr Samojsky, the minister of today’s Prague Unitarian Congregation in the Czech Republic and I want to share from that what I think is of value for us here now.

There are two reasons to celebrate the flower ritual. One is to lift up the worth and dignity of each person, beautiful and complete in their own right just like each of the flowers that are brought. I was fascinated to learn that in his church people are encouraged to be as creative and unique as they want to be. This means that some bring flowers, some bring pictures of flowers, someone might even bring a cake decorated with flowers. Whatever they bring is representative of who they are as individuals. And some bring a plant from the side of the road, a branch with a leaf or two on it, perhaps something “weedy” or even nettles, which he, himself, sometimes adds to the bouquet. Because we all have our own personalities, and we are not all always easy to get along with. We all have our moments! And we love one another just the same and accept each as they come on any given day.

So, aside from the amazing array of flowers we represent here today, and they us, there is this underlying message I am hearing as I observe our journey through change. We are moving through challenging times, and we can get stressed out or just plain tired. When that happens, we are not our best selves. We say things hurriedly, or in less than loving ways, even if the intention is one of love and grounded in our hopes for the future. The takeaway for us from the flower communion is that when we encounter nettles in the bouquet we accept them with open hearts, receiving the person with gratitude for who they are at their core, knowing that tomorrow they will likely show up as roses and the next day as a flower that has no thorniness at all! We work through these times with gentleness and care.

The second reason to celebrate flower communion is closely related to the first. It is a celebration of diversity. We are a Welcoming Congregation and went to great lengths to be able to say we have this designation. It means that we aim to be as inclusive as we can be. We can all rattle off the phrase – we don’t discriminate based on race or ethnicity or sex or gender or religious affiliation. And when something rolls off our tongues that easily and quickly, I think we forget to focus on what we mean by it. It becomes just words on a list we have memorized and can recite by rote. We no longer stop at each one and think about what we intend to do about that belief. A real celebration of diversity takes the words and puts them into action. Celebrate is a verb! Our flower communion today asks us to acknowledge the diversity in our bouquet and to welcome in even more of it. It asks us as individuals to take some time to think about how we can truly celebrate the diversity we cherish.

Rev. Samojsky said another thing that struck me. In his church the people don’t walk up to the bouquet at the end of the service and select a flower to take home with them. There is no expectation that the gorgeous peony or showy iris that you have been eyeing throughout the service is what you will end up with at the close. In his church when the time comes, the children take the flowers in baskets around to those in attendance. It is the children who choose which one you will get. And the people joyfully and gratefully receive what is handed to them. Because each flower is of equal worth, a living, growing, part of the order of things that has its place and its importance in the grander scheme. Each a part of the interdependent web of existence. We will practice our ritual today in the spirit of Rev. Peter’s church!

He also shared that they don’t celebrate the flower communion in order to memorialize Rev. Capek and Capek himself would not have wanted us to do so. We honor his contribution to our faith, of course, but the things we celebrate are his ideals – our UU values - of acceptance of one another, the worth and dignity of each, the wonderful diversity that makes up our humanity.

And Rev. Petr shared that Capek would not want us to continue this ritual if we could no longer find meaning in it for the present. This piece rings true for us today. We have our rituals here – the way that we do worship, how we gather for meetings or make decisions together. Every activity can be broken down into ritual elements – the way we have come to do things – maybe we say “the way we have always done it!” In the coming year, as we explore how to move forward in sustainable ways, there is a message in this flower communion ritual for us. Ours is to examine the how and the why of what we do together, to take a close look and a deep dive so we can uncover what still holds value for us and what we might set aside. It is all about that realistic look at what we have, about right-sizing in ways that keep us strong and sustainable, about what truly has meaning for us and what we have kept simply because it has become a part of what we do and how we do it. So, we can celebrate flower communion still this Sunday, this year, with confidence that there is meaning making to be done, value to be gleaned. We honor Norbert Capek by seeking after that fresh meaning each year.

Let’s take a minute to look around us at the beautiful bouquet that we make up here at UUMH. Each individual a part of the whole, each with their own unique gifts and ways of contributing – the big showy blooms, the greens that bring contrast and fill the empty spaces with love and connection, the delicate sprays of light and hope, the blossoms readying themselves to open wide, the sturdy stems that ground us. May we find a place of gratitude within our hearts today for this celebration, for this people and this place.

Blessed be and Amen.

Rev. Tracy Johnson

UUMH Chatham, June 4, 2023

i From “The Story of the Flower Communion” by Rev. Sarah Movius-Schurr.


​Unitarian Universalist

Meeting House of Chatham
Sunday Services  10:30 AM

819 Main Street
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Chatham, MA 02633
(508) 945-2075

Serving our Cape Cod Community in Chatham since 1986

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