Flower Communion and Norbert Capek
Each year on the first Sunday in June we celebrate the flower communion ritual. This ritual had its beginnings with our Unitarian brothers and sisters in Prague, Czechoslovakia. It was first celebrated in the US in our very own congregation over 60 years ago.
During the Austro-Hungarian Empire there was no religious freedom in Czechoslovakia. The whole weight of the government was on the Roman Catholic Church. After WWI a great number of Czechs left the Catholic Church wanting to participate in a different more independent religion.
Before WWI, Norbert Capek, who was born in 1870, was serving as a Baptist minister. He had long been a liberal religious thinker, though, and he left the ministry and became a journalist. He fled to the US after articles, which he wrote on the impending war, angered authorities.
It was during his time in the States that he discovered Unitarianism and upon returning to Czechoslovakia after the war, founded a Unitarian congregation in Prague called the Liberal Religious Fellowship.
Thousands flocked to his new church. It was just the type of religion that so many were looking for. Most had come from the Roman Catholic church and they wanted a religion that looked nothing like it, so the minister wore no robe or vestments, they wanted no elaborate rituals, no singing of hymns, no ornate building, no formal or prescribed prayers.
During the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, the Gestapo broke into the apartment of Capek, confiscated his books and sermons and arrested him and his youngest daughter. He was charged with treason for the crime of listening to the radio and taken eventually to the Dachau concentration camp where he was tortured and eventually executed.
When news of his death reached the US, the American Unitarian Assoc. president, Fredrick May Eliot wrote "Another name is added to the list of heroic Unitarian martyrs, by whose death our freedom has been bought, Ours is now the responsibility to see to it that we stand fast in the liberty so gloriously won."
During his ministry, Norbert Capek felt that the Unitarian church in Prague had taken simplicity to the extreme and he wanted to incorporate more religious elements. He gradually introduced the singing of hymns with songs he wrote himself for his congregation.
He also created the flower communion ritual over 80 years ago. He wanted to have symbolic ritual that would help bind people closer together in which former Catholics, Protestants and Jews could all participate without reservations. It was a huge success and became an annual ritual. After his death, his wife moved to the United States and brought with her the flower communion ritual.