THE CHURCH OF THE LORD’S UNIVERSE

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the faith that men took to the stars—and vice versa—was that it appeared to differ so little from the liturgical protestantism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Indeed, services of the Church of the Lord’s Universe—almost always, except by Unitarians, corrupted to “Universal Church”—so resembled those of a high-flying Anglican parish of 1920 that a visitor from the past would have been hard put to believe that he was watching a sect as extreme in its own way as the Society for Krishna Consciousness was in its.

The Church of the Lord’s Universe was officially launched in 1985 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by the merger of 230 existing protestant congregations—Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Lutheran. In part the new church was a revolt against the extreme fundamentalism peaking at that time. The Universalists sought converts vigorously from the start. Their liturgy obviously attempted to recapture the traditional beauty of Christianity’s greatest age, but there is reason to believe that the extensive use of Latin in the service was part of a design to avoid giving doctrinal offense as well. Anyone who has attended both Presbyterian and Methodist services has felt uneasiness at the line, “Forgive us our debts/trespasses . . .” St. Jerome’s Latin version of the Lord’s Prayer flows smoothly and unnoticed from the tongue of one raised in either sect.

But the Church of the Lord’s Universe had a mission beyond the entertainment of its congregations for an hour every Sunday. The priests and laity alike preached the salvation of Mankind through His works. To Universalists, however, the means and the end were both secular. The Church taught that Man must reach the stars and there, among infinite expanses, find room to live in peace. This temporal paradise was one which could be grasped by all men. It did not detract from spiritual hopes; but heaven is in the hands of the Lord, while the stars were not beyond Man’s own strivings.

The Doctrine of Salvation through the Stars—it was never labeled so bluntly in Universalist writings, but the peevish epithet bestowed by a Baptist theologian was not inaccurate—gave the Church of the Lord’s Universe a dynamism unknown to the Christian center since the days of Archbishop Laud. It was a naive doctrine, of course. Neither the stars nor anything else brought peace to Man; but realists did not bring men to the stars, either, while the hopeful romantics of the Universal Church certainly helped.

The Universalist credo was expressed most clearly in the Book of the Way, a slim volume commissioned at the First Consensus and adopted after numerous emendations by the Tenth. The Book of the Way never officially replaced the Bible, but the committee of laymen which framed it struck a chord in the hearts of all Universalists. Despite its heavily Eastern leanings (including suggestions of reincarnation), the Book spoke in an idiom intelligible and profoundly moving to men and women who in another milieu would have been Technocrats.

While the new faith appealed to men and women everywhere, it by no means appealed to every man and woman. By their uncompromising refusal to abandon future dreams to cope with present disasters—the famines, pollution, and pogroms of everyday—the Universalists faced frequent hatred. During the Food Riots of 2039, three hundred Universalists were ceremonially murdered and eaten in a packed amphitheater in Dakkah, and there were other martyrs as well. But the survivors and their faith drove on. Their ranks swelled every time catastrophe proved Man was incapable of solving his problems on Earth alone.

Thus, when Man did reach the stars, the ships were crewed in large measure by Universalists. Those who had prayed for, worked for, and even sworn by the Way of the Stars, Via Stellarum, were certain to be among the first treading it. On Earth, the Church of the Lord’s Universe had been a vocal minority; in the colonies spreading like a bacterial culture through the galaxy, Universalists were frequently in the majority.

There were changes. Inevitably, fragmentation followed success as centuries and the high cost of interstellar communication made each congregation a separate entity. But the basic thrust of the Church, present peace and safety for Mankind, remained even when reality diluted it to lip service or less. Mercenaries were recruited mostly from rural cultures which were used to privation—and steeped in religion as well. Occasionally a trooper might feel uneasy as he swore, “Via!” for the Way had been a way of peace.

But mercs swore by blood and the martyrs as well; and few had better knowledge of either blood or innocent victims than the gunmen of the mercenary companies.

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