Neighborhood Congregation, Toronto, Ontario
June 6, 1999

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Reader (Norbert) Milo Connelly
Reader (Marushka) Joan Walder
Actor (Norbert) Greg Ward
Actress (Marushka) Emily Larimer
Service Leader Wayne Walder

Facing the stage in a semi-circular format. Readers will read from opposite corners of the stage. Service Leader will read from next to the communion table and chalice. Actors will be up on stage.

Communion vase, Robe for Norbert, Shawl for Marushka



In 1870, in the last days that a place called Czechoslovakia was ruled by the Austrian government, a poor village tailor and his wife lived with their only son. Their son’s name was Norbert because he was born on Saint Norbert’s day, a religious day for Catholics. But the couple had very little money. Not wanting Norbert to grow up poor and without proper food or any schooling, they sent him to live with his Uncle Victor in Vienna.

Uncle Victor was also a tailor, like Nobert’s parents. And he was also Catholic, as were almost everyone else in Bohemia. The agreement was that Norbert would work his way through school by helping his uncle in his tailor’s shop. But Norbert soon began to realize that being a tailor wasn’t for him. And he didn’t like the Catholic Church his uncle insisted that he go to. He, instead, enjoyed the Baptist Church where he could sing, talk about his ideas of God and where the service was spoken in his own language. But when he told Uncle Victor this his uncle became very angry. Norbert was immediately dismissed and asked to leave.

In a place very nearby, in a town much like where Norbert lived with his uncle, a young girl named Marushka lived with her father. They were even poorer than Nobert’s parents. Marushka and her father made and sold matches. All day Marushka’s father would carve little slivers of wood from left over kindling and then dip the slivers in a thick red sulfur paste. When they dried they could be scratched them against charcoal and be used to light candles or fires.

Marushka dreamed about going to school. Being with other children and learning about how things could be different. Before she died, Marushka’s mother read to her from books and told her stories about school. After that it was just Marushka and her father and school was out of the question. All day he made the matches that Marushka would sell to passersby in the town square. Even on their good days they made barely enough to feed them both. And on their bad days, when no one bought the matches, Marushka’s father would become so angry he would beat her, send her out and tell her not to come back until she sold all her matches.

Do you have hope? (Ask some people)
What gives you hope?
Hope is very important. We all struggle from time to time. Like Norbert and Marushka, we sometimes find ourselves in situations that seem unfair. Situations that we can’t change. But like the characters in the stories we present this morning, we refuse to give up - even in impossible times. And what keeps us going is Hope. Not a hope that our troubles will be solved for us - but a hope that, by continuing on, we will see love in our relationships, freedom in our choices, and meaning in our lives despite our troubles.

This morning, we light our chalice for the inspiration, for the courage and for the hope that there is more love in our lives than we are sometimes able to see.

HYMN 95 "There Is More Love Somewhere"

Welcome! We are the Neighborhood Congregation.... (Keep it very short! Try and postpone announcements until coffee hour for this service, or, write them on the wall and refer to them.)
This morning we come here understanding that some of us feel very hopeful. Others are in need of more hope. Let us greet one another, now, knowing that no matter where our heart is at, while we’re together we are a strong community with much to offer and hope to share.

(This responsive reading is taken from Norbert Capek’s yearly Flower Fesitval Service in Prague in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s).
In the name of Providence, which implants in the seed the future of the flower and in our hearts the longing for people to live in harmony;

In the name of the highest, in whom we move and who makes the mother and father, the brother and sister, lover and loner what they are;

In the name of sages and great religious leaders, who sacrificed lives to hasten the coming of the age of mutual respect;

Let us renew our resolution - sincerely to be real brothers and sisters regardless of any kind of bar which estranges us from each other;

In this holy resolve may we be strengthened knowing that we are God’s family; that one spirit, the spirit of love, unites us; and endeavor for a more perfect and more joyful life;


With his Uncle turning away from him, Norbert felt like he was being abandoned for believing differently. It was a hard time. But the Baptists saw that he had courage, kindness and a yearning for justice. They sent him through seminary where he became the Rev. Norbert Capek. He earned money by selling Bibles, starting his own magazine about science and psychology, and preaching.

During this time, Catholicism was still the state religion. Being a Baptist, while not illegal, was regarded by the government as suspicious. The police raided Norbert’s gatherings more than once. It would have been tough enough to endure by himself, but by this time Norbert was married and with many children of his own. The threats and violence against his family was more than he could tolerate.

The Capeks went abroad and wound up in the United States. His wife died leaving him with eight children. Norbert visited the New York library often so he could read newspapers from his own country and he continued to publish writings about the Czech movement. It was at the library where he met Maya, whom he later married. It was also there that he met to speak with a man named Masaryk, the leader of the Czech movement abroad. Through Masaryk he found Unitarianism. Norbert was overjoyed to find the faith he felt he’d been moving toward all his life. He enrolled into Meadville Lombard, the Unitarian Seminary and graduated as a Unitarian minister, just as the first world war ended.

The end of the war brought about large numbers of Czechs abandoning the Catholic Church. Norbert’s friend, Marasyk, went back to lead the Czech people and became their first president. Soon after Norbert went back to create a church which helped give people hope instead of hardship. It was difficult work, and often dangerous because the Catholic Church was still very powerful. But Norbert felt like he had to go despite the troubles.

When Marushka left the house snow was falling and the wind pressed against her face. It was bitterly cold in the dark and she had no cap for her head or shoes for her feet.

She had slippers on when she left home, but they were not much good, for they were so huge. They had last been worn by her mother, and they fell off Marushka’s feet when she was running across the street to avoid two carriages that were rolling rapidly by. One of the shoes could not be found at all. The other was picked up by a boy who ran off with it saying that it would do for a cradle when he had children of his own.

So Marushka had to walk in her bare feet, which were red and blue with the cold. She carried a quantity of matches in her old apron and held a packet of them in her hand. Nobody had bought any from her all day long and nobody had even given as much as a penny. Hungry and perishing with cold, she looked the picture of misery.

The snowflakes fell on her golden hair, but she paid no attention to that. Lights were shining from every window, and there was a most delicious odor of food coming into the streets from all the shops were just closing up.

She found a corner between two houses where the wind didn’t seem to blow so hard. There she crouched, drawing up her feet under her, but she was colder than ever. She did not dare to go home, for she had not sold any matches, had no money and found no food. Her father would beat her. And besides it was almost as cold at home as it was there in the street. They had only the roof over them and the wind whistled through it although they stuffed up the biggest cracks with rags and straw.

Marushka began to worry about what would happen. She found it hard to see the hope she yearned for: that she would find herself in the warm embrace of people who welcomed her. Her hope was having a hard time keeping up with her troubles.

Have you ever had so much trouble you didn’t know what to do? (Ask people)
Have you ever felt so lost you began to lose hope?
We all get there sometimes. Every so often we are asked to do things that are uncomfortable.... sometimes impossible. And we feel alone and frightened. We are afraid of the trouble in our lives and the pain it causes. That’s true. But often, we are more afraid that no one cares and we are all alone. We are afraid that Nobody will ever know the things we care about, what worries we carry or the troubles we’ve seen.


(Silence is broken by background music coming through, slowly and softly at first, then up to tempo. Music is Hymn 99)

HYMN 99 "Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen"

These words were written by Maya Capek, Norbert’s wife. Listen to how she describes returning to Czechoslovakia after the war:
We did not know anyone there nor did the Czech people know anything about Unitarianism. We rented a concert hall for our meeting and it was jammed. Finally, we built our own place which we called Unitaria. The services were starkly simple: people came from many religious backgrounds and none wanted to be reminded of their old churches. No gown was to be worn by the minister... no singing of hymns nor any prayers; instead of passing collection plates, people paid as they entered.

[To avoid the appearance of organized religion, they called the movement The Liberal Fellowship. The stated goal was to provide spiritual and ethical education and create a loving community based on individual freedom and universal brotherhood.]

The Capek’s church flourished in the years between world wars. It quickly became the largest Unitarian Church in the world. But with the occupation of the country by the Nazis, the church was threatened with extinction.

Norbert knew that the people were frightened. Many among his congregation were threatened, or beaten or put in prison. Some had their houses or businesses robbed, shut down or burned by the Nazi soldiers. Others worried that they would be next. There seemed to be little to hope for.

One of the traditional annual services that offered people hope to the people of the church was the Flower Festival service. For this service, everyone brought a flower with them to church. At a point during the service, a communal vase was brought to the front and each person would place their flower inside. At the end of the service each person, again, went to the vase, retrieved a flower, different from the one they brought, and took it home with them.

The flower communion symbolized that despite how hard life became, each person had something beautiful to contribute and that it was offered of their own free will to the common good. Also, that despite the troubles around them, each person could find something beautiful to take with them from the common good.

Marushka’s hands were almost stiff with cold. She held on to all the matches as if her life depended on them. Oh, one little match would do some good! If she only dared, she would pull one out of her bundle and strike it on the wall to warm her fingers. She pulled out one. Rr-sh-sh! How it sputtered and blazed! It burnt with a bright clear flame, just like a candle, when she held her hand round it.

Now the light seemed very strange to her! Marushka imagined that she was sitting in front of a big stove with polished brass feet and handles. There was a splendid fire blazing in it and warming her so beautifully, but - what happened?

Just as she was stretching out her feet to warm them, the flame went out, the stove vanished - and she was left sitting with the end of the burnt match in her hand.

She struck a new one. It burnt, it blazed up, and where the light fell upon the wall, it became transparent like gauze, and she could see right through it into the room. The table was spread with snowy cloth and pretty china. A roast goose sat on a big dish in front of her and just as she was about to stick her fork into it - the match went out, and there was nothing to be seen but the thick black wall in front of her.

She lit another match. This time she was sitting under a hearth with other boys and girls. She was surrounded by Christmas candles. Everyone was happy and had gifts in their hands. There was one for her. And to her surprise, she also had one to give, tucked under her tattered shawl. Marushka stretched out both her hands offering the other children her gift - when out went the match. All the Christmas candles rose higher and higher, till she saw that they were only the twinkling stars. One of them fell and made a bright streak across the sky. "Someone is dying," thought Marushka, since that is what her mother told her about falling stars.

Now she struck another match against the wall, and this time it was her mother who appeared in the circle of flame. Marushka saw her quite clearly and distinctly, looking so gentle and happy.

"Mother!" she cried. "I’m so happy you’re here. I know you will vanish when the match goes out. Like the warm stove, the delicious goose, and the children around the beautiful Christmas lights! But tell me about the stars again. Tell me before you go."

Her mother explained that each boy and girl had a star up in the sky. And the star burned brightly with hope - not only for them but for all the children, all the stars, everywhere. As Marushka listened, she felt that hope. She hastily struck a whole bunch of matches, because she wanted to keep her mother with her. The light of the matches made it as bright as day. Her mother had never before looked so big or so beautiful. She lifted Marushka up in her arms where there was no more cold, no hunger and no pain - for they were with one another.

Have you ever been able to imagine something so beautiful that it gave you hope? (Ask people) That it helped you during some really tough times? We all have. And from time to time, when things are at their best or worst, we discover that one star is not enough for us. Nor is one flame of a match, or one flower in a vase. Sometimes our grief or worry needs more than ourselves to find comfort and meaning. Sometimes our joy overflows, too much to hold in and keep to ourselves.

Today, we want to recognize this as we share, together, our first ever Flower Communion Service at the Neighborhood Congregation. We invite you now to bring your flower up to the front and place it in the communal vase. It shows that we each have something beautiful to offer, no matter how difficult our lives can be. Then, light a candle, and if you wish, share a joy or a sorrow that it may then become cast onto the horizon of our mutual concern. You may also light a candle silently and know that your unspoken concerns are our concerns as well.


(This is the prayer offered every year by Norbert Capek in his Flower Festival Service)
Infinite Spirit of Life, we ask thy blessing on these thy messengers of fellowship and brotherly love. May they remind us that, amid diversities of knowledge and of gifts, to be one in desire and affection, and devotion to thy holy will. May they also remind us of the value of comradeship, of doing and sharing alike. May we cherish friendship as one of thy most precious gifts. May we not let awareness of another’s talents discourage us, or sully our relationship, but may we realize that whatever we can do, great or small, the efforts of all of us are needed to do thy work in the world.

Never one to shrink from a crises, Norbert continued to preach against the Nazi occupation. He was regularly questioned by the Gestapo who demanded that he not speak against the Reich. Although Norbert didn’t speak out against them on Sunday mornings, he continued in his work against the occupiers by forming a resistance committee which met in the church and helped Czechs escape from the Gestapo.

Finally, in the spring of 1941 Norbert declared, "I can bear it no longer! I must speak the truth and not be a coward!" He issued his forthright challenge to the Nazis by using his Sunday morning sermon to contradict a speech of Hitler’s.

Five days later the Gestapo came to his home, charged him with listening to a foreign broadcast and sent him to prison. At the same time a high ranking Nazi official was assassinated which ignited a fury of violence. Many Czechs were killed. Norbert was sent to Dachau in retaliation. On his papers were the fatal instructions: "return unwanted."

In prison, Norbert kept his fellow inmates spirits up with humor, caring and cheerfulness. But, as he was now over 70 years old, he was quickly transported with other older prisoners to that part of the camp where torturous experiments were being conducted. Norbert Capek, after four months in Dachau, died in October, 1942.

Marushka kept lighting the matches that she had brought with her to sell. She refused to let go of the sight of her mother before her. As she heard and reheard the stories her mother told, in just the same voice she knew, in the same way she’d always remembered, she felt warmer, comforted, full of hope. Match after match burned. She smiled broadly as each one flared up. In those small flames, she could feel her own soul rise up and glow as well.

In the cold morning light Marushka sat there, in the corner between the houses, with rosy cheeks and a smile on her face. She had died during the night. Frozen on the coldest night of the year. The new morning broke on her little body still sitting with the ends of the burnt-out matches in her hand. Every one of them had been used.

The people who found her and gathered round were mystified. Her face still radiated hope and peace. "She must have tried to warm herself," they said. They were sad. But nobody knew what beautiful visions she had seen, nor understood the depths of her comfort. Nor did they fully grasp that even in the darkest times, not even death could take away this young girls hope or the meaning she found in the things she loved most dearly.

The hardest times and the most dire moments are not strong enough to rob us of our capacity to share love. Not even death can take from us the love that is exchanged between people. It is with us as long as we have love to offer. It is with us whenever we are open to receiving love from others. By offering what we can, by making room to receive the offerings of others we carry with us the hope for our future.

Our hope in this community comes from the gifts we each freely give one another. The gifts of time, talent, encouragement, hope and the gift of money. After the basket comes to you, whether you have sold enough matches to make an offering or not, we invite you to come forward to this communion vase and take with you a flower, different from the one you brought. May you know that the gifts that you bring to this place is unique and valuable. May you know that it returns to you in unexpected and exciting ways. And may you know that no challenge is so great as to make beauty or love impossible.

(Small choir sings "Come Together In Love" as the people come up to take their flower)

MUSIC "Come Together in Love"

HYMN 131 "Love Will Guide Us"


May the Love which overcomes all differences
which heals all wounds,
which puts to flight all fears,
which reconciles all who are separated,
be in us and among us
now and always.