Norbert Capek

Norbert Capek was the Unitarian who invented the Flower Communion. He was born in Bohemia in 1870 which has been the cradle of liberal religion for centuries. Capek was born into a very modest family. He was brought up a Roman Catholic but disillusioned with its dogma, he became a Baptist at eighteen and then a Minister. On preaching in the USA, he was greatly influenced by the Unitarian Church and returned to his birth land to develop that faith.

Capek held the first the Flower Communion service on 24 June 1923 at Saint Nicholas Church in Prague. Even though he was small in stature, Norbert Capek had a great intellectual presence. He was a very charismatic preacher and sometimes drew as many as 3,000 people into his services. His church had the largest congregation of any Unitarian church in the world.

Very much a family man, he loved children, having eleven of his own. On the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, Capek was arrested, imprisoned and transported to Dachau, ostensibly for listening to foreign broadcasts. Aged seventy two, he was then taken to Harteim Castle, Linz, where he was gassed for being judged "unworthy of life". Ironically, the castle had been a sanatorium for the old and infirm. The Nazis had converted it to a euthanasia centre to dispose of physically infirm prisoners from the concentration camps, as well as handicapped adults and children from institutions caring for the disabled.

The castle has now however become a symbol of hope for the vulnerable. It is a memorial for promoting "wert des lebens" ("the value of life") for handicapped people. In its meditation centre, there is a glass box of about 30,000 river rocks collected by children. Each rock represents the soul of someone murdered in Harteim. One will represent Norbert Capek.

Bert Clough is chair of Meadrow Congregation and has written the following piece based on Capek's life and religious faith as described in his biography and the quotations are his words. Some of the narrative however is allegorical, with events based on Christ's rather than Capek's experiences. The Flower Communion described in the last section has also been created for symbolic effect. The work is an attempt to help celebrate the overwhelming humanity and deep spirituality of a truly inspirational Unitarian.

Spiritual Journey

By Bert Clough

And in the land they called Bohemia on the saint's day of Norbert, a child was born, the son of a poor tailor, Capek. And he was named Norbert and there was much joy.

And one day, the boy Capek carried a heavy cross in a funeral procession. And the grateful widower pressed a penny into his palm. But on hearing this, the priest was much angered, saying "Doth he think that we perform such a show for a mere penny".

And the boy was much troubled and felt much sorrow. And over the years he turneth his head away from Rome and immersed himself in the Baptismal pool and was reborn.

And it came to pass that he entered the Ministry and baptised many believers and established many churches. But the fire of new desires and new worlds burned inside him like a fever and so he crossed the seas to help spread the word to the Americas. And the scales of the Trinity and the deity of Christ fell from his eyes and he felt much joy.

And he saith unto his brethren "How many people doth find the heart of religion in certain mysteries woven round the birth and death of Christ. Yet I see it in the way Christ took a child in his arms. How he grasped the hand of a lost sinner. The heart of a church doth reveal the personal qualities of its members that manifest themselves in all that they do".

And he entered through the portal of the Unitarian Church where he found clear heads and warm hearts. And he followed the steps of Servetus and Hus and returned home to Bohemia. And one Sunday, he bid his Congregation to each place a flower in a large vase. And at the end of the service each member was told to choose a different flower to take home. And they asked him "What doth this mean?" And Capek saith unto them "each of us is choosing a different flower and that one that speaks for us. The vase is our church. We need it to help us to share the beauties and responsibilities of communal life. Each of us needs to receiveth in order to grow up, and each of us needs to giveth something away for the same reason."

But over time a dark shadow covered the land. And the Nazi forces of evil occupied it. And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. And the American Unitarians pleadeth with him to return to the safety of their bosom. But Capek declined and there was much sorrow amongst his people.

And he preached "Verily, verily I say onto you to be conquered and remain lying down is weakness. But to be conquered and to stand up is heroism"

And when the Nazi High Command heard these words, they were much angered and smote their breasts. And when they found that he had listened to broadcasts from foreign lands, they bade the Gestapo lay hands on him. And he was confined to a prison for eleven long months

And then he was led into the Hall of Judgement and the Judges asked "What accusations bring ye against this man". And the Public Prosecutor cried "Treason, for he stirreth up the people against the exalted". But the judges saith unto him "We find in him no such fault. Let him serve on extra month for the lesser offence for he hath passed his three score years and ten".

Now there governed in Bohemia a Reichsprotektor named Heydrich who ruled the land through terror and much innocent blood was spilt in his name. But behold one day, angels of resistance descended from the heavens and smote him down. But then a terrible vengeance was wreaked on the people. And there was a massacre of many innocents. And others were transported to concentration camps. So it came to pass that the Gestapo overturned Capek's court order, saying "Send this prisoner to Dachau. For his return is unwanted". And there was much sorrow.

And when Capek came nigh to the camp gate, he lifted his eyes and saw the sign "Arbeit Macht Frei" "Work Makes You Free". And the guards stripped him of his belongings, parting the raiments among themselves and cast lots for them. And they bowed their knee before him, mocking him saying "Hail Prophet of the Slavs". And they spat on him and smote his cheek.

But he rebuked them, softly, saying "Blow, angry winds, through my stony body. You will not conquer my soul. Whoever has broken his shackles and given wings to his mind is marching into a golden future".

But starvation and pestilence visited the camp and prisoners dug for worms to devour. And many perished. But Capek found a loaf of unleavened bread and broke it into pieces, giving all to his fellow prisoners. And one Sunday there being no flowers in that barren place, the prisoners brought stones and twigs which were blessed by Capek. And there was much joy amongst the multitude.

And four months later he was classed "unworthy of life" and transported with the maimed, lame and infirm to a castle, Harteim, a place that had been used to care for invalids. And on entering it, he saith unto the afflicted: "Let us renew our resolution sincerely to be real brothers and sisters. In this holy resolution may we be strengthened, knowing that we are God's family. That one spirit, the spirit of love, unites us, and may we endeavour for a more perfect and more joyful life." And there was a shining on their hollowed countenances.

And then they were stripped and given a bar of soap and towel. And they passeth the fake shower heads into the washroom filling with poisonous fumes. A place of death where everything passeth all understanding. And it was about the sixth hour. And a black cloud hung over the castle until the ninth hour, when the ashes were scattered over the grey meadows.

But lo, one Easter a lily grew in that hallowed place and multiplied. And a mother going with her child to the chapel for the flower communion passed across the meadow and saith unto the child "Consider the lilies of this field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say onto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these".

And her child plucked the Easter lily up and gave it to his mother. And she took it into the House of God and placed it in the vase. And in the exchange of flowers, the child chose the same lily, and his mother felt much joy.

And the words of Capek drifted through the chapel. "God is the soul of our soul and the life of our life, closer than breath and one's heart beat is He. Every person is the embodiment of God. We light the spark of God when we serve others and bring light and joy to others".