You are here: Home > Resources > Stories > Abigail and David

Maja Capek and the Story of the Flower Celebration

Maja Oktavec came to the United States from what we now call the Czech Republic as a young woman just over a hundred years ago. She became a librarian, and while working in the Webster Branch of the New York Public Library, she met a man named Norbert Capek who had come to America from the same place. They fell in love, and got married in 1917.

Norbert was a Baptist minister, but he was beginning to doubt his Baptist beliefs. Maja encouraged his doubts, and soon he had resigned from the Baptist ministry, and they had both stopped going to church.

One day, their children said they wanted to go to Sunday school. They chose a church to try, and they came back, their parents asked them what they had learned. It sounded like the old religion they had rejected, so Norbert said that he wished the children would try a different Sunday school the next week. This went on for weeks. The children would go off to a new Sunday school, they would tell what they learned when they got home, and Norbert would ask them to please try another church the next week.

Until one Sunday when the children went to a Unitarian church. When they came home and told what they had learned, Norbert encouraged them to return to that church. Soon Norbert and Maja decided that they, too, would like to go to the Unitarian church, and they liked it so much they became members.

At about this time, their homeland became an independent country called Czechoslovakia. The Capeks returned to their homeland to start a Unitarian church there, in the city of Prague. Most members of their new church had left other religions to become Unitarians. Many of these people did not want to be reminded of the religions they had left behind. In 1923, Norbert and Maja Capek decided to create a new ritual for their congregation: a Flower Celebration, where everyone exchanged flowers to symbolize how all human beings are connected.

Within ten years, this new Unitarian church grew to three thousand members, the largest Unitarian church in the world.

Within another ten years, Nazi Germany started the Second World War. It was a terrible time. Maja Capek came to the United States to raise money to help refugees. While she was in the United States, the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, arrested Norbert Capek because he spoke out for freedom, and they put him into the concentration camp at Dachau, where he died in 1942.

After the war, Maja Capek stayed in the United States. She was deeply saddened by her husband's death. She continued to her relief work with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency. She also brought the joyous Flower Celebration to us here in the United States. And each year when we have our own Flower Celebration, we give thanks to Maja Capek for sharing this wonderful ritual with us here in the United States.


Sources: Material on the Flower Celebration in Quest, the monthly publication of the Church of the Larger Fellowship (June, 2002); Reginald Zotolli, "The Flower Communion: A Service of Celebration for Religious Liberals," UUA pamphlet; Richard Henry, Norbert Fabian Capek: A Spiritual Journey (Skinner House, 1999).


N.B.: Capek is properly spelled Čapek, but not all Web browsers will properly render the first character of her last name. It is pronounced "chah' peck".