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The spot for the good news, the good word, the quick reports of the many, many wonderful news items I hear all the time and want to share with the rest of you. Expect to find the good news when you come to check out "what’s the good word?"

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rituals

Prologue: the following are merely some thoughts and questions that stir an analytic mind in a few moments of quiet reflection. They are merely questions, and should not be construed as anything more than that. Above all, they should not be read as criticism of any congregation's worship traditions but should be understood in light of Corrine Ware's Discover Your Spiritual Type.

On Sunday I attended and enjoyed a lovely Christmas service in one of our small but faithful communities. There were twenty of us present, and we gathered in a sanctuary that was beautifully decorated for Christmas. In evidence were the banners, the poinsettias, the nativity scene, and the Christmas tree complete with groceries beneath, all destined for the local food bank. All of these are lovely symbols of the ritual of our Christmas worship.

As I waited for the service to begin, I began to reflect on how many rituals were represented in the sanctuary. The slightly raised dais, the sculpted oak pulpit, the lovely matching heavy oak chairs with the leather seats that have been in use for as long as I can remember; all of these have become symbols of our worship ritual. The rather formal setting with the individual chairs all set in straight rows facing the rostrum speaks clearly of another aspect of our ritual tradition. The bulletin, the order of worship, the music; all are examples of what have become formal expressions of our gathering.

Rituals can be comforting because they are familiar. For those who gather regularly to worship, the constant presence of these symbols may say that all is well in this safe, predictable space. At the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder how those same ritual symbols would be seen by those unfamiliar with traditional church worship. Would they find the symbols comforting or would their formal nature merely seem archaic? Would the forty chairs in straight rows facing the three officers at the front seem comfortable or cold? How would the seventeen people scattered across the back ¾ of those forty chairs be read? (After all, nobody is going to sit in the front row!)

What would happen if we put twenty-two chairs in a circle, providing two for our expected guests? Would the less formal setting make our guests feel more at ease or less? Would they feel more included and less ignored? What if the heart of the gathering was not about listening to a sermon, but the sharing of stories, happy and sad, that happened the previous week when we were out in the community engaged in mission? Is it possible that we would need to add more chairs to accommodate the people who were attracted to such real ministry? I'm sad to say, I do not know.

What I do know is that the patterns that come into use in one era because they make sense for that day become rituals that remain long after the reasons for their adoption are forgotten. They become "the way we have always done things!" That is not necessarily wrong, but neither is it necessarily right. And that brings me to one more question. Is it time to adapt some new rituals for our day? I wonder what those would look like.

If any of this resonates with you or if you have any thoughts on the subject, lets talk.

Posted by Carman

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