Ritual

October 24, 2006

One of the central tenets of Transmission is that our ritual life should emerge directly and organically out of our community. If you want to lead our worship sometime, please do! We take worship and ritual pretty seriously, however, and want to give you some things to think about:

1) Ritual should be interesting. In the words of Tom Driver, “to be boring is to bear false witness.” God is not boring. The Bible is not boring. We are not boring. Why should our worship be boring?

2) Ritual should be coherent. Although there are many ways to structure a ritual, many of the best involve a transition from the outside world, listening, thinking, doing, and finally, a return to the outside world. A ritual which is missing one of these components can feel jarring. Notice that the Eucharistic Liturgy follows this format perfectly.

3) Rituals blend tradition and originality. Planning a ritual for Transmission can start with a prayerbook or with a blank piece of paper. Tradition keeps us grounded and gives us a sense of continuity while originality keeps the ritual in the moment.

4) Innovative rituals need to use symbols that carry meaning. Ritual is full of symbols (candles, tables, crosses, bread, wine, songs, passing the peace), all of which have many layers of meaning. The more explanation a symbol requires, however, the less effective it will be.

5) Rituals should be multi-sensory. It is not enough to merely read a text, look at art, or listen to a speaker. People absorb and process information in a variety of ways and our rituals should account for that. A ritual should have multiple access points.

6) Ritual leaders should be facilitators, not directors. One of the motivations behind forming Transmission was our dissatisfaction with clergy-driven worship. Ritual should both allow and encourage people to discover meaning for themselves, and a ritual leader’s job is to create an environment in which this is possible.

7) Although not participating should be an option, a ritual should engage as many people as possible. Some people will not want to actively participate in the ritual for a variety of reasons and they should feel comfortable doing so (and, indeed, they are participating just by bring present). That said, worship should be an active experience.

8) Paper hurts a ritual. When people have paper to hold they tend to focus more on the paper than on each other. There are times when a handout is necessary, but if there is any other way to accomplish the ritual, do so. And save some trees in the meantime.

9) Instructions hurt a ritual. Excessive instructions kill the momentum of a ritual as well as stifling individual expression. Instead, either lead by example or create an open forum in which many things are possible. Do give some direction, however; you don’t want people being anxious that they’ll “do something wrong.”

10) A ritual should strive to reflect the Kingdom of God. Transmission’s worship should welcome and honor all people. It should encourage mutuality and respect. It should not set a few people over others or make any feel excluded

11) Ritual should achieve liminality, even in the short term. Worship is a communal act. During the course of a ritual, barriers should be pulled down. People should encounter each other as people as not as objects.

12) Ritual should be relevant to its participants. Worship at Transmission needs to speak to the needs and locations of the community. It needs to take our lives and our identities into account. It also needs to build our community. At the end of a worship service, we should feel that we’ve grown closer together and/or gotten to know one another better.

13) Ritual should be transformative. We gather to worship for many reasons: for healing, for focus, for human contact, for peace. Whatever the focus of a ritual might be, participants should leave in a different state than the one in which they came. Ritual does not merely transform its participants, however, it also transforms the world. How does worship at Transmission impact the world around us?

14) Don’t be afraid of the food. New York has a tendency to compartmentalize life. Eating, working, commuting, socializing, worshiping, and being entertained are completely separated from each other. We have a fairly substantial meal at Transmission and there’s no reason why eating with one another cannot be incorporated into the ritual or even be an act of worship by itself.

15) Ritual should involve God. It seems silly to say so, but Transmission is more than just a self-help group, it is a Christian community. Similarly, worship is more than meditation and more than a bible-study; in worship, God is an active participant.

16) Go read the following books:

‚”Liberating Rites: Understanding the Transformative Power of Ritual‚” by Tom F. Driver

‚”The Rites of Passage‚” by Arnold Van Gennep

‚”The Ritual Process: Structure and Antistructure‚” by Victor Turner

‚”Emergent Churches‚” by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger

‚”Alternative Worship‚” by Jonny Baker

(c) 2006 Transmission/www.transmissioning.org

 

  1. 12 Responses to “Ritual”

  2. Very nicely done!

    By Mary Winkelpleck on Oct 25, 2006

  3. Wow, this is great! I’m going to add this particular section to my alt.worship section!

    By Mike Morrell on Feb 19, 2007

  4. In my Episcopal Church, one often feels like an octopus, trying to follow the ritual order in the Book of Common Prayer; trying to find the right page in the hymnal and trying to search in the Sunday bulletin for some guidance about the ritual order…. all at the same time.
    Visitors are often “put off” because they don’t understand, nor can they keep up with the intricacies of the ritual, much less juggling books and paper around.
    It took me a good year to understand what the hell was going on and to feel comfortable with the Episcopal “way.” After five years I feel comfortable in dispensing with a lot of the paper, because I’ve committed much of it to memory.
    What keeps me coming to church is the “communitas” and my commitment to the people. Ritual should be some of the “glue” that helps keep us together as a worshiping community . However, I feel that it is often a barrier. We need a radical reexamination of the way we “do business” in our ritual life in the church. We’re stuck in a rut and we’re fearful of trying something different.
    I applaud your courage to shift position and look beyond the horizon of “doing business as usual.” There’s more of the mystery of God to discover than what tradition has taught.

    By Richard Wright on Oct 24, 2008

  5. I had the exact same experience, Richard. The first time I entered an Episcopal Church, I was handed a) a bulletin, b) a hymnal, c) a book of common prayer, and d) a cardboard cutout with the eucharistic liturgy printed on it. Needless to say, I experienced the octopus effect!
    I love high liturgy, but it needs to be done gracefully and with intentionality or else it feels like following a very complicated recipe…

    By Isaac on Oct 25, 2008

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  7. Where is God in all of this?

    What do you base your doctrine off of?

    What is your doctrine?

    Why do you put so much emphasis on man when
    man is born sinful and in need of a Saviour?

    Do you relize that you rejected the Bible in point #4 by saying that since the Bible requires explanation that it is essentially useless?

    Maybe you should consider reading the Bible and what the Gospel really is, not what your community makes it up to be!

    “Scripture is God-breathed (given by His inspiration) and profitable for instruction, for reproof and conviction of sin, for correction of error and discipline in obedience, [and] for training in righteousness (in holy living, in conformity to God’s will in thought, purpose, and action).” 2 Timothy 3: 16

    By R.L. on Dec 14, 2010

  8. Hey, RL~

    I was more referring to the Bible being used as a symbolic object during worship, the way some churches place a large bible on the altar, or process with the Bible into the middle of the church for the gospel reading, which is common in Episcopal and Catholic traditions.

    I didn’t meant to suggest that the text of the Bible is itself purely symbolic, or that it isn’t worth in-depth study. To the contrary, we have a number of biblical scholars in Transmission, and we do Bible Study on a fairly regular basis!

    That said, I get that the language is problematic, so I’m going to edit point #4 appropriately. Thanks for the feedback!

    By Isaac on Dec 14, 2010

  9. Thank you for clearifying it we are doing a project on the emerging church and were wondering all of these things because by reading through your ritual points it isn’t clear to us what your doctrine is and what you really believe about the sinful nature of man, and we were suggesting that this would be a good thing to add into your web page…

    By R.L. on Dec 14, 2010

  10. We didn’t mean to be harsh we were just worked up in our search of churches and it was late. We worded some things wrong and we just wanted to have more clarification on doctrinal beliefs of your community?

    By R.L. on Dec 14, 2010

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