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, ‚Äúto be boring is to bear false witness.‚Äù 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôt want people being anxious that they‚Äôll ‚Äúdo something wrong.‚Äù
10) A ritual should strive to reflect the Kingdom of God. Transmission‚Äôs 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‚Äôve 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‚Äôt 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‚Äôs 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