orebears would recognize – at least, not our Con-
gregational orebears. At this service, each week we
have: symbols and colors that immediately situate
the worship within the fow o the liturgical year (no
one has to ask i we are “doing Lent this year”); arenewal o baptismal vows, including aspersion o
worshippers with water rom the baptismal ont;
worshippers o all ages who gather around the table
to receive communion; members o the congrega-tion who line up to light prayer candles; those whostay to walk the labyrinth that is embedded in the
foor. There is a sermon, o course, but it is set
within dynamic liturgical practices in which all o
the senses are engaged.
One might characterize this development asappropriating traditions rom other parts o the
church, particularly those with a richer liturgical tra-
dition than is evident in many Reormed churches.
And, in ways, that might be an accurate description.
But it is also true that we are learning how to claimwider church traditions as our own. In this sense,“our” tradition reaches back beore the Congrega-tional church in colonial New England, back beoreeven the Protestant Reormation. Yet we considerthis to be “fuid retraditioning” in action: these li-turgical practices are not merely adopted, they are
also adapted to our time and circumstance. It isalso an example o what Becky Garrison (in this
) calls “an ancient-uture aith,” which
searches the storehouse o Christian tradition or
spiritual treasures, while seeking to interpret thesetraditions aithully into new contexts.
The movement toward retraditioning can be seen
as well in the increased emphasis on distinctive
spiritual practices, as championed in the work o
theologian Dorothy Bass and the Lilly Endowment’s
Vice President or Religion, Craig Dykstra, and a
growing literature on the subject. The ocus on spiri-
tual practices seems ubiquitous in church lie these
days, so it should be no surprise that it is refected in
these pages as well. Lillian Daniel makes a compel-ling case or recovering the practice o testimony,
and Peter Marty is determined to rescue the practice
o hospitality rom conusion with mere riendli-
ness. Even Kimberly Knight’s description o a churchrst century. Within a wider culture that breathlesslypursues the next new thing, congregations are expe-
riencing new vitality in old spiritual practices.
Bass is careul to distinguish between two orms
o retraditioning that lead in quite dierent direc-
tions, one she terms “xed” and the other “fuid.”She writes, “In its xed orms, retraditioning trans-lates into religious undamentalism, sectarian iso-
lationism, or resistance to all orms o change.”
Fluid retraditioning is something very dierent, asshe explains:
In its more fuid orms o rejuvenation,
adaptation, and invention, retradition-ing implies reaching back to the past,
identiying practices that were an impor-
tant part o that past, and bringing them
to the present where they can reshape
contemporary lie. In this mode, congre-gations will tend toward refexivity (will-ingness to change through engagement
with tradition and an equal willingness
to change the tradition through engage-ment), refection (thoughtulness aboutpractice and belie), and risk-taking.
This fuid orm o retraditioning is a source o
vitality in so-called “emergent” churches, in an in-creasing number o mainline congregations, and isevident in the congregation I serve.
Engaging All the Senses
Wellesley Congregational Church (UCC) in Wellesley,MA., is perched on a slight rise on the square o this
leay New England town, as i presiding over the
whole village. And, indeed, it is the oldest institu-
tion in Wellesley, actually older than the municipalityitsel. The steeple o the church, the highest point in
town, can seem to pierce the clouds. We worship in
a space that is characterized by the clear windows
and stark, dignied lines o a New England Meeting
House. A generation ago, the pulpit was obviously
central, both literally and guratively. It act, preach-
ing was so central that all other elements o worship
could seem like little more than the opening actsthat warm up the crowd or the main event. Except
when the choir processed or the congregation stood
or a hymn, no one seemed to move. Communion
was celebrated, at most, once a month (in those
days, anything more requent might have been dis-missed as “too Catholic”), and the elements were
brought to worshippers in the pews. It was worship
rom the neck up, a largely cerebral engagement
with the divine.
Today much o that has changed. Our astest
growing worship service is not something that our
Preaching and worship-planning havereadjusted themselves around the Bible.Today sermons are not as likely to wan-der out o earshot o the Biblical text.