And Now For Something Completely Different (or: Of Studies, Liturgical Part VII)

When I said “completely different,” I wasn’t kidding.

“Emergent/emerging/emergence” worship fascinates me, though I’m never quite sure how much it represents an act of retrieval, how much a creative appropriation and inculturation of liturgy, and how much the idiosyncratic whims of communities (or individuals in communities responsible for preparing worship).

TOPIC 6 (Ritual Studies, Modern):
Ritual Theory and “Emergent” Church Worship

Recent disillusionment with various aspects of the mega-church phenomenon and ongoing distaste in some quarters for “traditional,” “inherited” and/or “mainline” churches have led many English-speaking Protestants to explore alternative forms of Christian community and alternative expressions of Christian worship. “Alt.Worship,” “Liquid Worship” and “Fresh Expressions” are some of the terms applied to this diversifying phenomenon, resulting in something that Yale liturgiologist Bryan Spinks has recently characterized as a “Worship Mall.” Traditional symbols and gestures are being combined with impromptu ordines; tactile and multi-sensory displays are being explored in ancient spaces in lieu of homiletic preaching; rock, rap and hip-hop music stand side-by-side with shape-note hymns and Gregorian chant, integrated with elaborate medieval ceremonial and vesture and high-tech lighting displays, and leadership of the liturgical assembly is sometimes divested from the ordained and shared among participants. Study of these forms of worship is nascent; much of what is being written is of a pastoral and “how-to” or ad hoc character.
As these forms of worship are “emergent” (so-called), negotiation of “ritual tradition” and “ritual authority” in them often poses internal challenges, as well as calling into question received forms and models. This topic will examine “emergent” church worship from a ritual theory perspective, utilizing insights from the theories of ritualizing developed in the work of Catherine Bell and Ronald Grimes.

Ritual Theory Sources

Bell, Catherine. “The Authority of Ritual Experts.” Studia Liturgica 23 (1993): 98-120.

_____. Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions. “Part III: Contexts: The Fabric of Ritual Life,” 171-267. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

_____. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

_____. “Ritual, Change, and Changing Rituals.” Worship 63 (1989): 31-41.

Grimes, Ronald L. “Emerging Ritual,” 23-37. Reading, Writing and Ritualizing: Ritual in Fictive, Liturgical and Public Places. Washington, DC: Pastoral Press, 19930.

_____. “Liturgical Supinity, Liturgical Erectitude: On the Embodiment of Ritual Authority,” Studia Liturgica 23 (1993): 51-61.

_____. “Putting Space in its Place,” 101-113. Rite out of Place: Ritual, Media and the Arts. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

_____. Ritual Criticism: Case Studies in its Practice, Essays on its Theory. Columbia: South Carolina Univeristy Press, 1990.

“Emergent Church” Sources

Bader-Saye, Scott. “The Emergent Matrix: A New Kind of Church?” Christian Century 121.24 (2004): 20-25, 27.

Bolger, Ryan K. “Communion and the Emerging Church in the United States,” 113-122. Mass Culture: The Interface of Eucharist and Mission, ed. Pete Ward. Abingdon (UK): BRF, 2008.

Croft, Steven, Ian Mobsby and Stephanie Spellers, eds., Ancient Faith, Future Mission: Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Tradition. New York: Church Publishing/Seabury Press, 2010.

Gray-Reeves, Mary and Michael Perham. The Hospitality of God: Emerging Worship for a Missional Church. New York: Church Publishing/Seabury Press, 2011.

Jones, Tony. The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009.

Kimball, Dan. “Emerging Worship,” 288-333. Perspectives on Christian Worship: Five Views, J. Matthew Pinson, ed. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2009.

Malloy, Patrick L. “Rick Warren Meets Gregory Dix: The Liturgical Movement Comes Knocking at the Megachurch Door.” Anglican Theological Review 92 (2010): 439-453.

Morgenthaler, Sally. “Emerging Worship,” 215-250. Exploring the Worship Spectrum: Six Views, Paul A. Basden, ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004.

Spinks, Bryan D. The Worship Mall: Contemporary Responses to Contemporary Culture. Alcuin Club Collections 85. London: SPCK, 2010.

Webber, Robert E. Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008.

Previous posts in this series:
Of Studies, Liturgical, Part VI
Of Studies, Liturgical, Part V
Of Studies, Liturgical, Part IV
Of Studies, Liturgical, Part III
Of Studies, Liturgical, Part II
Of Studies, Liturgical


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