Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Las Posadas, Eid-al-Adha, and more; for different faith communities these are the celebrations of December. This is a most festive and joyful time throughout the world, and most of our congregations are places where the spiritual vibrancy of the community comes alive with the traditions and cultures of our congregants. If we are honest, this is precisely where many congregants can become disillusioned with the faith community. For many in our cities and towns cultural identities have become a source of violence and exclusion, and people of faith look to the spiritual community to be an agent of healing for the soul violence they have encountered elsewhere. Everyone wants to be seen and known, i.e., to have a voice. And since many of our churches have become home to people of multiple belongings and intersectional realities, it is easy to feel that the worship life of our local church doesn’t hold the depth of meaning for individuals that we and they would like to experience.
While our liturgy is always about the Divine, it is also about humanity and community. In fact, the Christmas story itself holds the very moment when the Divine breaks forth into humanity to be with and among. For the Christian Church, a given culture’s values and patterns—insofar as they are consonant with the values of the gospel—can be used to express the meaning and purpose of Christian worship (Wilkey 2014). In other spiritual communities this is also true, provided cultural patterns are consonant with the core tenants of that particular spiritual practice. As we consider the needs of our human communities this holiday season, we might consider our awareness and inclusion of cultural elements in liturgical design. Culture is important to people’s sense of belonging as it comprises people’s total social heritage, including language, ideas, habits, beliefs, customs, traditions, arts, artifacts, and symbolism (Douglas 1999). In what ways are our congregations, through liturgies and worship experiences, intentional repositories and celebrants of culture?
Faithful community building behavior suggests that each member of the community concerns themselves with the good of the whole community and how their behavior affects that community (Flunder 2005). As liturgists our responsibility to our communities is to be mindful of the ways in which the worship design both portrays and betrays the gospel narrative. When cultural realities are left out of the equation we run the risk of missing the mark as it relates to our full responsibility. What would our worship dare to say about God if as we craft our celebrations we take into consideration the full array of God’s people and their particularities. How might our congregations come to life as together we explore the nature and character of God through the lens of art produced by those in your congregation who do not make up the majority demographic? Perhaps this year our December celebrations will be marked by the self-conscious awareness that all of us are, or can be, God bearers and life givers and that our deepest religious task is to give ourselves away (Spong 1998). I invite each of us spend a few moments this week contemplating the impact of culture on our liturgies to see how we can expand to include others’ realities.
Peace Is Possible,
Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.
Flunder, Yvette A. 2005. Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press.
Spong, John Shelby. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.
Wilkey, Gláucia Vasconcelos, ed. 2014. Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.