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Old Paths and New Ways

Negotiating Tradition and Relevance in Liturgy


Robert Lilleaasen

The relationship between tradition and relevance is a core feature in religious practice in general and public worship in particular. On the one hand, worship is a bearer of religious traditions, i.e. traditions are maintained in the practice of public worship, and the worship enables individuals to connect with these traditions. On the other hand, it is a quest for relevance in public worship. In order to maintain existing worshippers and attract new participants, congregations have to consider their ability to connect their core values to the needs and expectations of existing and potential participants. This dual purpose of the worship causes a need for negotiation, and it is this negotiation between tradition and relevance that this book investigates. Old Paths and New Ways is a case study of the negotiation between tradition and the quest for relevance in liturgy.

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At the heart of this fascinating study sits a very particular methodology, that of ethnography, the long term, intimate study of two very specific congregations. It is the depth of understanding and the critical compassion that comes from many months of worshipping with the two congregations that underpins all the important findings that are clear within this work.

Worship is not simply something that is written on the page, it is not even something that is “done”, it is something that is experienced, that engages the whole person, and that changes lives. It is not only at the individual level that this occurs either. As Robert so clearly shows within this study, it is something that moulds communities and impacts on the wider social life of those who engage within it. It is because of this engagement and impact that worship cannot be studied as just another activity within our wider social context. The researcher has to get alongside the worshippers, inside the experience of worship, and has, in a very real sense, to experience the changes that worship can make for himself. This is exactly what Robert has done, in choosing to focus on two very specific congregations, and spending considerable time getting to know them, and participating in their worship. This gives the ensuing study, and this publication, a level of understanding and empathy that is rare in studies of Christian worship.

While learning about different styles of worship is...

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