Every Thanksgiving my family makes the same kind of stuffing we have made for years; the recipe has been handed down through at least three generations. It is one of my favorite components of the meal because its presence makes my grandmother present at the table, even though she has passed from this life. Unlike other family recipes that are no longer at the table, the stuffing remains. It remains because it is a meaningful tradition; it connects me to people I still love though gone, cooking it leads to laughing over stories of my Gran, and it tastes awesome. It is tradition, but it is alive and meaningful.
But there are dishes that are no longer on the table that were once part of the fare. For various reasons, they are no longer present. We didn’t like the flavor of the cranberry relish; the corn pudding simply didn’t stir up the feelings of the stuffing. And so the tradition modified to include new dishes we like that we will hand down, while also keeping the old dishes that still meant something to us. We kept major parts of the traditional meal, but we tweaked it so that it was more meaningful to us- and more delicious!
All good traditions are constantly in flux, finding a balance between what works and what no longer has relevance, and adding in new components to impart more meaning to the tradition. All traditions are subject to review and evaluation, which is why I propose we subject our Christian, worshipping traditions to the same scrutiny. As attendance declines, one has to ask why and generally the why has something to do with culture and something to do with the perceived irrelevance of the institution. So why not look at the tradition, keep major parts that are still meaningful, let go of parts that are not meaningful, and add in now components that have increased relevance today?
There is no reason we have to worship God using the same patterns that have prevailed for the last half-century. It is interesting that while the rest of culture has undergone enormous shifts and changes, the houses of Christian worship have largely not participated in that change. No wonder their relevancy rating has dropped! But change is difficult, especially when folks experience such rapid culture shifts and hope that church remains a place of stability. But what is stability; is stability a continuation of the same? Or can stability be a shifting of tradition, a modifying of the inherited past so that it cultivates more meaning and relevance for those in the present?
I think how we worship God and gather to talk about our spirituality can look different. Imagine a space in which folks from every walk of life could gather together around a common table, sharing a meal and sharing their lives. A space we could talk about what is happening in our lives and where God is in the midst of them. A space where we read together, discuss together, and pray together. If that sounds like an experience to test out, let me tell you about Third Space. Third Space is a gathering of folks who share a meal, share our lives, and try to figure out where God is in our lives and in the world. You’ll find us in downtown Brookville at coffee shop once every month. We’ll be there eating and talking about God, trying to figure out how to be the people God calls us to be in our community.
By the Rev. Melinda Hall, Vicar at Trinity Memorial, Brookville, PA, Church of Our Savior, DuBois, Pa and leader of Third Space that meets at CREATE Cafe (168 Main St. Brockville, PA) Third Wednesday of the month from 7:30-9p.