Possibilities for Post-Christian Worship, pt. 8

Eighth in, and conclusion to, a series. Bibliography included at the end of this post. An appendix to the series will follow. Back to the first post in this series.

(F) Conclusion

In the end, the hard work needed to overcome the challenges and threats to common worship liberal worship is well worth the effort. Post-Christian common worship is ultimately a countercultural act; it holds out hope for change for the better in a world that is in dire need of change; it helps to strengthen us as individuals, and the wider democracy, in the face of “the impersonal forces of a mass society with its technological devices for producing stereotyped opinion.” (Adams 1998, p. 172) At the same time, post-Christian common worship without the self-discipline of a private devotional life, or participation in small group devotions, is probably impossible (or at least improbable).

What is crucial for post-Christian common worship, if it is to survive and thrive? I believe that we must remain attentive to the reforming tendencies of the post-Christian attitude. The tendency of many post-Christian congregations is to reform only so far, and then to stop:– to adopt the flaming chalice as a liturgical element, for instance, but not to take the next logical step of figuring out what it means to include a flaming chalice in worship, and then the next logical step of saying those reasons during worship.

Or, more to the point: if we are going to engage in the counter-cultural act of doing post-Christian common worship, we need to start talking about what it means to be a post-Christian, and what it means to do post-Christian worship. Drifting along and letting the wind blow us hither and yon should not be an option — someone had better grab the tiller, and someone else had better watch the mainsheet, and the jib, before we drift onto some rocks of inattentiveness and founder.

Which is the whole purpose of this series of posts. I’ve grabbed the tiller, and if you don’t like the direction I’m steering, now’s the time to say so. If you see rocks in the direction I’m steering, sing out now! It would also be nice if someone selse would take a turn at the tiller. So start talking….


Adams, James Luther. The Essential James Luther Adams: Selected Essays and Addresses. Ed. George Kimmich Beach. Boston: Skinner House, 1998.

Alexander, Scott. Everyday Spiritual Practices. Boston: Skinner House, 1999.

Bellah, Robert N. “Unitarian Universalism in Societal Perspective.” Lecture at General Assembly, Rochester, NY, June 27, 1998. (The text of this lecture available on the Web: link.)

Boys, Mary. Educating in Faith: Maps and Visions. San Francisco: Harper, 1989.

Cahill, Edward A. “Liberal Religion in the Post Christian Era.” Part of the Berry Street Lecture series. Boston: Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association, 1974. (The text of this lecture available on the Web: link.)

Commission on Common Worship. Leading Congregations in Worship: A Guide. Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 1983.

Congregation of Abraxas. The Book of Hours. c. 1988?

Dorrien, Gary. The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion, 1804-1900. Lousiville: Westminster John Knox, 2001.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “The Divinity School Address.” 1838. In Three Prophets of Religious Liberalism: Channing, Emerson, Parker. Boston: Beacon, 1961.

Greeley, Dana MacLean. 25 Beacon Street, and Other Recollections. Boston: Skinner, 1971.

Patton, Kenneth L. A Religion for One World. Boston: Beacon/Meeting House Press, 1964.

Steere, Douglas. Dimensions of Prayer: Cultivating a Relationship with God. Rev. ed. Nashville, Tenn.: Upper Room Books, 1992.

Tripp, D. H. “The Office in the Lutheran, Reformed, and Free Churches,” pp. 447-454. In Cheslyn Jones, et al., ed. The Study of Liturgy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

———-. “Liturgy and Pastoral Service,” pp. 565-587. In Cheslyn Jones, et al., ed. The Study of Liturgy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

4 thoughts on “Possibilities for Post-Christian Worship, pt. 8

  1. Kevin

    What we need is pioneers, made in the same mold and same pioneering spirit. Unitarians and Universalists and Unitarian Universalists so proudly kick started the Civil Rights Movement.

    But we seem to have rested on our laurels since that point.

    It’s tough to reach across generational divides and mindsets and with each congregation its own macro/microcosm and dynamic–each will be its own challenge.

    I must admit to being unsure if the same model will work for UUA churches, congregations, and fellowships. We are too independent–too hellbent on doing it our way to want to conform to any one standard.

    Indeed, many would find that antithetical to the very nature of UUism.

    But truly we must have some absolutes in this faith. If we don’t hang together, we will surely hang separately.

  2. Administrator

    Hey Kevin — I’m all about the pioneering spirit. But I’m not trying to impose a model on any congregation, whether a Unitarian Universalist congregation or a congregation in any other denomination. I figure if some of us do the pioneering, the others will eventually follow, once they find out how great it is where we eventually settle….

  3. Phil on the Prairie

    For a model of “the self-discipline of a private devotional life” that could work in post-Christian congregations, see Robert Wuthnow’s “After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s.” He proposes a “practice-oriented spirituality” that I believe would require the kind of engagement you’re suggesting here. Here’s what the Brussats said about it in their review at http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com: “Wuthnow delineates some of the characteristics of spiritual practice, including: (1) prayer, devotional reading, and service of others; (2) an intention to deepen contact with the divine; (3) discernment; (4) an orderly and regular approach to ritual; (5) a revisioning of the self; (6) a sharing of our experiences and stories with others; (7) the use of a wide variety of resources for inner work; and (8) an emphasis upon an ethical dimension.” Wuthnow believes that encouraging this kind of practice in our congregations is the way to engage both the seeker and the dweller–something post-Christian congregations are trying to do, whether they know it or not.

  4. Administrator

    Phil-on-the-priarie — Thanks for the pointer to the Wuthnow book. Sounds like exactly the kind of resource that would be useful for this….

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