The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Tradition: New life for old practices

In three years Lutherans will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg — the Oct. 31, 1517, event that began the Protestant Reformation. No wonder Lutheran churches are steeped in tradition. The challenge for us is to use our traditions as a springboard into the future rather than a shackle keeping us in the past.

Exercise 1: What’s tradition?

Different elements of tradition are important to different people.

• What does tradition mean to you?

• Which of the following church elements define tradition for you and your congregation? Which are most important? Which least important? Why?

1) The architecture; 2) the sanctuary; 3) the church smell; 4) the church calendar; 5) Sunday school; 6) hymns; 7) prayers; 8) the order of worship; 9) music; 10) communion; 11) church festival days; 12) Christmas; 13) Easter; 14) social activities; 15) coffee hour; 16) the robes; 17) the paraments; 18) our Lutheran theology; 19) the choir; 20) the organ; 21) the Small Catechism; 22) Martin Luther; 23) other things?

• Why is “tradition” such a complicated issue?

Exercise 2: My favorites

List your favorite church traditions and then discuss:

• How do these traditions fit into your experience of church? 

• How do they enrich or ground your life as a Christian? 

• What emotions are stirred and what thoughts are triggered by this tradition?

• Is it a deal breaker for your participation if your favorite traditions are missing in your church?

• Taking the exercise to another level, research the history and theology behind these most cherished traditions.

Exercise 3: Picture this

Supply everyone with crayons and paper. Introduce the subject by spending 15 minutes discussing “My favorites” from the above exercise. Ask participants to spend 10 minutes in prayerful silence meditating on church traditions and creating an image. When time’s up, invite members to share and explain their image, as well as the thoughts and feelings behind it.

Exercise 4: Bridge to the past

• How does church tradition link you to your religious past?

• Which of your cherished traditions were handed down to you by loved ones?

• In what ways is it comforting to worship in the same fashion, in the same place, and using the same words and songs as you did when you were a child?

• How does tradition link you and your family to Lutherans and Christians of generations past?

• How are you working to hand over those traditions to the younger generation?

• How can your congregation work harder to do this?

Exercise 5: Family traditions

• What faith traditions do you keep in your home and family?

• How do they connect you not only to God but to one another? To your deceased relatives?

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