Mediating tradition, navigating culture: toward a Methodist paradigm for liturgical engagement
Sigler, Richard Matthew
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Beginning with the creation of a Methodist denomination in the United States in 1784, Methodists have had prescribed liturgical texts starting with John Wesley's prayer book entitled The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America, and later its authorized revisions. However, Methodist leaders were never required to use the approved forms, and so were at liberty to employ, modify or abandon those texts. This polarity of ritual form and freedom of practice has created an ever-present tension within Methodist liturgical praxis. Methodism has also often found itself seeking to distinguish its liturgy from the cultural trends of the day, while at other times striving to contextualize its worship practices. This tension exhibits another polarity within Methodist worship practice, that of distinction and inculturation. These two polarities have often made it difficult for Methodists to evaluate the faithfulness of their own liturgical praxis. Similarly, because of these areas of tension the answer to the question "what makes Methodist worship, Methodist?" has remained elusive. This project considers the life, work, and significant contributions of three persons-- Thomas O. Summers, Nolan B. Harmon, and James F. White--who sought to answer that question within their own contexts. This study employs liturgical biography as a means of discerning shared "liturgical convictions" of these three mediators in order to move toward the construction of a paradigm for evaluating emerging liturgical practices from an American Methodist perspective. A key feature of this work is that it seeks to hold in tension the dialectic between liturgical text and liturgical praxis. Each of the mediators in consideration utilized the foundational liturgical texts within the Methodist tradition--John Wesley's Sunday Service and the Wesleyan hymns--yet each also demonstrated concern for how these texts might be employed within their particular contexts. Careful attention is given to how each of the mediators understood this interplay between text and praxis. A central conclusion of this study is that American Methodists have unique characteristics seminal to their liturgical identity. Not only do these include particular elements within a liturgical ordo, but also several distinguishing features of a liturgical piety.