Ritual and Renewal in a Local Religious Ecology
University of Minnesota
How do mainline Protestant congregations foster the renewal of clergy and lay leaders and a sense of vitality and excitement among members? If one congregation does achieve a sense of renewal and vitality, what is the effect on the other congregations in the local religious ecology? Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in various forms of contemplative religious practice in the United States; some Mainline Protestant congregations have begun to incorporate forms of contemplative practice into their regular weekly routine of worship. I propose to study a Mainline Protestant congregation in the Twin Cities area which offers two regular Sunday night worship services labeled as contemplative worship (one Celtic, one Nordic). These services, understood by leaders and participants as innovative, routinely attract several hundred worshippers. My project will focus on the effects of these innovative worship services on a) the hosting congregation, and b) the local religious ecology. Through participant-observation and interviews with worshippers, I will be able to analyze whether participation in these contemplatives services has led to a subjective sense of renewal. I will also conduct a survey of worshippers to determine how many come from the hosting congregation, how many come from the larger religious ecology (other congregations), and how many are otherwise unchurched, to find out whether participation in these innovative services supplements or substitutes for other forms of congregational participation. I will also interview leaders of the hosting congregation about the effect of these services on their congregation -- have they led to a sense of renewal and vitality? This project will contribute to our research-based understanding of the relationship between intentional innovation in local congregational life and a sense of renewal and vitality; it will also further our understanding of the role of "innovator" churches in a local religious ecology.
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