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Non-churchy Ritual

April 7, 2022

“Non-churchy” might be my new favorite word.

Recently, I led a workshop for my ministry colleagues on rituals. They asked me to speak because my work, of course, is providing rituals to the non-spiritual, the “nones,” and the spiritual-not-religious. That is to say, I provide rituals for what one colleague called the “non-churchy.” (Note: The term was not used in a derogatory fashion, but with some humor and affection.) I still chuckle when I say it. Non-churchy! I love it so much.

Joking aside, non-churchy rituals are a topic worth discussing in today’s world. Providing them is my job as well as my life’s work. That is to say, providing rituals outside the walls of the Church is my vocation. It is important work. Necessary. Life-giving. Even life-saving.

Providing rituals outside the walls of the Church does not always make me the most popular person, particularly to those in the Church. I often run up against those who believe that rituals must be performed a certain way, in certain places, for certain people – that somehow rituals are inextricably linked to religion. But that is not true. Sacred things are not confined to the Church, nor do sacred things need to be traditional, dogmatic, or boring.

The truth is that rituals existed long before the Church existed. Rituals exist for humanity. Rituals helps us mark time and space. Rituals are a tool that creates order from chaos. In the words of Jesus of Nazareth: The Sabbath (a ritual) was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath. 

Sure, the churchy-types do rituals in church. Baptisms, weddings, funerals, communion. But such riches are not restricted to church. Nor should they be. Pretending they can only happen there, or should only happen there, sure leaves a lot of people hungry for relationships, meaningful conversations, and rituals. And restricting them to the church does not stand up theologically – God (no matter your definition of God) doesn’t reside only within the walls of a church building.

As someone who is professionally trained and educated in theology, I am not only happy to say this, but I feel it is an urgent statement: non-churchy rituals, like memorial services, naming ceremonies, and yes, weddings, are lifesavers. Literally. Because ritual is how humans – churchy or not – make meaning out of moral and cultural chaos. And for the record, there is a lot of moral and cultural chaos these days. 

So, what do you do when you want a good, non-churchy ritual? Where do you start looking, especially if churchy isn’t your thing? Remember that part about non-churchy rituals being my life’s work?

As a professional, I’m also called to advise you to hire a professional. For any ritual, the reasons for hiring a pro are the same reasons for hiring a professional wedding officiant; experienced officiants have a depth of knowledge and experience about ritual, about making space for the ritual experience, and how to deal with the unpredictable but indispensable human element.

Now that we’re thinking about rituals, ask yourself whether there’s a milestone or transition or some important life occasion coming up that you would want to mark in a non-churchy way.  And if you aren’t quite sure what the moment should look like, how to make it happen, or even where to begin, reach out to me if you want to talk about what we can do to create the sacred, non-churchy space that every person needs at some point in their lives.

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