Liturgical Traditionalism and Spiritual Vitality: Transforming Congregational Practices in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

By Maren Freudenberg.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: April 11, 2016 $US5.00

Hit by a dramatic membership decline in recent years, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is initiating multiple processes of religious renewal to revitalize its worshipping and outreach culture. This paper examines the transformation the ELCA envisions in its religious culture as revealed in semi-structured interviews and (non-) participant observation recently conducted in the Upper Midwest. Clergy and lay leaders are attempting to develop a spiritually vibrant and participatory church culture in what has generally been a rational, hierarchical, and passive-receptive denominational environment. By helping parishioners cultivate personal spirituality, contextual faith practices, and evangelism skills, they aim at a spiritually vital religious socialization untypical for mainline Protestantism, which is usually characterized by intellectualism and a social outreach focus. At the same time, the ELCA retains its traditional liturgy as a unique identity marker and corporate ritual that offers communal access to the transcendent. While liturgy is perceived as outdated and hierarchical by many, the ELCA clergy hope to infuse it with the spiritual vitality of individual parishioners, thereby maximizing the liturgy’s mystical effects. In this sense, personal spirituality and corporate liturgy are brought together in an attempt to revitalize and transform the ELCA’s congregational culture in ways that stay true to its core tradition.

Keywords: Clergy, Congregation, Evangelization, Faith, Liturgy, Practice, Religion, Renewal, Spirituality, Tradition, Transformation, Vitality, Worship

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 6, Issue 2, June 2016, pp.71-86. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: April 11, 2016 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 586.525KB)).

Maren Freudenberg

Doctoral Candidate in Sociology, Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universitaet Berlin, Berlin, Germany