Liturgy not just for church, Earl Lectures speaker says

January 19, 2010

Liturgy is most often understood as the rituals and worship of church, but liturgist and Episcopal priest Paul Fromberg refutes such a limited definition. “Liturgy is just a structure within which we share time and space with others in order to reflect upon our experience of being interrupted by life and making meaning of life,” Fromberg, leader of a workshop in PSR’s annual Earl Lectures and Leadership Conference, says. For those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious, liturgy takes place in the secular realm, at work, in a restaurant or even in a bar.

Despite the seemingly odd juxtaposition of spiritual practice taking place in an after-hours hotspot, Fromberg draws parallels between what happens when friends go out and what happens on Sunday mornings. “The liturgy in a bar may include gathering (greeting people as they join the group with a hug or kiss), handling ritual objects of the liturgy (cocktails, cigarettes outside), proclaiming and responding to the Word (sharing experiences, stories and opinions), confession and prayer (have you ever noticed how people cry in bars?), and a dismissal (saying goodbye, getting a cab or bus),” Fromberg explains. The similarities also include the very thing that the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd often rejects from church: exclusivity.

After all, if a stranger approaches a group at a pub, he or she will likely be ignored. This rejection of the “other” wastes the potential of community-building and the rewards that come from working together for the common good. Both secular groups and organized religion could learn to welcome strangers into their liturgies and lives, Fromberg says.

“Until the church understands itself to be peripheral, strange, and outside the dominant culture, it won’t really be interested in bringing strangers into the liturgy. I find the place where liturgy is alive around me right now,” Fromberg says, whether that be in the pews or in a bar. “That’s where the sign of God’s presence will be found.”

Fromberg’s workshop, “Liturgy in a Post-Religious Culture,” will explore traditional and unconventional modes of liturgy (January 26, 1:15 pm-2:45 pm). A wide variety of 20 workshops featuring leaders in theology, ministry, and education are offered through PSR’s annual Earl Lectures and Leadership Conference. Workshops are open to the general public, those in all walks of social change and ministry, and clergy. Registration for the Leadership Conference workshops is $125 at the door. (There is no need to register to attend the lectures only, which are open to the public at no charge.)

Founded in 1866, Pacific School of Religion (PSR) is a multi-denominational Christian seminary in Berkeley, California. The school is committed to theological education for lay people and clergy alike and is a member of the Graduate Theological Union, the largest and most diverse partnership of seminaries and graduate schools in the United States. For more information, see