The churches here have an annual "Flower Service" which is probably best described as a cross between a Memorial Service and All Saint's Day. At the two smaller churches, this service is second in importance only to Christmas in the liturgical year. (It is a newer tradition at the big church, but one that has been enthusiastically adopted.) We remember everyone in the church who has died in the past year (or who has been buried in the cemetery) as we build a "bouquet of memories" at the front of the church after the sermon. In previous years, this has been done by having a bunch of flowers added to the bouquet for each name that we are remembering, and then by adding a bunch of flowers to represent the different generic groups of people that we are remembering - mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, neighbours etc.
My one concern with this though, is that no matter how comprehensive the list of groups that we are remembering, someone is going to get missed. And so instead, I invited everyone in the congregation to participate in building the bouquet, adding flowers to represent the people that they themselves are remembering. This involved people getting up from their pews and moving forward to place their flowers in the bouquet.
And it was a holy moment. At the service at the first church, I was one of three people accepting flowers and adding them to the bouquet, and when we compared notes after the service, all of us found that some people were sharing with us the name of the person that they were remembering. Sometimes different generations of the same family came forward together to offer flowers. Sometimes the flowers were offered with smiles; and sometimes the flowers were offered with tears.
And the feedback that I heard after the service reflected my reason for modifying the tradition. People felt more personally connected with the service and with the remembering; and people told me that they thought about people whom they hadn't thought about in a long time.
I was a bit nervous before the service - not lie-awake-unable-to-sleep nervousness; more like I-hope-that-I'm-not-breaking-trust-with-these-people-I'm-already-learning-to-love nervousness. But it worked out well. And we agreed after the services - at least those with whom I shared my nervousness - that a tradition that can't be messed with is a dead tradition; and changing things up for a good reason (and not only for the sake of change) is a living tradition.
The life-giving Holy Spirit was moving in these churches yesterday.
(I will be sharing my Flower Service sermon next week, after the Flower Service at the third church.)
Some of the flowers made their way to my office after the service