Liturgy and Cultures

The Liturgy and Cultures seminar probes both the cultural context of North American worship practices and the relationship of worship and culture in a variety of cultures outside of North America, drawing on works in liturgical theology, history, cultural theory, music and the arts, and several related disciplines.


Nathaniel Marx, Ph.D.

Seminar Report 2020



Nathaniel Marx, PhD, Assistant Professor of Sacramental and Liturgical Theology, Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology

Description of Work

The Liturgy and Culture Seminar’s work at the 2020 meet- ing examined the many ways in which worship is cultivated and inculturated in contemporary communities of faith. We gave particular attention to how these communities transform dynamics of cultural domination into those of intercultural justice and cooperation. Presentations from long-standing members, new and returning visitors, and an invited guest amply supplied the seminar with fruitful conversation, and collaboration with our colleagues in two other seminars further expanded the scope and depth of our work together.

Papers and Presentations:

  • Jennifer Ackerman shared a chapter of her doctoral dissertation, “Sacramental Silence: Howard Thurman and the Convergence of Worship, Preaching, and Justice.” Ackerman proposes the concept of “Sacramental Silence” to interpret the life and work of this influential pastor, preacher, and scholar, who made essential contributions to the civil rights movement in the United States and to intercultural friendship worldwide. “Sacramental Silence,” she  writes, “encompasses Thurman’s response to the perpetual threat of oppressive, human silence through his mystical grounding in divine Silence that was manifested in his integrated ministry of worship, preaching, and ”
  • Ricky Manalo presented the second draft of A Treasured Presence: Filipino American Catholics, a short book that he and Stephen Cherry are writing at the request of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As a primer for pastoral leaders, the book summarizes the history of Catholicism in the Philippines and Filipino immigration to the United States. The authors describe family and parish life among Filipino American Catholics, both of which are marked by cross-border relationships and high levels of religious participation. The seminar’s discussion with Manalo focused on the book’s third chapter, which explores the interaction between official worship and popular devotional practices.
  • The History of Modern Worship Seminar joined us on Friday afternoon, following the academy’s visit to the Martin Luther King, Historical Park and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. Dr. Catherine Meeks, director of the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta, generously agreed to address the combined group. Dr. Meeks challenged us to “normal ize courage” in our congregations so that what we do on Sunday mornings enlivens hearts and spirits to do the “subversive” work of dismantling racism. “Church is supposed to be a brave space,” not a place for “non-disturbance.” The people shaping and leading worship bear special responsibility to “compassionately keep speaking the truth” about racism. This means rejecting both easy avoidance and “cheap forgiveness” while making space for “the transformative power of the Holy Spirit” to instigate “serious resistance” to racism and heal our churches and communities.
  • In a further joint session with the History of Modern Worship Seminar, we heard from Rhoda Schuler and Kent Burreson about their field research in four Lutheran congregations that have established catechumenates. Their project promises to provide important lessons and real-life models for congregations working to invigorate the catechumenal experience. Schuler and Burreson are especially attentive to how congregations can respond positively to “changing patterns of social and cultural access” and “dissatisfaction with the church’s disconnections with society and culture.”
  • Within the same joint session, Ruth Meyers discussed the progress she has made in her field study of worship in six racially diverse congregations in the Episcopal Church. Her preliminary findings point to musical sharing, use of multiple languages, and creative negotiation of time as some of the major ways in which congregations accommodate cultural difference and build cross-cultural bridges within shared worship. Currently, Meyers is analyzing the transcripts of fifty-seven interviews conducted with members of these congregations to “get beneath the surface, to explore values and behaviors that characterize cultures but are not as apparent.”
  • The Word in Worship Seminar joined us on Saturday morning to discuss a draft of Eunjoo Kim’s article, “Sacramental Preaching in the Culture of Ableism,” which will appear in a forthcoming issue of Liturgy. Kim and her husband have gathered an “extended family” of people with mental, physical, and intellectual disabilities while operating an assisted living home. Listening to their stories enables her and other preachers to challenge our society’s “ideal of self-sufficiency and autonomy.” Such preaching attends to the ways in which Scripture images God not in the autonomous functioning of the human body but in the “love-relationships” that God enables through bodies that are limited, vulnerable, and sometimes severely impaired.
  • Martin Marklin turned the seminar’s attention to the care and cultivation of bees, both as a liturgical symbol with ancient roots and as a vitally important element in the ecosystems of North America and the whole world. Although the troubling phenomenon of bee colony collapse results from a confluence of factors, it should serve as an urgent call to care for our common home like the bee cares for the hive. “The bee is more honored than other animals,” wrote St. John Chrysostom, “not because she labors, but because she labors for others.”
  • Hans-Jürgen Feulner shared initial plans to study the depiction of religious rituals in cinematic films. In addition to assembling a filmography that can serve both theological scholarship and film studies, Feulner hopes to analyze the meanings of religious rituals used in films, the authenticity and historical development of their presentation, and the possible effects of those cinematic depictions on the communities in which the rituals originated.
  • Pierre Hégy discussed his work conducting “liturgy evaluation, one community at a time,” which he documents in his recent book, Worship as Community Drama: Introduction to Liturgy Evaluation. Hégy draws on the “long tradition of interaction analysis in sociology” to evaluate how a particular community’s worship leads to “relational increase, decrease, or continuation over ” From his evaluation of multiple communities, he argues that worship is an interaction in which emotions and engagement are more important than correct enactment of the ritual, that the participation of the assembly is paramount, and that the liturgy of Sunday is a continuation of the liturgy of the week.

Other Work and Plans for the Future

As always, the Liturgy and Culture seminar delighted in conversation that brought together new and seasoned contributors representing the full range of the academy’s interests. We look forward to extending this tradition of collaboration at the 2021 meeting in Seattle.