How does ritual function as individual and communal practices of care? This was one of the questions addressed by Dr. Nichole Phillips during a continuing education workshop sponsored by the Pastoral Counseling Centers of Tennessee. Dr. Phillips explained how rituals (including but not limited to worship practices) can reaffirm meaning, bond community, deal with ambivalence and emotional conflicts, and establish a sense of order. Those practices that are most meaningful to us in communities of faith can be very important to pastoral care as well.
As we discussed this idea, I reflected on my experiences during Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s annual General Assemblies. The recent meeting in Forth Worth was like those of previous years but even more so than usual. Planners seemed to have intentionally built in additional time for us to practice some of those rituals. There are rituals that take place during plenary sessions—voting on the budget, commissioning missionaries, and participating in communion—but I am thinking more in terms of the rituals that take place in the hallways, Gathering Place (exhibitors area), coffee shops, and ballrooms. These are rituals like hugs, handshakes, conversations, and “breaking bread” together in both formal and informal meal times.
The rituals of touch, conversation, eating, and hospitality show Fellowship Baptists at their best. They love to connect, affirm, and encourage one another. In the early days of the Fellowship, these annual meetings helped to ease the grief and process the anger of loss. Today, the meetings provide the opportunity to use these rituals to encourage one another and welcome a younger generation into the family.
Business and even worship could be conducted online by the Fellowship, but virtual meetings will never be able to provide for these vital rituals. These are the practices that keep us going.