The Rite Stuff

Ritual in contemporary Christian worship and mission

Pete Ward (editor)

Currently out of print £8.99


Ritual is having something of a revival in church, as some Christians start to explore ways of prayer and worship from more ancient traditions. In the past ritual has sometimes been derided as 'empty'', but in fact it focuses meaning. It can help our worship be ecstatic but also rooted in daily life. It can help us express our feelings for fellow believers and at the same time lift us into the presence of our God.

The book contains an introduction by Pete Ward and seven chapters:

  • Jeremy Fletcher - Text, authority and ritual in the Church of England
  • Maggi Dawn - The Art of Liturgy
  • Pete Ward - Personalised Ritual
  • Anthony Reddie - Black styles, rituals and mission for the 21st Century
  • Ana Draper - How insights from psychology and spirituality operate in Christian worship
  • Mike Riddell - Deep Currents of the Heart
  • Jonny Baker - Ritual as strategic practice

    This book is a follow-up to Mass Culture (BRF 1999), which looked at the Communion service and its continued significance for worship and mission in today's culture. In The Rite Stuff each chapter explores a different aspect of ritual and faith. The range of these discussions is quite wide, but the unifying factor is the growing appreciation of the significance of ritual for worship and spirituality in postmodernity.

  • Endorsements

    Endorsements for The Rite Stuff have not yet been added.

    Author info

    Pete Ward is Lecturer in Youth Ministry and Theological Education at King's College, London. His books include Liquid Church (Paternoster 2002), Growing up Evangelical (SPCK 1996) and Youthwork and the Mission of God (SPCK 1997).


    From The Baptist Times 10 November 2005

    This slim volume is a follow-up to Mass Culture (BRF 1999), which looked at the significance of the Communion Service for the future and contemporary mission and worship of the church.

    This book widens the area of exploration to consider what lies behind the resurgence of liturgy and ritual in contemporary society and Christian worship.

    The Rite Stuff is a selection of essays from a commendably diverse group of writers who seek to explore this newly rediscovered ancient territory and its place in post-modern culture.

    It is most definitely not a 'how to...' type book, and requires the reader to engage critically with both their church experience and traditions, as well as the text of the book.

    For Baptists who have their origins in a rejection of what was considered 'empty ritual', this is a significant and perhaps uncomfortable expedition. Some of the areas explored may initially appear to be tangential to the experience of 'free church' - but the reader will benefit from perseverance.

    If you are looking at ways of engaging with post-modern 'spiritual' people, who have rejected what might be considered mainstream church, this book is worth reading. This is not a book about 'emerging church', but is heavily influenced by the 'emerging church' experiences of some of the writers.

    It will encourage you to convey truth through more senses and 'entry points' than with words, and will help you draw some boundaries and understand some theology behind this aspect of church life and faith that Baptists have eschewed until recently.

    Reviewed by Nick Lear, Mission adviser for the Baptist Union of Great Britain

    From Christianity Magazine November 2004

    Does ritual have to be empty and boring? Not according to the seven contributors here. Indeed, ritual is having something of a revival in these post-modern times, with a growing interest in alternative worship, labyrinth walks, liturgy, symbolism and so on.

    Each chapter deals with a different aspect of faith and ritual, as individual writers seek to place this growing interest in a wider context, and reflect on what is happening as we seek to worship in new and varied ways. It helped me to see that a fresh appreciation and understanding of ritual can be a help in mission to a society that is more tactile, symbolic and image based, and encouraged me to consider how worship can connect with post-modern spirituality.

    A bit heavy in places though, and expensive (10p a page).

    Reviewed by Tony Horsfall, church leader and freelance training consultant based in Yorkshire.

    From Church Times 28 August 2004

    An Icon and a mirror are placed on the altar, with an open Bible and a circle of small candles. Participants are invited to come forward individually and to stand where they can see both their reflection in the mirror and the icon of Christ. They read from the open Bible, 'And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image.' As each does this, the others pray silently for them, and the music plays.

    Is this, as described by Peter Ward, a 'personalised ritual'? Or is it simply the powerful use of action, symbol and sound? Does it need to be repeated to be 'ritual', properly defined? Does the ritual require connections (as in this example) with existing symbols as it makes new meaning, or is it possible to start from scratch and invent brand-new rituals? These were some of the questions this volume raised for me.

    Many sections of the church have, until recently, been suspicious of ritual - the very word suggested all things that lively, happening, Spirit-filled Christians were trying to avoid. Much has changed in recent years, as many of ritual's former enemies have either newly embraced it or recognised that they were already doing it - or both. This book springs from that new context, and its very existence shows how things have changed in some corners of the church.

    It follows on from Mass Culture (BRF 1999), also edited by Pete Ward, which looked at the impact of the eucharist in mission - another apparent contradiction in terms for many in the church.

    As in the first volume, the range of contributions here is broad: from the Precentor of York Minster and a Liturgical Commission member (Jeremy Fletcher) to the National Youth Co-ordinator of CMS (Jonny Baker), taking in a Roman catholic novelist and playwright (Mike Riddell), a professional musician turned Anglican priest (Maggi Dawn), a research fellow (Anthony Reddie), a psychotherapist (Ana Draper), and Pete Ward himself (lecturer in youth ministry at King's College, London).

    Like all such volumes, it is patchy. Some chapters seem to major on mission, with a nod in the direction of ritual; some stipulate thinking about ritual in worship, but engage with mission only in the most general sense. I would have valued a more thorough attempt to pull the two aspects of the sub-title together.

    'And this is a curious fact with ritual: the more useful and meaningful it is, the less 'obvious' it is. When ritual is really powerful, it is ingrained into our social and psychological life', says Pete Ward in his introduction, and this comes closest to summing up the point of the volume. When ritual is conspicuous, either because it is drawing attention to itself or because it is being self-consciously avoided, is when it is least effective in both mission and worship.

    Reviewed by The Rev Mark Earey, Team rector of Morley, Leeds

    From {Church of England Newspaper} 1 July 2004

    Read this book. It is not a classic. At times it seems more introspective than reflective. It can be hard going (consider, "Attempts to install right belief and Christian teaching have negated the importance of relating to the emotional and psycho-social realities of being a marginalised excluded 'other' ".) In Wigan we speak of nothing else!

    That said, I stand by my first sentence. The value of this book lies in the fact that it is prepared to consider valuable something that to many Christians seems irrelevant. This is the place of ritual in human spiritual and religious life.

    It consists of seven essays ranging from Jeremy Fletcher's opening on authority and ritual through essays on the need for authenticity in worship (Maggie Dawn), personal ritual (Pete Ward), Black styles (Anthony Reddie), systematic psychotherapy (Ana Draper), to pieces on ritual touching on spiritual archetypes (Mark Riddell) and a strategic practice for church life (Jonny Baker).

    For me the two most challenging essays were those by Anthony Reddie and Jonny Baker. Reddie seeks to make us aware of the need for emotional well being amongst marginalised groups in society as a key part of ritual (an echo here of the psalms? Cf. Psalm 119: 161,162).

    Although his claim about the ability of 'White youth ministry specialists; to 'climb beneath the skin of Black youth', as being, 'extremely doubtful if not impossible', begs a question. Empathy by intellectual understanding can be complicated but empathy by humility is surely open to all of us. Ritual that allows emotional healing amongst disaffected groups can surely allow reconciliation between groups of differing status.

    Jonny Baker is concerned to create a dialogue between the current 'turn towards ritual' and Christian tradition. It is this that rescues the discussion about rite from being historically isolated. A glance through the references shows that practically all sources quotes are (post) modern, yet Christianity is a historical religion.

    The heart of his contribution is the need to 'move away from entertainment to spiritual encounter'. In this sense he is closest to what is missing in all these essays - that in Christ the birth pangs of the 'New Age' are upon us and it is this aspect of ritual as a celebration, recognition and anticipation of eschatology that is most missing from the book.

    That said it is doing what few others seem to. It is recognising that in postmodern culture, people seeking spiritual depth will create rituals for themselves that express their search and bring meaning to it. To fail to engage with this is to fail in mission.

    Book details

    • ISBN: 9781841012278
    • Published: 21 May 2004
    • Status:
    • Format: Paperback
    • Pages: 112pp
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