In Praise of Institution




in·sti·tu·tion (?n’st?-t?’sh?n, -ty?’-) n.

1. The act of instituting.


1. A custom, practice, relationship, or behavioral pattern of importance in the life of a community or society: the institutions of marriage and the family.

2. Informal. One long associated with a specified place, position, or function.


1. An established organization or foundation, especially one dedicated to education, public service, or culture.

2. The building or buildings housing such an organization.

3. A place for the care of persons who are destitute, disabled, or mentally ill.

So, institution-bashing has been something of a favorite past-time in blogland… especially amongst emerging churchies. It goes something like this, “Institutions are bad, we’re new hip and cool… we don’t need no stinking institution”.

Well without re-hashing why institutions ARE bad in a lot of ways, I want to confess that I am actually quite fond of institutions. What’s more I hope VC becomes an instution. By the way… I have now committed emerging church heresy. My card has been revoked and I will likely receive a nasty email saying that I am apostate.

But really. Here’s what I mean. I am all for starting new ventures. Taking risks, trying the untried, moving out in faith into the unknown. I love doing that and I love people who do that. VC does this and I believe we do it well. But I’m also for old habits, rituals, ceremony, and slow-time. I’m for common practices that are matters of life-giving routine. Liturgies that form us. Praxis that flows out of long-held traditions.

See, I believe in change… transformation… metamorphosis. I believe God is in this messy business of change… who else could make dry bones live? But change – deep long lasting change – may start by a risk, a crisis, a radical step out of the ordinary. But it is not sustained by living in a constant state of temporariness. Change – real life transformation of individuals, neighborhoods, and communities – is really only possible if we surround ourselves and embed ourselves in way of being that externally represents the internal way we want to be. By engaging in personal and communal rituals that become holy habits we become the people we say we want to be.

And this brings me to institution. I believe we must not abhor this idea of institution if we are to be a sustainable community of faith. We need common practices that are formed through long-term repetition. In other words, I think “insitution” is a word worth redeeming.

An example: Liturgy. Tonight at Allgroup we used the Book of Common Prayer Holy Eucharist Rite Two liturgy… the whole thing – straight through. It was good. But it was awkward. Not awkward because it was wrong, but because it was unfamiliar. If we continue to use it (or something like it) we will begin to become comfortable with its rhythm and flow. This will afford us surprising freedom in our worship, quite to the contrary of what we think at first blush. The liturgy will form us becuase we will have become so used to it that it will sink deep inside of us.

Well, I’m not sure I’ve made a convincing case for “institution”, but hopefully its at least something we can begin to consider. I’m so tired of the new, the flashy, the quick-fix…. I want old, slow, and common.

Enough…. I’m off to bed to read Harry Potter and I may get up early and go to our local Episcopal church to see how they do it.


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