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Liturgy as work

Tripp Hudgins (@anglobaptist) pointed me to his book review of  Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford.

The book looks interesting. Part of Tripp’s review echoes much that I emphasise here from time to time. It is based on the word “liturgy” originating in the Greek λειτουργία which is based on λαός / Laos, “people”, and ἔργο / ergo, “work”.

Liturgy is a soulcraft. It’s a way of thinking, of problem solving. Individual craftwork in the midst of a community of craftworkers taking as long as it takes to work their way through to the stated goal. It’s slow and cumbersome. It takes time to learn and master. It takes time to practice. One reason we struggle with liturgy is because we have not been taught to value it. In fact, we have been taught to value it’s opposite which in turn compels us to fashion liturgies that are more like concerts or spiritual assembly lines. Plug us in and crank us out. “Just add water.” What kind of Baptismal ecclesiology is that? What are the ethics motivating how we think about liturgy? What are our actual values? Alacrity? Entertainment? Salvation? We need to ask ourselves these questions.

Crawford is more interested in problem solving than I might be, but I understand where he’s coming from and it’s not too strange to think of liturgy as a problem of sorts. It may not be troublesome, but there are pieces that go together and no matter how concretized our liturgy may be (See: a Catholic missal or the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer), our communities, their abilities, and the spaces in which they worship demand a certain improvisation, a certain problem solving and thinking.


To understand the title of the book one needs to know that in the United States Industrial Arts classes are colloquially known as “shop class”.

Industrial Arts is an umbrella term originally conceived in the late 19th century to describe educational programs which featured fabrication of objects in wood and/or metal using a variety of hand, power, or machine tools. Many also cover topics such as small engine repair and automobile maintenance, and all programs usually cover technical drawings—one or two semesters—as part of the curricula.

These programs expose children to the basics of home repair, manual craftsmanship, and machine safety. Most Industrial Arts programs were established in comprehensive rather than dedicated vocational schools and focused on a broad range of skills rather than on a specific vocational training.

There has been a decline of industrial arts (aka shop class) programs in comprehensive school systems in the US. (Information drawn from Wikipedia).

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3 thoughts on “Liturgy as work”

  1. Susan S. Hedges

    Yes, Industrial Arts and The Arts, as in music and art have all sort of gone by the wayside here in the US. Tripp is a real live friend of mine, btw. I attended the Community(American Baptist)Church where he was until he came out to Berkeley for Grad School. As an Episcopalian I felt right at home. The first exchange was “The Lord be with you! And also with you!”

  2. It is interesting that the Wiki article doesn’t say why they are called shop classes in the USA. My own familiarity with the US dialect of English and a bit of experience with the culture tells me that it is related to the fact that the location where such activities occur in the US are know as workshops or repair shops. And that can even be more specifically pointed to the particular activity of wood shop or carpenter shop, metal shop, printshop, auto shop, etc.

    Sorry, Father B, just trivia!

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