Thomas Hardy’s novel Under the Greenwood Tree concerns the hamlet of Mellstock in the 1870’s Great Britain. Miss Fancy Day comes to Mellstock to care for her aging father and, having completed her education, she also takes on the role of teacher for the local school. She soon becomes the attention of all the eligible men in town. Three will make proposals of marriage: the wealthy Mr. Shiner, the new Vicar (Mr. Maybold) who has aspirations for greater parishes, and the poor but hardworking Mr. Dick Dewey. The story revolves around Miss Day’s dilemma; whose love should she requite? Mr. Shiner will provide for her and her father; Mr. Dewey deeply loves her yet his aspirations will keep him in the backward town of Mellstock, and Mr. Maybold will provide well enough for her and take her to see the world.
But there is a second story within the novel. Vicar Maybold decides to replace the choir and their country instruments (a fiddle and bass violin) with a harmonium that the accomplished Miss Day will play. The choir of men including Mr. Dewey and his father, Mr. Shiner, and other leading men of the community has an-hundred-year history with the congregation. This harmonium will bring an end this men’s choir. Some of the men eventual sabotage the harmonium in protest. Such a monstrosity has no place in their church. They cannot allow this “new” Vicar to bring in “new” innovations.
For the record, I believe the scriptures teach God’s desire is for us to sing and make music in our hearts with our voices and not with mechanical instruments of music (cf. Eph 5:18-19 & Col 3:16-17). That however is not the point of this morning’s blog.
Recalling this novel cause me to wonder about congregational traditions; to reflect on the methods and sacred cows we hang on to. Maybe these traditions are a particular order of worship, maybe a particular translation of the Bible, or even what songs we sing. These traditions can include where we sit, what time we begin (or finish), classes or no classes, or if we have Wednesday night prayer meeting. Some churches have traditional rules about what those serving “have” to wear other congregations have relaxed dress codes.
Traditions are what they are. Some are healthy and others are a hindrance. That is what I think is great about congregational autonomy; each congregation of God’s family can have their own individual traditions as long as those traditions do not conflict with God’s word, nor usurp His authority (Matt 15:7-9). We also need to make certain we do not allow traditions or the changing of traditions to destroy unity and give people excuses for not coming to God.
What do you think?