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No Clergy at the Memorial

Prayer on the Street Near Ground Zero

Interesting piece at Spiritual Politics about the decision from Mayor Bloomberg to exclude clergy of any sect from the memorial ceremony. (HT: John Fea) Here is a taste of the historical reasoning that may have been the precedent for Bloomberg’s decision.

Let’s hark back, in other words, to the way New Englanders used to remember the fallen on Memorial Day.

In “An American Sacred Ceremony,” anthropologist W. Lloyd Warner‘s classic account published six decades ago, Memorial Day in “Yankeetown”–Newburyport, Mass.–began with members of the different religious bodies attending services in their own houses of worship; then forming a parade and marching together to the town’s main cemetery, where separate ceremonies were performed; then reforming the parade with a final collective salute, and heading back to town. As Warner summed it up:

Here we see people who are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Greek Orthodox involved in a common ritual in a graveyard with their common dead. Their sense of separateness was present and expressed in the different ceremonies, but the parade and the unity gained by doing everything at one time emphasized the oneness of the total group. Each ritual also stressed the fact that the war was an experience where everyone sacrificed and some died, and not as members of a separate group, but as citizens of a whole community.

In today’s America, it is no longer possible to make the civil religious umbrella work with a rabbi, a Catholic priest, and a Protestant minister; or an Abrahamic triplet of rabbi-priest-imam; or anything short of a herd of be-robed clerics. And even then there will be exclusions–of those of no faith, of course, but also Mormons and Missouri Synod Lutherans, and others who for their own theological reasons will not pray with those who do not share their beliefs.

So let the members of New York’s several religious bodies who wish convene simultaneously in nearby houses of worship this Sunday morning to memorialize the dead of 9/11 as they see fit; and then let all proceed to Ground Zero, for the collective secular ritual that brings the community together.

Interesting thoughts. Read the whole piece here.

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