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The power of tradition

David Epps's picture

In the many years I have served as a minister, I have observed that, from time to time, some clergy and churches proudly claim that they have “gotten rid of the traditions of the past.”

By this, they usually mean that their church services look nothing like your parents’ church services.

Traditions are seen as inhibiting, negative, and the remnants of the long dead past. Innovation is the answer — especially if it breaks new ground and is exciting.

Yet, for all the jettisoning of tradition, whenever a bride wants to walk down the aisle, she insists, for the most part, on a traditional wedding — a wedding that is familiar, uses well-established protocols, music, and vows. The simple truth is that traditions have the ability to give structure and balance to life.

Some time ago, I attended a football game at my high school alma mater. I played on that same field in that same stadium during 1966-68 as had thousands of other “Boys of Fall,” as Kenny Chesney calls us, since the 1920s. Some things had changed.

Dobyns-Bennett High School had artificial turf, a new digital scoreboard, many more seats for the fans, and a new athletic field house. The band, which was always large and excellent, put some 350 students on the field during halftime. But much — the important things — remained the same.

The Indians (thank heavens they haven’t been caught up in political correctness — yet) were still attired in maroon and gray, the familiar school song still pumped life into the fans and brought them to their feet, and the smell, feel, and electricity of the evening were the same as long ago.

Sitting there alone in the stands surrounded by the thousands who came to see the Indians play, I felt right at home. I fondly remembered Joe, Mike, Eddie, Cyril, Kent, Mark, Ronnie, and two dozen others who shared the sacred colors, the sweat, effort, and blood, and wondered where they were.

The traditions linked me with the past, connected me with the present, and I knew that I would still be an Indian long into the future.

At the Marine Corps Birthday Celebration held in Newnan a few days ago, I witnessed and participated in a tradition that goes back to at least 1921.

The birthday cake was cut according to the same ritual, the first pieces were given to the guest of honor and the oldest and youngest marines present, the charge read was one that had been read for almost 90 years, and other traditions united a diverse group of people whose Marine Corps experiences ranged from World War II to Afghanistan.

When we stood at attention for the playing of the Marine Corps Hymn, we were united with all those who had served since Nov. 10, 1775, and with those who will serve long after the final “Taps” will be played for us.

Some former warriors, now not so lean or mean — but still Marines — remembered friends who never made it back from the Pacific, Korea, Vietnam, Beirut, Iraq, Afghanistan, and a number of other places where blood was shed and lives lost.

The traditions helped us — forced us — to remember and, with tear-filled eyes, links with former comrades were forged again even if for a few moments. Such is the power of tradition.

Certainly, some traditions lose their meaning and fade from the scene. But others should be retained and perpetuated. Not everything old is bad nor is everything new always good.

Traditions are somewhat akin to the stuff found in your grandmother’s attic – some of it may be junk and need to be discarded, and some of it is quite possibly of immense worth and should be treasured.

We only know the difference when we resist the urge to toss everything in the dumpster, and instead, take the time to look through it all carefully, with discerning eyes.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. ( He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese ( and may be contacted at]


You weren't specific as to the conversations you had or heard about churches and clergy who have "gotten rid of the traditions of the past."

I think you are in favor of letting some traditions go but not all.
I would appreciate your opinion sometime about why we have so many branches of just Christianity---not to consider the thousands of other religions that exist.

We are still having schisms within protestant groups--just recently the Episcopalians here in PTC, and around the country. I think even maybe your church is some kind of schism with different chains of command than others of your type.

Even the Catholics have special groups for special places that have different customs.

The groups that I fail to understand at all are the ones who are totally independent of any other branch of Christianity, and have no supervision whatsoever from on high. Elders run the show and are elected locally, or appointed I suppose is a better word.

I think maybe the basic differences are the distribution of money to conferences, etc., and of course where women stand. Some here in PTC require the Fathers to be the total boss of his household and his children and wife MUST also belong to that church or he is "churched."

Now, since no one is required to attend that church or any other, I don't care about those strange rules as long as no one is coerced.

But why has all this occurred? Is it necessary for small groups to be separate since it is impossible for them to exist together?

I am old and I have visited small country churches where they dance, yell, speak in strange nosies, even roll in the aisles and of course many of them are uneducated and dumb. Some are "saved" 6-8 times!
Also, I know snake handlers still exist and the picking up of hot pot-bellied stoves by wrapping one's arms around them is still done!
Some want no music and some want a Hollywood production.

And I must say everything in between.

I myself having attended church for all the years of my children's youth now find it more comfortable to not attend organized religious services except as a courtesy. I don't think there were any "churches" in the days of the Saints living. That means of course, buildings.

I visited Ephesus not too long ago and walked Paul's tracks and what was left of his efforts (practically nothing), and I saw nothing relating to "church" there in that Muslim/Christian land except the empty "Blue Mosque." A tourist trap.

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