Historian Diana Butler Bass is unwilling to write off mainline Protestant churches as a lost cause. In fact, after having “done the serious research,” as the Hearts & Minds website puts it, she tells, in her 2004 book, of a transformation going on within at least some congregations: they’re showing, as her publisher, the Alban Institute observes, “an unexpected vitality, adaptability, and faithfulness.”
The Practicing Congregation results from a study of 50 churches “that have experienced renewed senses of identity, vocation, and mission through intentionally embracing particular Christian practices,” Bass explains in the book’s preface.
These are places that have “begun to take seriously the making of meaning in their congregational life by choosing to become highly intentional about how they will practice church,” Peter Coutts points out, writing for the Centre for Clergy Care and Congregational Health. “From working in soup kitchens to walking labyrinths, from discovering renewed interest in liturgy to being more intentional about community,” parishioners are making “spiritual practices such as these common to the most vibrant mainline churches,” Hearts & Minds reports.
H&M’s review affirms Bass as “a scholar of this field,” but “also a graceful writer and thinker, and this is truly a wonderful little book.”
The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church
By Diana Butler Bass
Alban Institute, 2004