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Hallo again to all.

Ah, tradition. It can be so ephemeral.

Quite some time ago we found ourselves in Washington DC, where the film 'The Lion in Winter' had just opened at a theatre near where we were staying. Excited both by its content (Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine) and its cast (Katharine Hepburn, Peter O'Toole, and Anthony Hopkins, among others) it became a must-see. As we waited in line for the doors to open, we noticed a small but beautiful bronze plaque high on the wall that said 'Established 1968'. This made us smile, because we were there in November 1968. Instant tradition.

Unfortunately that tradition lasted only 29 years, and we suspect that when the theatre was demolished in 1996 to build a chain pharmacy outlet, the victim of VHS and DVD, the plaque was rubbished. It never got old enough to become a real tradition.

Real tradition? What is that? How old does something need to be before it is a tradition? In the Anglican world, we regularly deal with documents written or cathedrals built a thousand years ago. The UK is saddled with a 'Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest', which includes almost fifteen thousand churches. These buildings embody so much tradition that they are protected by law.

Our church calendar is populated with many well-known traditional feasts and octaves and seasons. You know the names: Christmas, Pentecost, Easter, Advent, and so on. If you look up any of the well-known occasions you can read about celebration traditions over the centuries and how they have evolved. Every Christian celebrates Easter and Christmas, though not usually in the same way that their grandparents or residents of the country from which their ancestors were once refugees.

Today, the Sunday last before Advent, the final Sunday of the church year, we Anglicans celebrated the Feast of Christ the King. All over the Communion, preachers struggled to explain the holiday and the conflicts inherent in its iconography. A gold crown on the head of a person renowned for simplicity and poverty? Do tell.

There have been churches and cathedrals named 'Christ the King' for centuries. But it wasn't until 1925 that Pope Pius XI created the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe 'to remind Christians that their allegiance was to their spiritual ruler in heaven as opposed to earthly supremacy'. We have found no record of its being official anywhere in the Anglican Communion before 1970.*

We have mixed feelings about letting go of old traditions, but we are not at all opposed to creating new liturgical traditions as long as they aren't paired with a shopping season. We could live without the tradition of the Easter Bunny. We note that the gradual adjustment of traditions to adapt to a changing culture has resulted in the creation of organisations such as 'The Traditional Church of England', which assures us 'The TCE exists to afford Ministry and Witness which continue the best Anglican traditions and values as they formerly existed in the Church of England until their systematic destruction from the 1960’s onwards, the eventual corruption of its Priesthood, and pursuit of its "social" agenda, rather than its historic spiritual mission.' The grammarian in us notes their 'which continue' should be 'that continue' (it is a restrictive clause), but the loyal parishioner in us would rather stick with our evolving church than create a new one.

The world changes, as do its traditions. For example, most adults under the age of 25 cannot execute a traditional signature on a legal document, because they were never taught how. Most of those we've discussed this with have no interest in developing a legal signature, mumbling something about '' or perhaps pointing to the fingerprint reader on their mobile phone as being an adequate new tradition.

Christ is eternal. The traditions by which we worship him do evolve. The Feast of Christ the King is 90 years old this year. Should we start discussing whether to set it aside and move on? Probably not.

See you next week, on the First Sunday of Advent, the first day of the new church year.

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22 November 2015

*That was two years after the founding of the short-lived Biograph Theatre in Washington DC.

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