I'm thinking of a small-town church in upstate New York. They'd had a rector in that church for over thirty-five years. He was loved by the church and the community. After he retired, he was replaced by a young priest. It was his first church; he had a great desire to do well. He had been at the church several weeks when he began to perceive that the people were upset at him. He was troubled.
Eventually he called aside one of the lay leaders of the church and said, "I don't know what's wrong, but I have a feeling that there's something wrong."
The man said, "Well, Father, that's true. I hate to say it, but it's the way you do the Communion service."
"The way I do the Communion service? What do you mean?"
"Well, it's not so much what you do as what you leave out."
"I don't think I leave out anything from the Communion service."
"Oh yes, you do. Just before our previous rector administered the chalice and wine to the people, he'd always go over and touch the radiator. And, then, he would--"
"Touch the radiator? I never heard of that liturgical tradition."
So the younger man called the former rector. He said, "I haven't even been here a month, and I'm in trouble."
"In trouble? Why?"
"Well, it's something to do with touching the radiator. Could that be possible? Did you do that?"
"Oh yes, I did. Always before I administered the chalice to the people, I touched the radiator to discharge the static electricity so I wouldn't shock them."
For over thirty-five years, the untutored people of his congregation had thought that was a part of the holy tradition. I have to tell you that church has now gained the name, "The Church of the Holy Radiator."
That's a ludicrous example, but often it's nothing more profound than that. Traditions get started, and people endure traditions for a long time. They mix it up with practical obedience to the living God.
Terry Fullam, "Worship: What We're Doing, and Why,"