Ritual Excellence: Best Practices for Leading and Planning Liturgy

by James W. Farwell

“Like the careful liturgical planning and the bodily movement in presiding that James Farwell so eloquently recommends, this book is elegant, collected, dignified, and befitting the festal celebration of Sunday. Marked by profound theology and deep humanity, the book also has moments of sharp humor. While the liturgical resources it helps to curate are Episcopalian, clearly and thoroughly presented in their current form, the spirit here is in every sense ecumenical. Farwell’s vision of best practices in ritual can help us all.”

-Gordon Lathrop
Professor of Liturgy Emeritus, United Lutheran Seminary, and Past President, Societas Liturgica

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About the Book

Grounded in Christian liturgical theology and how ritual forms the people who practice it, this book offers the principles at work in good liturgical practice, guidance for making liturgical choices, and best practices in leading and presiding over liturgical worship. Topics include curating liturgy and leading with excellence, principles for liturgical planning and presiding, and best practices for the Eucharist and Baptism. The author draws on his wide-ranging work in ritual theory to provide a practical guide that clergy and lay leaders in the Episcopal Church will find to be an essential resource. Those in other denominations will also find this book to be a useful reference in standard setting.


“If you like liturgy, lead liturgy, teach liturgy, are part of liturgy, want to know more about liturgy—read this book! The more choices we are given, the more we need to know about ritual, liturgy, the liturgical year, the ‘sacred geography of liturgy,’ leadership, delegation, and knowing ‘in our bones’ the ordo of parish liturgy to draw on the vast array of official resources now available to us. For those responsible for the cure of souls and often isolated from academic liturgical conversations, this book will be extremely helpful in making informed and pastoral decisions regarding the many choices available for preparing Sundays in the parish.”

Lizette Larson-Miller, Past President, International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, and Canon Precentor, Diocese of Huron

“Ritual Excellence is a must-read for all involved in planning and leading worship. ‘The primary act of pastoral care,’ as Farwell names it, involves knowing in our bones the structure and pace of the liturgy, composed of physical actions and not only words: We feel its rhythm and sequence, fixed and variable, in a community event that, like play, is an end in itself as we enact the reconciliation of God and all creation through Paschal connection between Baptism and Eucharist every Sunday.”

Juan M. C. Oliver, former Custodian of the Book of Common Prayer

Publication Details 

Seabury Books
(January 24, 2023)
208 pages
ISBN-13: ‎

About the Author

JAMES FARWELL is Professor of Theology and Liturgy and Director of Anglican Studies at Virginia Theological Seminary, with years of parish and cathedral ministry in addition to his work in the academy. He is the author of This is the Night: Suffering, Salvation, and the Liturgies of Holy Week (T&T Clark 2005); The Liturgy Explained (2nd ed. Morehouse 2013); and numerous book chapters and journal articles in theology, liturgy, and comparative studies. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

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Faculty Scholarship at VTS

Virginia Theological Seminary is the flagship seminary of the Episcopal Church. Founded in 1823, VTS faculty prepare leaders from around the world for both ordained and lay service in the Church. Our faculty are a diverse community of scholars who are committed to excellence in teaching and research. Through publications, public speaking, and travel, faculty engage with the wider Church and world, while shaping the next generation of leaders.

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