Monday, June 28, 2010

Reflections on Connections

I want to start this post by thanking those at WPC who are responsible for giving me the $75 for Greek School Textbooks. Such a gift is a very generous recognition of the time I spent both leading their youth groups two summers ago and the time I've spent in the Disconnects Band helping to lead their contemporary service for the past year even though I am a member of First Presbyterian Church of Morganton. To have the church acknowledge that they value these gifts is a humbling affirmation, and the support as I continue my Theological Education is very much appreciated.

I was recently invited to preach at the CONNECTIONS Service at Waldensian Presbyterian Church in Valdese, NC. I have been volunteering my time for their 8:30 service over the course of the past year, playing guitar in their praise band.

The service was started, as I understand it, as an outreach to the community which might not always identify with the liturgy of a traditional service. The stand up/sit down/sing/responsive reading/preacher lectures for 20 minutes/go home model doesn't resonate with everyone. However, due to force of habit, a minister who is already running around taking care of everything a church that size needs, and a lack of experience with non-traditional worship styles, the service kind of became a traditional format with a Powerpoint presentation instead of a bulletin and music that wasn't always out of the hymnbook.

Since I have attended and helped lead non-traditional services over the years, I expressed my desire to help organize a service to try and break this rut and help return CONNECTIONS to the outreach vision which is so important to the life of the Church.

So the session approved me as a supply preacher for the CONNECTIONS service, but I wanted to do more than give that twenty minute lecture that is well known and effective in a traditional service. I wanted to start from the ground up and really shake people out of their comfort zones and show them what was possible.

When I took Introduction to Christian Education with Dr. (then Mrs.) Felicia Douglas we covered the importance of arrangement of space in creating the atmosphere of worship, or sunday school, or any number of other uses for a room. When chairs are set up in rows with a podium (or lectern) at the front the room lends itself well towards lectures and note-taking, but does not do so well for discussion. Likewise, arranging people around tables makes for great small group projects, but is lousy for lecturing.

In a traditional service, the room is arranged for a lecture, the people sit in rows, the action of the service happens in the Chancel area. People also have a tendency to sit in the back row. I wanted to avoid that, so I set the room up in a circle. I moved the Disconnects Praise Band from the front, which mirrors a choir in the chancel, to the back. That prevented people from sitting in the "back row." I wanted people to be pushed forward so they would feel connected to the service, and so that they would get involved.

I also used a "worship center" model for the Prayer of Confession. As soon as people entered the room, they were asked to sit at a table and write down a worry that had been holding them back over the course of the previous week. They were then asked to place the post-it on which they had written their worry on the front of the Communion Table. These worries were referenced again in the Prayer of Confession that was read aloud later in the service and were eventually removed and placed in the offering plate, as a symbol of both our confession of trying to control our own lives and giving that control up to God.

The music and liturgy were all pretty basic, I didn't change much from what we normally do in CONNECTIONS. Where the traditional service used the NRSV translation of Psalm 77 for the Call to Worship, I borrowed from The Message paraphrase of that same Psalm.

When it came to the Affirmation of Faith, I did something very different. Rather than having the congregants read the Apostle's Creed, or another familiar excerpt from the Book of Confessions, I instead showed a YouTube video:

But that still didn't cover the actual presentation and explanation of the Word. The scripture passage for the day was Psalm 77. I took that and did a Lectio Divina reading with it, which is actually a devotional tool that is designed to take an hour by itself. I adapted it to an abbreviated discussion based model so that it would work well in a worship format. The congregation participated very well and had an excellent discussion. All I needed to do was moderate the discussion so that those that wanted a turn could all speak, and to encourage those who were a little more timid about sharing what jumped out at them from the text. I didn't take notes during the discussion, so I'm not prepared to share details about it, but I will say that Waldensian Presbyterian Church is full of a variety of views on scripture and are willing to talk about it. I was very pleased with the way the discussion went, especially as it was the first time it had been done. I'd predict that with some practice at this kind of thing it would be harder to limit the discussion to the time allotted than to motivate people to talk.

The service went, in my mind, very well. I would recommend that a Worship Team be formed to help take some of the pressure of planning this service off of the Minister and the Disconnects' Bandleader. Such a team could be tasked with exploring other possible methods of worship and would allow for more preparation time for the service. I would certainly put the Minister and Bandleader on this team, but having others to help them would certainly make both their busy lives easier and the service more vibrant. It has been my pleasure to help lead worship for the past year, and I hope that it continues to grow and provide the outreach ministry to the fullest of WPC's potential.

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