Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Transitional Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
I knew I was in trouble at the 8:30 worship service at Webster Groves because it began with fellowship and then moved into worship. The service is held in the fellowship hall, and not the sanctuary. The people are able to go back and forth to the food table and bring their muffin and coffee to the worship space. On this Sunday, the chairs are in a semi-circle around an area with a small podium. In back of the speaker’s area, is an elevated stage with a full band, along with spotlights and backlit banners. The dropdown screen displays much of the liturgy, including the music. I still look into the bulletin out of habit, only to see announcements and events that are going on at the church in the upcoming week.
What I loved most about the space is the flexibility. I can imagine different ways of experiencing preaching, communion, baptism, and music. I see different ways in which the chairs are arranged because the sermon is a dramatic expression. I not only envision praise music, but blue grass, jazz, and gospel.
According to Ed Zumwinkle, the pastor at Webster Groves, the 8:30 service developed some 20 years ago while the sanctuary was being renovated. Sunday morning service was moved into the fellowship hall. People became less formal, and the tight space created more intimacy. People began to dress differently; dismissing coats and ties and wearing jeans and fleece. When the renovation was completed, and the people returned to the sanctuary, some desired the informality and intimacy that had been created. The 8:30 service was birthed.
I spoke with a couple as I exited the church who were visitors and have been coming to Webster for over a year. They said they have never been to service in the sanctuary, and that this service fits them just right.
8:30 service is an example of space changing us. We are influenced by our environment. Space gives permission and opportunity to experience God differently. For some, this becomes a connectional space that is less cluttered, and more focused. And time matters too. Some people enjoy worshiping early. Others like the routine of a 10:00 or 11:00 service.
Are there spaces in your building that can be used to usher in a different way of experiencing God? Are you already doing alternative worship experiences, along with a traditional program? I would like to hear how it is going.
Rev. Craig Howard