We’ve shortened our service and moved downstairs for the hot days of July and August—and we’re encouraging our community to feel free to dress comfortably (yes, shorts in church!). Since our regular worship service is shorter this summer, we are offering several other worshipful activity options that people can do before the service, after the service, and during the week. We are calling this “Open Space”—a time to open some space in your life and your heart to experience God and to remember that we don’t just worship God an hour on Sunday mornings, but in many ways and with our whole lives. You are free to choose any of the options, try several, or spend the time in whatever way is most meaningful and helpful for you. The weeks options are available on our website, follow the “Open Space” link at www.BethlehemSpokane.org.
I know that many of you are asking, where on earth does Pastor Erik come up with these crazy ideas that he keeps trying out on us? Most of them (particularly the ones that seem to flop) come out of my own warped imagination. This idea, however, has some interesting roots that I thought I’d share.
Over the past couple of years I’ve been reading and keeping up on a movement in Christianity that has various names, most typically it is referred to as some variation on the “emerging church” or “emergent church” (I happen to like “emerging missional church”). While its hard to pin down exactly what this movement looks like or what it is all about (it’s very postmodern that way) these experimental worshiping communities are finding that the things that they are up to are really resonating with people in their 20s and 30s—the group that is largely absent from churches world wide. And the appeal is not what you might think—gone are rock bands, big screens, and stadium style worship entertainment events. The emerging missional movement is all about authenticity—in worship, in community, in discipleship and it goes about renewing the life of the church by going deeper into our roots. Small groups of Christians throughout the world are reclaiming some of the traditions and rituals of the Christian faith and re-appropriating them to speak in new ways in our context. They are finding small groups with which to gather and pray, to experience God in worship and service, to grow disciples of Jesus and make a difference in the world—and they are doing this more often in places like coffee shops and bars than in sanctuaries. The Community of Taizé is one such example of this, and there are communities cropping up around the world that are seeking to “be church” in new (and yet ancient) ways. The idea for “open space” worship I stole from one of these communities, The Church of the Apostles in Seattle, of which my brother is a member.
The reason I’m encouraging this experiment with us is not to be “hip and trendy” and figure out if we can “attract” more people (in their 20s and 30s or otherwise). In fact, one of the main tenets of the “emerging missional church” is getting away from the “attractional” model of outreach—authentic community is the model instead. As I’ve been reading about and experiencing the worship of these “emergent missional communities,” I’ve seen some real parallels to the sorts of things we have been talking about in Transformation, as well as some deep connections to our Lutheran roots and theology—and things we already do as Lutheran Christians.
Every worship at Bethlehem is meant to help those who are a part of it to encounter God and their neighbor. The entire service is shaped around the Bible lessons of the day and the sacraments of Baptism and Communion—the sermon, hymns, prayers, and the entire liturgy itself is planned and shaped to help all of us experience God through these “means of grace,” that is to say these ways that God communicates to us. Worship in “emerging missional communities” is reclaiming this element of worship that has often been neglected in many Christian communities—both in its “traditional” and “contemporary” forms. The “emerging missional communities” are rediscovering something that we have known all along—that worship is more than just going through the motions of liturgy and it’s more than just a few praise songs and a long sermon. Instead it’s about encountering and being transformed by God revealed to us in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
I hope in the next few weeks that you will try out some of these “unusual” worship elements that are part of this “Open Space” experiment. They are designed to stretch us into thinking about and experiencing worship in new ways and to help bridge the artificial gap between church and “real life.” I’m also really hoping for some feedback—both positive and negative. One of the challenges of many “emerging missional communities” is that they struggle with being intergenerational, the sorts of things that really connect with the younger folks don’t always with the older folks. But my theory is that these experiments are tapping into something deeper than just what’s “hot” at the moment—and I think there’s that multi-generation churches like ours could add something important to this movement. Let me know what you think and if you have any ideas on new elements to try. And thanks for being such gracious guinea pigs!