Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pastor Erik--June 2010

Worship Space Transformation 2010: What we’ve learned so far

The seasons of Lent and Easter have drawn to a close, and we find ourselves once again in the long “Season after Pentecost” also known as “Ordinary Time.”  This spring has brought many changes to the physical layout of our worship space as we embodied the “wandering in the wilderness” with dramatic art, interactive worship, and changes to our seating. It’s been a time of experimentation and conversation, of challenge and pain, of joy and new beginnings.  Our worship team has never worked harder or taken its task to proclaim the Gospel more seriously.  And it’s been awfully fun.  Along the way we’ve learned some things that I thought I’d share:

1.      The consistent “sameness” and “reverence” of our sanctuary is an extremely important and emotional issue for many in our congregation.  For some, to have any seating other than pews is “not Lutheran.”  For others, the use of a table instead of the large altar means we’ve “removed the presence of God from the sanctuary.”  Some remember friends and family members making the pews by hand, and see the use of chairs not only as a loss of these beloved items, but of a “going backwards” since getting pews was a big milestone for our community.  Several people have made threats to leave or withhold giving if things aren’t put back exactly the way they were, and a few have already chosen to leave our community because we’d do such a thing even temporarily. 
2.      The “stuff” of our worship life is clearly very important, and to loose or change even seemingly minor things such as furniture arrangement can be cause for pain and grieving. As we’ve listened to the stories of those most upset, we’ve seen that these changes have uncovered some fear that our whole existence as a congregation might be slipping away. And this is not unfounded (see the financial info later in this newsletter).
3.      At the same time, many in our congregation are experiencing a whole new dimension to worship and life in Christian community.  We’ve heard comments like “I’ve never been to such a powerful worship experience” and “the art and interaction brought a whole new meaning to the Bible story that I’d never thought of before.”  A first time visitor remarked “I sat down in the chairs, looked around, and thought ‘They’ve arranged it like this for a reason, and I can’t wait to figure out what it all means.’”  Worship planning participation is at an all time high—and nearly everyone in the congregation has had a hand in some element of creating worship through participating in the art, to interactive stations in worship, to being part of the conversation during the sermon time.   The team that led our ministry review in March (which included pastors from our area, our synod, and the ELCA Churchwide organization) called the worship they attended “creative, exciting and powerful. It included ways of speaking that would appeal to new people. The music was appealing, and the artistic talents were evident and beautiful.”
4.      Some in our community are still struggling with the shared leadership and participatory decision making model we have adopted.  Some expect the pastor or worship team leader to “make decisions” about how things ought to be (which everyone else is to follow) and others believe every decision should be taken to vote before the whole congregation.  The “get involved” model and consensus based decisions are tough for some, and take more effort than some are interested in giving for the long haul.  Some in our community struggle to feel heard when the worship team makes decisions that go against what they think ought to be done.  But we’ve done our best to listen, to honor objections and dissenting opinions, and to take all comments seriously. We’ve sought to compromise and adjust where we can, without undermining the process of prayer, Bible study, and discernment that goes into making worship decisions.  Everyone is welcome and encouraged to be part of the worship planning process and team. The team, not simply the leaders, are the ones who are making these decisions so if you’d like some influence, roll up your sleeves, show up to a meeting, and we’d love to have you help out.
5.      Like any experiment, some things didn’t go as planned or weren’t as great as we thought they might be.  The table in the center was a great focus (if you didn’t look at its spindly legs), but I ended up doing a little twirling dance during communion so my back wouldn’t be to some people the whole time.  It was hard to figure out where to walk for communion—and we kept changing the traffic flow (and it didn’t help much!) The art that was so fun to add and build up during Lent, became kind of a cluttered jumble by the end of Easter.  Too much stuff!  The spring colors representing new life that graced our ceiling kind of gave off a more “circus tent” feeling than we’d imagined.  And sitting in the circle, while designed to make us feel like one community together, actually felt segmented and like we were in separate quadrants.  Six weeks of really deep reflective conversation in small groups during the sermon was probably too much—especially since for some in our community ANY reflective conversation in small groups is too much.  And we also learned that while chairs may help things be more flexible, pews are actually a better sort of seating for many in our congregation (young and old—especially if you are short or have back problems).
6.      We are beginning to find the balance of traditional and creative that works for our community.  It’s also a balance of comforting and challenging, and of individual and community experience.  Some in our community see worship and Christian life as purely about maintaining tradition or bringing comfort or being “for me”—so introducing creativity, challenge, and “for us/for others” is a bit of a stretch.  Some are not interested in being stretched in this way, and have chosen to find other communities in which to worship.  The question of how we proclaim the “old, old story” in ways that people (in 5 generations) can connect to isn’t an easy one, and it takes some experimenting to get it right.  But we’re on our way.

Here's what to expect this summer (starting May 30th):

·        We'll be using our “Shorts” liturgy (short service, wear shorts) but upstairs this year.  We think we've got enough AC to keep us comfortable upstairs.
·        We will be facing parking lot side of our sanctuary as a way of expressing God's call to turn from ourselves and towards God's world.  We'll be praying for our neighbors.
·        The center row of seating will be pews, with chairs on the sides, all facing the same direction (towards the pulpit and communion table)
·        Communion will be at the rail (kneeling if you desire) and the art area will have a calming (and uncluttered) Baptismal theme.  The Baptismal font will be part of this, and the Harold Balazs cross will hang in its usual place. 
·        There will be a kids table off to the side so most of our kids can stay with us through the service (but we’ll still have a nursery attendant for the wiggly ones). 
·        We are not planning any extra interactive or conversation-based elements (though don't forget the whole liturgy is meant to be interactive!). 

Join us this Summer for a “Season of Listening”

The Bethlehem Lutheran Transformation Team will be hosting a series of conversations about where we feel like God is calling our community. We will do this in two ways: with groups in members homes and one on one with individuals.  We’re calling this a “Season of Listening” because we want to deeply listen to one another so we can hear the stories and values of everyone in our community. Through this process we’ll look for ways to connect those values in our life together, and encourage one another to truly live out what we value in the world.  All so that we can better hear God’s call for our life and ministry together.

There will be four gatherings in homes throughout the summer, two in June and two in July. There will be several homes throughout town meeting on the same night and all the groups that night will be talking about the same topics—but each week’s gathering will be different.  You will receive an invitation to the first gathering (which will be near where you live) and we hope that everyone will attend all of them, but at least one per month.  In August we will have an event that brings together all that we have heard—and hopefully by then we will have a clearer sense of who we are, what we have, and what significant things God is calling us to do. 

Mark your calendars for: 7:00-8:30pm on June 16th & 30th, and July 14th &28th. More info will be coming soon.

Talk to Pastor Erik or any member of the Transformation Team if you have any questions.

Some Financial Stewardship Information to Ponder and Pray About

Comparing BLC Jan-March 2009 to Jan-March 2010
32 families decreased giving (22 families by more than 50%)
15 families increased giving      
6 families gave in Jan/Feb but gave $0 in March/April

2009: 56 giving families = $37,087
2010: 50 giving families = $30,588  (lost 12 added 6)

That is a difference of $6,529 or $1,632 per month.

That puts on track to have spent $13,225 of our endowment reserves (which are currently around $50,000) by end of the year. This is very close to what we predicted in the budget we passed in January. If we weren't sharing our building we would be on track to spend $33,025 of those funds.

We’ll have some decisions to make this summer about what God is calling us to do with these gifts—so keep your eyes open for discussion meetings.  God shows the way!