Photos of different spaces at TEMC (West Chapel, Chancel, Atrium)

So here’s a wild idea for the new year. I usually resolve to lose weight or spend my time more wisely or take up some hobby that actually takes decades to learn. This far more reasonable. 

What if we worshiped in different spaces?

We have lovely spaces for worship in our building in addition to our magnificent sanctuary. Three of those seem perfect for our early service: the atrium, the west chapel, and the chancel. We do worship in each on special occasions already, but we have not recently moved an entire worship service into a new space. These spaces can all be found and accessed easily enough from our main sanctuary, so folks won’t come in, not see or hear anybody, and leave. And they each give off a different vibe. The atrium’s natural light and bouncy sound are ideal for a certain kind of (less loud) worship. The chancel is space we clergy see often but lay people rarely do, and so you might find yourself mesmerized by the space and its symbols. The west chapel features angels all looking toward an altar decorated by a stag enclosed, a peacock, and a phoenix. These are some more obscure symbols for the resurrected Christ, and therefore all the more beautiful.

So here’s the plan, blessed by our worship committee:

  • December 31: One worship service, at 11am, in our chancel (for us civilians: that’s where the choir usually sits, the elevated space up the stairs under Jesus’ gaze).
  • January 7: Our usual Epiphany two services with communion, both in the sanctuary.
  • January 14: Our 9:15am contemporary service will take place in our atrium; traditional service at 11am as per usual in our sanctuary.
  • January 21: Two services with our guest preacher from Wales, Dr. Iwan Russell-Jones, in our sanctuary.
  • January 28: Our 9:15 contemporary service will be held in our west chapel, with spillover seating on that side of the sanctuary. Traditional service at 11am as per usual in our sanctuary.

“Contemporary” worship was founded as an alternative to “traditional.” We would use guitars and drums rather than organs and choirs. It has been so successful that it has become its own “thing.” Our 9:15 service is as predictable as any other liturgical gathering. But “contemporary” worship’s strength was supposed to be its flexibility, adaptability, its ability to change to suit new interests. Christ never changes, but his people’s worship often does.

Moving our worship location is putting ourselves in the position of our ancient Jewish forebears. The mishkan, or the tabernacle, was a tent that the Israelites carried in the wilderness. It functioned like the temple would later, without all the masonry. The mishkan was God’s own house, where only priests entered at special times to pray and sacrifice on behalf of the whole people. It’s rare in the history of Jewish and Christian people that we settle down comfortably in one place. We can be a ‘church on the move’ again.

The larger goal is to find the flexibility again in our 9:15am gathering. We want to reimagine and re-envision what that time of worship can look like. At its best, contemporary worship aims to be participatory. Far from a concert observed, it is rather a catalyst to lift us all up in praise. I became a Christian influenced by such music (I had to think my way into loving “traditional” worship). It can do amazing things. I would love that service to amaze more often: to have our participants go and invite their friends whether the sermon was any good or not. What we have is good. But as leadership writers often emphasize, “good” is usually the enemy of “great.” 

Will you join me in trying something new in the new year? To be a people on the move, following a God on the move? 

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