September's Sunday worship experiences began in August with Back to School Sunday at Trinity Church, Cottam. It was lovely to be in a church where I am older than most people there! This is a church plant onto a new housing estate and has developed amongst the young families that have moved into the area - they actually want some older people to provide experienced Christian witness and to be more available than many of the current members! This was a pleasant act of worship - preparing, dedicating acknowledging people as they began, returned, changed school. It was very child friendly and involved many of the young people who were there. It perhaps lacked depth and I would hope that is to be found over time. However, it also lacked any sense of corporate worship - largely because people either didn't know, or more likely just didn't feel comfortable singing, so they mumbled along and for me, that misses the point of corporate singing. I was surprised that there was nothing creative about the use of space and the approach to worship, which was essentially our standard hymn sandwich made accessible to children set out in straight lines facing the screen. Interestingly, this was there first service back in the school hall after using the Manse for August - I wonder what parts of the intimacy and informality they enjoyed squeezing into the Manse could be transferred to the school hall. This is a church doing some wonderful work, starting from scratch they have come a long way in a short time, I look forward to hearing where the adventure takes them in future whilst hoping for an up to date website!
The following week I joined Alkrington & Providence for their new experiment. A 9.45am service aimed at children and their parents which then moved into the main church at 10.30am, making space for those at the early service to leave at 10.45. We started with a song, the beginning of the Abram story, some interactive input about journeys and still had time for some creative tables and a discussion group, before another song and 10 minutes break so that Janet could move the projector into church and get herself into "ordinary church" mode. The main service began with hymn, prayer and introduced the whole congregation to the story of Abram before repeating one of the songs some had sung earlier and blessing those who were now leaving. The worship continued with a standard hymn, sermon, prayer format. It is an interesting experiment and I thought it worked well, the children and adults were well engaged and there was some good input and somehow time for the beginnings of a meaningful adult discussion. The church also seem to be aware of some of the down sides - there is a need for shared responsibility in the leading of worship (there was an assumption that this would be in the early service leaving Janet free to concentrate on the main service - I don't see why that always has to be the way, but perhaps a different person and a second projector is needed to begin the main service giving the main leader of worship space to prepare herself and be released from the technical concerns of setting up a projector as most of the congregation arrive.) The other difficulty is where the parents will get their input from if they leave with their children, what children are to do if a parent does want to stay for the sermon et.al. and what connection there is between those who just come for the early church and the bulk of the congregation. As I say, much of this was within the thoughts of those who have instigated this way of working and with God's blessing they will resolve these issues.
The next week took me to Edgeley Road, Stockport. (No Website) The URC have recently moved in with the Methodists and developed their Big Church Little Church idea into InaSpace. I was told it began at 10am with breakfast and a read of the papers - sounded like a good idea to me, unfortunatley the Guard Steward didn't agree and I was told in no uncertain terms that "we start at 10.45" and left standing like a lemon as she realised that someone very important had just arrived (I presume that mornings preacher) and turned to give a lovely warm welcome - perhaps there was something on my shoe :-( Anyway after a pleasant walk around the park - shared by Dad's with push chairs, I tried again and found the InaSpace people far more welcoming and encouraging. they do start with a brew and some toast, but not as early as I was told and not really with the papers. As Conventional church begins in I presume a conventional sort of way a group of adults and children settle down to share what has been happening with them over the summer, greet their visitors (there were three of us) and think about the way the fruits of the spirit impact on their lives. We then split up for various options - a creative space, a discussion space, a quiet space, or join conventional space, coming back together again to see and hear from one another before we were joined by folk coming through for coffee. This is another creative way of working, as a one off visitor I missed any bible input, or any corporate worship (there was a brief thought and prayer in the opening session) but the regulars feel that they get that within the regular pattern and will join conventional church on a regular basis (they were working towards harvest and the creative space was beginning to produce some banners that would be used then). As the Guard Steward so pointedly emphasised their are issues between the main congregation who just don't get it and those who want to work in a different way. I also wondered to what extent the Minister can be involved - at the moment this is a two Minister congregation whilst the two churches are brought together, so there may be flexibility - but it won't always be and it would not be the case for most of us exploring this model - where so much emphasis is put on being the leader of worship for the majority - perhaps that is part of what needs to be changed. I think InaSpace is good way to work - again I hope to hear the way in which it develops in the years ahead (and the promised website would be a good way of advertising to your local community and keeping further away friends informed).
The following week was dump daughter at University day - free at last, singing free at last!
Last Sunday I decided to go and visit my local church - Hebron Pentecostal Church. Hebron has been transformed over the last 5 years, and the Pastor David keeps telling me he doesn't know what he is doing different know to 10 years ago when it seemed such a struggle. I believe that part of what has happened is that David and his leadership team have been persistent and faithful and truly open to the Spirit and to the possibilities that the Spirit brings - including working closely with the likes of me. So I thought it was time to see what they get up to on a Sunday morning - even though David says the music is too loud and he would rather sing some of the old songs! So along I went - and they were closed! Worshipping with Champness Hall from August to October the notice said. So I headed for Champness Hall - but that voice in the back of my head said "Go to West Street" - so in the end it was West Street Baptist Church. I arrived half an hour or so late - as they were drawing to the end of their worship time. It's a style of worship that I can engage with in small doses, so perhaps it was right for me to just be part of the last ten minutes and to sit at the back allowing it to soak over me - and I wasn't alone, most people were sitting, very few were singing - that is left to the band and people are moving and chatting and caring for children and being part of worship without any outward active involvement. On first reflection it wouldn't do in any of my settings - but on further reflection is it any different to the Organ voluntary? They then moved into a Dedication of a baby - in a warm informal manner, good to be part of. The sermon was a straight forward evangelistic message - a bit simplistic in parts, especially in his two line disregard for the whole of science and medicine (quackery) - don't worry about any of that just come to Jesus and all your troubles will go away... - somehow we need to be able to evangelise and honour the God-given knowledge that scientists and medics (western and traditional offer) us. We closed with the altar call, a reminder that the offering had been forgotten and a prayer whilst the basket was passed around - but nothing to send the congregation out to do God's work - just that's it, we've finished, have a coffee!
My thanks to everyone who has welcomed me and invited me and fielded questions - I hope you find these comments encouraging, because I have been encouraged in different ways at each place in which I have worshipped. Every community is seeking their authentic way of worshipping God and doing so in styles that suit their context and people, I've been blessed - I hope God has been as well!
And please pass comment on my comments - we need to learn from one another