A new Sunday experience for the new year

In our ongoing work of envisioning the next years at St Luke, we’ve noticed that people are busy and our time together on Sunday becomes increasingly important.  Does our Sunday experience reflect our mission statement – that we’re a “Christian community extending God’s love and compassion, welcoming all to share the joy of faith in Jesus Christ?”

We’ve worked on enriching the Sunday experience in multiple ways: in forums about worship with guests such as a Dr. Clay Schmit, who spoke of his experiences as a Lutheran teacher at an Evangelical Seminary; and a study of Worship Matters.  

We’ve renewed our worship with new experiences such as an Easter Vigil, RIC Sunday and joint Korean-English service.  

And we’ve developed our music program: I think of the work of Lisa Curtis involving vocalists and instrumentalists of all ages, whether it’s Karl on trombone or Randy on guitar  – matched with the versatility of Bettie Ross and John Magnussen, playing the new organ, the vibes or the spoons (that’s right, straight from the kitchen – you should have seen it!).  At one point many churches only had access to two styles of music: “traditional” hymns with thees and thous, or “contemporary” Christian pop mostly borrowed from Evangelical traditions.  Our repertoire has expanded.  Now, we regularly use a folky “Lord Jesus you shall be my song” from L’arche communities, a Holy Holy from El Salvador.  When we sing Amazing Grace, it may be with irish pipes or in a gospel style.

Joint service with Grace Road

Joint service with Grace Road

Worship is also enriched by presence of people: newcomers as well as long time members.  One of the new members said at a recent dialogue that although she likes the music at both services, what’s most important to her is the presence of the community.

So now, we are planning the next step forward in our Sunday experience, which we plan to start the first Sunday in February: a new schedule with one worship service in place of two.  8:30-9:30 rehearsals.  9:30-10:30 worship.  10:30-11 coffee hour.  10:45-11:30 education.

How did this decision come about?  For the past two Summers, we’ve gone to one 9:30 service, and many people appreciated the experience.  This fall, the church council shared a proposal for a 9:30 service year round, inviting concerns and thoughts through an online survey and by hosting two dialogues.  Council members Suco, Brad, David, Linda, Megan and Sue (with Lisa’s help) did a fantastic job of listening to participants and taking careful notes.  Many members showed great sensitivity to the opinions and feelings of others.  We had a good showing of people who currently attend both 8:30 and 10:45 worship at these dialogues.  Our final poll showed that a clear majority of dialogue participants were in favor of the change.

At the Easter Vigil

So what will be the advantages of doing this?  To briefly state what was in the proposal: First, that we get to be together for worship and fellowship.  Although we are growing slowly, at this point we fit pretty easily in the sanctuary – and it’s good when we can have children, the elderly, young adults, newcomers etc. present together.  Second, since there is general openness to different styles of music, worshipers who enjoy both organ and drums, get both. Third, because when we come together there are more gifts to share – a congregation of our size is stretched thin in providing altar guild, vocalists, coffee hour, and so on for two services.  Instead of using her time to prepare and play a second service, Bettie Ross will focus on organizing and arranging instrumental ensembles for the 9:30 service. And fourth, to free up more of the Sunday morning time for other activities. This way, there’s time not just between services but both before and after worship for meetings, studies, forums, rehearsals, etc…

What will worship be like?  Similar to what we’ve experienced in the Summer.  There will be some organ and percussion at most services.  Lively and meaningful music will be chosen that brings out the theme of the scripture readings.  We might try varying the style by season (more Christmasy during Christmas, folky during Summer, etc…)

It will take some time to grow into this.  St Luke has a long history with two services, and at times the two services have been pretty different from one another.  Some may be in rapture listening to an organ prelude while others just endure it.  But it’s good to be challenged with our differences!  A wonderful scripture reading for us during this time – often heard at weddings, even though it was really written to address Christians learning to worship together  – is from 1st Corinthians: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”

This doesn’t mean we’ll stay with one service for good.  Going to the new schedule and common worship is also a way to be together as we discern God’s call for mission.  At some point it may become clear that it’s time for a new alternative worship or other experience that fits contemporary Woodland Hills: Coffee house worship around tables in the fellowship hall?  Contemplative evening prayer with meditation on scripture?  Something else?

Sanctuary repair / redesign efforts are still also underway!  We have for some time been working on plans to fix the floor and windows, to make the altar area more accessible, to improve the sound system, hide the organ speakers, and generally make that space work better for how we worship.  One good possibility we’ve been talking about is moving the altar down the stairs.  For now – in February – we’ll use the altar where it is. The process has its own blog.  You will see proposed plans soon (along the lines of what we’ve been sharing at annual meetings, etc..).

Blessings! – Pastor Hillesland

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