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Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Journey of a Congregation
The church that I pastor is a very small Presbyterian congregation in South Minneapolis. So much is happening in the life of our congregation and we are learning how to understand and tell our story. This is one attempt to put words to part of our unfolding journey.
Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church has been in a period of radical reflection and change over the past year. We determined to allow ourselves to break free from the ruts of habit while honoring our traditions, becoming open to new experiences and possibilities. We began by striving to put language and actions to the concepts and values that had been bubbling up within the congregation for years.
The three central practices that we have named and are using to guide us as we seek to meet God in our humanity are:
Worship - encountering the Triune God as we gather in community to explore who God is and what God is up to in scripture, our lives and the world around us.
Hospitality - living in God’s abundant welcome and welcoming others in authenticity and mutuality.
and Sabbath - practicing God’s rhythm of work and renewing rest.
Desiring to live authentic lives before and with God, we are weaving worship, hospitality and Sabbath into our practice as a congregation and finding that we are being transformed in the process.
Worship has been central to our identity, and a source of delight for us for a long time. Our exploration last year involved visiting very different congregations to experience different styles of worship, and spending an evening with local artists and musicians (from outside our congregation) to brainstorm with us how music and art function in worship, and how we could create authentic and creative experiences in worship and community. We held long conversations about what we believe worship to be and how we live that out in our context. Because we see isolation, brokenness, and lack of belonging as prominent experiences in the lives of people today, we desire that our worship extend a different kind of invitation, to participate in a place where all come to be real, to share pain and suffering, to rejoice together and hold one another in prayer. We want to seek faith through doubt, hope through despair, and make worship a space for God to encounter us in our humanity.
Hospitality is also central to who we are and who we wish to be. While we are limited in finances and “manpower,” we have our physical space and our very selves to share. We opened up a room in our basement to an artist in residence for studio space, begun offering our building more widely for community use (including helping to start a neighborhood job networking group), and we relandscaped our front yard to be a place of peace and welcome for the community. We also began exploring how hospitality challenges us to be radically open to one another and to God, including hosting Rev. Nanette Sawyer, author of Hospitality, the Sacred Art and artist Shawna Bowman who explored the concept with us in a worship service and a mural. Just recently, the Rev. Dr. Theresa Latini from Luther Seminary joined us as our Parish Associate, to help us explore more fully in all aspects of our congregational life, how to deepen our hospitality and openness to God, each other and the world.
Sabbath rest was an intriguing concept to us. We began exploring this as a congregation, including reading Wayne Muller’s book, Sabbath together, and spending a day with the Sisters of St. Francis at “Sabbath House” for a retreat focused around the concept of Sabbath. Sabbath means setting aside time intentionally for rest, community, celebration, reflection, gratitude… By deliberately honoring time spent in being rather than doing, we move into a way of facing the world and our lives with eyes open and spirits ready. We wondered what it would look like if we incorporated intentional Sabbath rest into our rhythm as a community.
Through session meetings reformatted around worship, and a session retreat of prayer and exploration, then a series of small group and whole congregation meetings, we decided to radically alter our worship schedule. We decided to gather for worship first and third Sundays in the manner we were accustomed to. Second and fourth weekends we would gather on Saturday evening, which would shape a worship service to be a doorway into Sunday as a Day of Rest – with no Sunday service but instead exploring worship and faith in a variety of ways in our own lives. Finally, we determined that fifth Sundays were to be somehow beyond ourselves, for others, connected to the larger community. There was an opening to lead worship for fifth Sunday chapel services at St. Joseph’s Home for children just up the block from us – an emergency shelter and long term rehabilitation center – (chapel there is usually done by pastors volunteering from churches around the cities), and we arranged for our whole congregation to come and worship there with the children as our 5th Sunday worship service.
This pattern has opened the door to more thoughtfully and intentionally create worship experiences using music, art, and practices drawn from a variety of Christian traditions (such as lectio divina, centering prayer, silence, a labyrinth, etc). It has made us more deliberate and reflective about our connections to others and God's presence in our own lives. We are excited about how this is shaping us, and are continuing to explore how to form our services of worship as experiences of deep hospitality – creating a worship environment and liturgy that embrace the whole person and creatively meet the God who enters in and brings life out of death.
We have been on this schedule since September 2009, and have found it to be incredibly enriching and challenging, forcing us to be intentional about worship and community, and to live into the concepts we’ve embraced both communally and individually. We are on an incredible journey, and look forward to what God has in store for us in 2010!
Come to our Open House on February 10 to see some of the changes going on at LNPC!
(The image above has captured our imagination through this process and become a symbol for our deepening life in the areas of worship, hospitality and Sabbath. It is called Mother Root, by Jan Richardson, and is used with permission. See her work at www.janrichardsonimages.com)
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