To the churches of Medina and Streeter in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace and Peace to you.
Over the last few months we have been exploring what it means to have a vital congregation/parish and to discover hope for our future. As I write to you this month, I do so at the beginning of the season of Hope, which is quite fitting seeing as though the focus for this month is the chapter about building community and hope from our book of focus Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations by David Poling-Goldenne and L. Shannon Jung.
When I think of the main setting in which the mission of the church gets carried out, there is one particular setting that raises above all others. If you were to ask yourself in what way does the church mainly go about being the church, I am sure that this one setting would come to your mind as well. Yes, you guessed it: worship. When we gather for worship it is the time when the most people of our church community come together to carry out our mission as God’s shepherds doing God’s work daily. This really should not come as any surprise since as this chapter of the book points out in various places, for most if not all churches worship is a high priority for the people’s life together (36), since it is the time when the greatest number of people gather for Christian Education (39), and to be lifted up in spirit and encouraged on their journey of faith (40).
As I read through this Chapter about Worship as a way to Build Community and Hope in vital rural congregations I could not help but reflect on our own worship practices here in Streeter and Medina. I could not help but read our own congregations into the stories that were shared in this chapter. There was one statement made that particularly made me say to myself, “Hey, that is us!” The statement reads, “Almost all of the congregations in the research study offer worship services patterned on the rubrics of their denomination’s primary hymnal, but often with a great deal of freedom in the choices of liturgy and song” (37). If you were to compare our worship service with that of the services laid out in our hymnals you would find a great deal of similarity. But you will also find that as the seasons of the church year change, so does the language of our liturgy. We do this to ensure that our worship remains accessible to people who come to worship as well as keeping our worship services alive and full of life.
The truth is when it comes to people looking for a primary place for spiritual growth, the worship service is what the deciding factor is often. Now some churches will go to great extents to make sure that they have the best worship services around, by offering the best music, the best sermons, and the most entertaining worship experience.
However, according to Poling-Goldenne and Jung offering the best of everything is not what people are looking for. They instead argue that “the key is neither style nor content, but instead doing whatever they do well and with feeling” (37). This is to say that a church does not need to reinvent the way they worship in order to be a vital congregation, but instead need to take a look at how they worship, how the people in the pews like to worship, and work at doing that worship well and full of feeling. Which, to toot our own horn a bit, I believe is what we do in Medina and Streeter.
But this is not to say that we should rely on the fact that we are doing this well now and stop putting the effort into it. The way in which we worship should be full of life, as well as life giving, which will continue to happen as we make our worship a priority in our community. One of the best ways to make sure this happens is to get people involved, who have a passion for what happens in church on a Sunday morning, in order to plan out what our worship looks like. If this is something that you are passionate about please come talk to me.
Churches in every community, especially rural communities, are places that act as “lighthouses of home in their communities” (40), and “creating hope appears to be a major priority” (41) for those churches that desire to be vital. They create this hope by being a place that is “warm, family-like, informal, spontaneous, relational, and fun” (36-37). Simply put they are welcoming of all people, “becoming a ‘family’ to those who are searching for connections and friends” (41). This is primarily done through the churches worship experience.
While this is something that I believe our church communities are already doing well, it is important that we are diligent in making sure that we continue to make our worship experience a high priority, “making worship the best that it can be within the realities and limits of [our] setting” (43). A time and a place in which hope can be built and a vital community can be discovered and strengthened.
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all during this Advent season of Hope, Joy, Love, and Peace!