November 17, 2011

Which Way to Worship

As you may have followed from earlier blogs, we at St. Andrew’s, Seattle, are in the midst of launching a brand new Episcopal mission expression in a northeast neighborhood of Seattle. We inherited a fascinating building whose architecture gave the name to our new effort – the Church in the Round Community Center.

We have spent the past seven weeks out in the neighborhood conducting nearly 100 interviews and have identified the following 12 themes that will inform our plan for ministry:

  1. A safe, accessible gathering place/community center (e.g. Coffee House, Performance Space/Theater, pub, weddings, occasional events)
  2. Food and nutrition
  3. Worship/Spirituality/Sacred Space
  4. Youth
  5. Young adults
  6. Young families
  7. Multicultural connections and diversity 
  8. Community services ( jobs, homelessness , community education – ESL, nutrition, etc.) 
  9. Green space
  10. Building up the community (a nexus and synapse for community development)
  11. The Arts
  12. Community Partnerships

In the next three blogs I will be working through our responses to these themes and in this blog I want to talk about Worship/Spirituality/Sacred Space.

It is not surprising that the feedback from the community indicated an interest in this theme. Also, given that our interview team themselves were interviewed, it is natural this topic emerged. In response we have identified some partners who will respond to this area. It is a sign of our commitment to deep ecumenism that we find ourselves working with the Community of the Paraclete monastic order, a Bible Alliance Church of Fiji Islanders, a group of renegade Catholics named Brigid’s Circle led by their self-ordained woman clergy, and an organization called Rites of Passage Journeys whose mission statement includes this statement,

Journeys’ retreats are contemporary versions of historic “vision quests.” It is believed that Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, and St. Joan all spent time alone in nature seeking insight. There are many cultures of the world that continue to practice types of vision quests, such as many Native American Nations, Australian Aborigines, and the Basque people of Northern Spain. Over the last 40 years, many Westerners have begun exploring how to bring rites of passage back into our communities, returning these traditions to their primary place in assuring our cultural health.

With these four groups our new center will offer quite a fascinating range of spiritual experiences.

But what should we offer as our Episcopal expression of worship? Two possibilities have emerged and we are wrestling with whether both can find a home at the Church in the Round.

One is our already established Sunday Evening Taize Eucharist. It is a beautiful service of candlelight, chant, and silence. Average attendance is around 20 with some young adults and a majority of baby boomers. The leaders of this service are discussing a move from our present campus to the new mission center.

The other is to convene a new young-adult led emerging church worshipping community. My young (32) associate rector has wanted to start such a service for some time. Others on the design team are also interested. However, it would need to start from scratch and at present we have precious little staff time available given how much work it will take to organize the community center part of our new project.

So which way to go? Will filling a vacuum with the Taize service suck the air out of the possibility of the other effort? Having gone back and forth in my own mind on this issue for some time, I am now leaning toward a both-and solution. Perhaps we could invite the Taize service to come on board for a six-month period to root a worship service at the new church from day one. At the same time we can convene the young adult planning group for another service that might not necessarily even land on a Sunday schedule.

I have a feeling we are going to be using a lot of both-and thinking in the coming days as the Church in the Round Community Center gets off the ground.