September 12, 2019
After my column last week on the pressing renovation issues in our sanctuary, you are probably wondering “so what’s happening this fall and what are these Worship Space Experiments I am hearing about?”
In the spring, as we anticipated how to have this conversation, the Worship Committee suggested visiting other churches to learn from them, then trying some experiments in our own space to get a feel for what is possible (or impossible). That seemed like a great idea so the vestry appointed the Worship Space Renovation Discussion Team (which we’re calling the WSRD Team) to carry that out.
Over the summer, members of the WSRD Team and Organ Committee visited many churches in our area that have a good sanctuary space, an interesting organ (both pipe and electronic) or that have done recent renovations. They took many photos and notes on what has worked and not worked, and what looks worth exploring. They brought all these ideas back to a meeting in August, where we talked through what they had seen and added those ideas to the others that have been discussed in recent months. Then, the Worship Committee met in late August to take those ideas and create some ways for us to experience them, so we can rule out or rule in the possibilities.
For example, one thing we’ve been hearing from the acoustical engineer and organ experts consulted by the Organ Committee is that to really be able to hear the choir and organ, they should be on the central axis of the worship space. Right now they are not. But we could move the choir and set up portable speakers for an electronic keyboard for a Sunday or two to hear what that sounds like and what it feels like to worship with the choir in another location. There’s no cost to trying it out and then we get helpful feedback from congregation members on how they experienced the sound.
Another example: many folks have expressed the wish that our altar was in a more central location, where the children could gather more easily around it, people could feel closer to God’s Table, and we would have the experience of truly being gathered around as a community. But, at the same time, we’ve heard feedback from other congregations that a central altar makes it hard to see and hear the worship leaders clearly, and some people see only the backs of the clergy. We can pretty easily get a read on these issues if we try it out for a Sunday or two. Again, this is a low-cost, not too hard way to figure out if this is an idea worth pursuing or something we can rule out and not spend more time and effort debating. (For this, we probably could not do it upstairs in the sanctuary but could set it up downstairs and worship in our beautifully renovated Great Hall for one Sunday.)
Here is our current schedule of Worship Space Experiments. Each experiment will be done twice to get the maximum number of people participating.
September 22 & 29:
The choir will be in the balcony (on the central axis) and musical accompaniment will be played on an electronic keyboard with speakers also in the balcony, to simulate a balcony-located organ. Because many have suggested making the chancel into a separate chapel, there will be a visible barrier in front of the chancel area to simulate a wall at the top of the steps. The altar will be closer to the congregation, at the bottom of the steps. The clergy and acolytes will sit on the same level as the congregation. Many thanks to Murray Daniels, Bernadette Colley, Susan Dresley, and Bill Vogele for implementing this experiment.
October 20 at Redeemer and October 27 at Barbara Harris Camp Retreat:
On October 20, we will worship in the Great Hall so that we can set up “church in the round” with a central altar. As many people have suggested having screens and technology in a renovated sanctuary, we will also experiment with having the bulletin text and music on the screens instead of on paper. We will do this experiment again on October 27 at the Camp. The October 27 service at Redeemer will be normal (not an experiment) since we will have guest clergy. Many thanks to Janet and Chris Needham, Connie Parrish, Bill Vogele, and Randy Bowlby for implementing this experiment.
November 17 and 24:
The Worship Committee has proposed moving our pews for this experiment so that the altar is on the side wall (under the windows) and the congregation faces the Memorial Garden. We are working with our property folks to see if this is a viable idea or not (moving the pews is not a simple task). We’re also exploring options for digitally modeling this idea on a computer screen instead if moving pews is not possible. So stay tuned for more details as we get closer to November! Many thanks to Steve Burns and Lee Noel Chase for helping us explore possibilities for this experiment.
To those who are thinking: “I’ll just skip church those Sundays.”:
Please, please don’t!
Firstly, negative feedback is crucially important. Thomas Edison had to create 1,000 failed lightbulbs before he made one that worked. Not every experiment will work and failure is part of the process. Helping us to rule something out is incredibly valuable feedback.
Secondly, please keep in mind that the words and music of the service will be EXACTLY the same as normal. Only the furniture is moving. Our prayers and hymns remain what they always are. Having the choir in a different place may be disorienting, but saying our familiar prayers together will ground and center us.
To do this, we need your feedback! It’s actually essential and the whole reason for the experiments. Each Sunday of “experimentation,” there will be note cards and pencils in the pew for you to write feedback on. Members of the WSRD Team will collect these after the service. Also, during the adult forums immediately after the experiments, we’ll set aside some time in the beginning to get your verbal feedback. One forum, on November 24, will be focused on reflecting on the Worship Space Experiments and talking over what we’ve learned. Lastly, there will be an online survey shared in November.
I’m so grateful to all the members of our parish who have put so much time and effort into researching, brainstorming, and implementing these experiments. I’m also excited to find out what we’ll learn.