From the Rector – Column 10

November 21, 2019

Dear friends,

Thank you for participating in the first half of our last major Worship Space Experiment this past Sunday. We’ll be doing the same experiment again next Sunday, November 24, so that we get to reflect on it more deeply and tweak it a bit. Our final Worship Space Experiment, in January, will be in our regular sanctuary with only the choir moving to a different location. 

I’m so grateful for all the engagement in this process, which has helped us learn so much. Your feedback is invaluable. Once again, we got a lot of very helpful insight from the feedback notecards and I want to share it with you. 

Church “in the round”

The main thing we were experimenting with was an “in the round” configuration with the altar in the middle of the congregation. Seventeen people liked this setup, with two remarking that they were “surprised” at how much they liked it. Others said it “makes me feel a part of everyone”, “being able to see the faces of so many others helps nurture our worship community, “loved the intimacy” and “best experimental service yet!”.  The choir members particularly liked being able to be nearer to the rest of the congregation and not being behind the clergy for the entire service. 

Five people did not like church in the round, and four more had mixed feelings. They found it “distracting,” “disorganized”, and “confusing”, and noted that it was hard to figure out where to sit if you came in late and not easy to find the Soft Space for children. In addition, some missed the “orienting features of a traditional nave and altar”. One thoughtful comment was about how increased intimacy comes with a loss of privacy. If someone is having a sad or difficult morning or just wants to have worship as a time to be quiet and share thoughts with God, it’s hard to do when everyone is looking at you. As in previous experiments, we got some food for thought on how to balance community and welcome with a sense of the Holy and a sacred-feeling space. 

Some issues were more about being in the Great Hall than having church in the round. One thing we learned is that the Great Hall is not really large enough for this setup (if we used a space as large as the upstairs Sanctuary for this configuration, it would have been less cramped). Cramming in enough chairs for our congregation was challenging, and we’ll try to tweak that for next week by making aisles narrower and putting in more rows. We’ll also try to find a better place for the Soft Space, which was stuck in a corner at the back where it was hard to see and hear what was going on.  

Clergy with their back to people at Eucharist

No one liked being behind the clergy at the Eucharist, even those who in general liked the church “in the round”. People found it universally less engaging, distracting, and not appropriate. These reflections resonate for me, and also make me want to thank our choir who sit behind the clergy every single Sunday in our current configuration upstairs in the Sanctuary. They like it about as much as the congregation did in this Sunday’s experiment. 

Celebrating with my back to half of the congregation was also strange for me and I didn’t like it. I kept wanting to turn around, but also felt awkward doing so (and probably looked awkward when I tried!). However, it reminded me that until recently (in church years), the clergy always celebrated with their back to the congregation. That’s how all Episcopal churches were configured up until the new Prayer Book was issued in 1979, including Redeemer. Our high altar in the Sanctuary was originally against the wall, and the clergy stood in front of it with their backs to the entire church.  The theology was that the clergy were talking to God on behalf of the people during the Eucharist. In fact, when I was first ordained my congregation had an old chapel in this configuration so I celebrated this way at our weekday Eucharist every week. It was a different time and our Eucharistic theology has definitely changed, but it’s interesting to think about what we think we are doing in worship and during the Eucharist and how that may affect where the furniture goes and who stands where. 

Thanks to our Musicians and Liturgy Team

The choir and our music director, Bernadette Colley, deserve our thanks for dealing with so many different setups for their music throughout these experiments. Murray Daniels was once again instrumental in getting the keyboards set up and connected to the sound system. Thanks also to the Liturgy Team for thinking on their feet and adjusting to unexpected changes. We’re also grateful to this week’s setup crew, Cassie and Randy Bowlby and Joanne Frustaci, for getting all the chairs and furniture in place.