From the Rector – Column 6

October 24, 2019

Dear friends, 

We had quite an experiment on Sunday! Not only were we downstairs in the Great Hall, we had chairs to sit in (instead of pews), a semi-circular arrangement of seating around the altar, and prayers and hymns were projected on screens instead of having a bulletin. We tried lots of new things at once and again got wonderful feedback from all of you. We received 60 comment cards, the largest number so far! Thank you!

Thanks for bearing with our technical difficulties. A few side notes about the two issues we received a large number of comments about: 

  • Several people noted the portable keyboard doesn’t sound as good as regular piano or organ. Thanks for bearing with the less than perfect instrumentation – we know it’s an issue but obviously can’t move the piano or organ downstairs. We are working to see if we can hook the keyboard up to the Great Hall sound system speakers instead of a portable speaker for the November experiment. We are very blessed that Murray Daniels kindly lent his personal keyboard and speakers for this experiment. Buying a good quality keyboard for outdoor or special services might be something to consider as we look to improving our overall worship space and sound. 
  • Likewise, we know the sightlines to the screens were not good and many people in the back had their view blocked by the heads in front of them. Obviously the screens would be higher in an actual worship space. Also, apologies for the type size, lack of musical notation, and all the other imperfections in the PowerPoint slides. Over time we’d learn how to do this better but this was a one-time experiment. Thank you for bearing with these technical glitches. 
  • On the positive side, several people noted that our newer and well-designed sound system in the Great Hall is of better quality than the older sound system upstairs. Updating the upstairs sound system may well be something we want to consider for any worship space renovation. 

That being said, here was the reaction to the major things we were experimenting with: 

The layout of curved rows of seating was “intimate” and “community-oriented”

  • Twenty-five people preferred or felt positive about this seating arrangement.
  • Four people did not care for it and preferred a more traditional arrangement.
  • The most commonly used word was “intimate”; twelve different people used this word to describe how it felt.
  • Other comments included “more participatory,” “connectedness”,  “community feeling” and “not so isolated from each other”.
  • One interesting observation was that “being closer made it easier for me to see others as people I could imagine getting to know and even become friends with.”
  • Choir members, in particular, seemed to enjoy feeling closer to the main body of the congregation. 
  • However, another helpful observation was that the sense of intimacy is somewhat inversely proportional to the space feeling sacred and holy. Although it felt more community-oriented, to several people it felt less God-oriented. One person said “We could be talking about any subject. There’s no sense of mystery.” 

These are helpful thoughts to keep in mind as we seek to create a worship environment that can be both welcoming and intimate and feel like sacred space. 

There were mixed reviews on the screens:

While the seating arrangement may have been fairly popular, there was no strong consensus about the screens.

  • Twenty-five people liked them,
  • eleven really didn’t like them,
  • and seven had a mixed review. The words “love” and “hate” appeared more in these comments than on any other topic. 
  • Those who felt positively about them appreciated “not having to juggle bulletin and hymnal” and the fact that “everyone was looking up and not down”.
  • Several noted, “when I went up for communion I could still participate in singing since the words were on the screen”.
  • Choir members shared that the congregational singing was louder and more engaged because people were not looking down at their hymnals.
  • Others said that we “saved some trees” by “going paperless” and that “artwork enhanced the message.” 

Those who did not like the screens explained that this was because they “detract from the spiritual feeling of church for me. It’s more like a corporate meeting.” Another person offered that “we have enough screens in all other aspects of daily life.” Another important point was that they “made it hard to help children follow along” by guiding a child through the bulletin.  

Several said they could see having screens in a remodeled church for occasional use, and for non-worship events such as a lecture or musical performance, but would not want us to use them on a weekly basis or to abandon bulletins. 

One interesting aspect to the feedback was that Redeemerites are very musical – a surprising number of people commented that they like to be able to have full musical notation (which is not easy to do on a screen) so they can sing the harmony or bass clef. 

Pews preferred over chairs

If people generally liked the layout of seating and had mixed feelings about the screens, the feedback on the chairs was decidedly less positive. Twenty-three people said they preferred pews, while five thought the chairs were more comfortable. 

  • Pews were seen as being “more communal” and “less like work or school”.
  • The chairs were also sometimes challenging for parents with young children. Children unintentionally pushed the chairs so that they accidentally bumped into others, and had a hard time laying on laps.
  • One person said “I missed being able to spread out or ‘sidle up’” A chair is confining.” 
  • Those who liked the chairs simply said they were more comfortable. 

Two specific issues came up with the use of chairs that I did not expect.

  • One was that there was no place to put coats and purses! Several said they had trouble tripping over things on the floor when going up for communion.
  • Secondly, it turns out that kneeling is very important to our congregation and a large number of people missed having kneelers.

This reminded me of some feedback about the screens – that it’s hard to bow your head in prayer while having to look at a screen. It was interesting to note how prayer postures are important to people’s worship experience. 

In sum, we got a ton of great data from this week’s experiment that will really help us as we think about the future. Thank you for participating and sharing your feedback! This worship experiment will be repeated at the parish retreat at Barbara Harris Camp in New Hampshire. In our Sunday worship at camp, we will also use screens, be in a horseshoe type layout, and sit in chairs. So keep the feedback coming!

Worship at Redeemers this Sunday will be normal (no experiments) with Rev. Frank Fornaro presiding at both services. 

Our next Worship Space Experiment will be November 17 and 24 – more on that in next week’s letter.  

I hope to see most of you at camp this weekend, and for those who are not going, we are united in prayer even when we are apart. 

Peace and blessings,