Earlier this month I responded to a survey being done by a grad student about new worship communities and churches in revitalization.
Below are some of my responses to the 3 questions – and here is a 10 min video with some pictures spliced for illustration.
1.What innovative practices set your faith community apart?
Vermont Hills UMC is attempting a hybrid expression that combines two very different ecclesial and liturgical formats. We have been a classic mainline worship format for our 50 years of existence. We never went through the ‘blended worship’ wars in the 1980’s and 90’s. We never had a worship band or song leader. It is just piano, occasionally organ, and a choir. We use singable hymns so that the singing is robust and fills the space with sound.
We have now added a coffee shop/living room feel that splices in conversation and a TedTalk style homily early in the gathering. Also, instead of the sermon, a different person (or persons) comes to a high-top table and has a conversation. Sometimes it is about the homily, or the passage of scripture – other times it is about an outside topic (such a non-profit that we support). This serves to ‘decenter’ the sermon so that our gatherings are centered around conversation.
Another innovation is that each time we do communion on the first Sunday of the month, we try something different. The two most recent communion weeks, for instance, were vastly different than each other. In January, we set up 6 round tables in the corners of the sanctuary (we have an odd shaped space) and had 8-10 people at each table. They served each other communion with a prepared litany, and commune together for the rest of the service. In February, we set up different stations – a baptismal font, a table full of prayer candles, etc. – and had them wander around the space doing different activities before they went to the communion station. A 6-minute video played on the screen for those who did not want to wander.
2. How does your faith community meet people where they are, literally and figuratively?
I have developed an ecclesiology called Church 2.0 where we provide the space but not all of the content. The conversations during our gatherings are unscripted so that people can bring their concerns and insights.
Another aspect of our service to the community is the many non-profits we participate in and support financially. In January and February, we have had a different ministry or group ‘come to the table’ and tell us about what they do and how we can get involved. This includes our backpack ministry that packs food for kids at the elementary school next door who would not have food on the weekend, and Neighborhood house that helps families get back on their feet. We have 7 or 8 of these ministries that we support and participate in.
3. How does your faith community develop and equip young leaders? eg internships, pastoral residencies for young clergy, intentional communities?
I have only been here 7 months but we already have a young minister going through the ordination process and several seminarians who help teach and lead. The format of ‘the table’ allows multiple voices to heard. Depending on the topic, they can help teach Sunday school, mid-week Bible study, ‘preach’ the homily, and be the liturgist as well. This gives them lots of opportunities to participate and practice. We will be developing a ministry team in 2018 for formalize this process.
Dialogue across the table is the key though. It is a platform that allows their voice to be elevated and broadcast. It is shared influence instead of one persons talking for 20-30 minutes week after week.