One of my deepest concerns in the “Worship in the Parish Hall” project at St George’s was to address our congregation’s dire need of community. Folks would come to church Sunday mornings, a handful would stick around afterwards, and the next time they would see each other would be the next Sunday they both attended worship. It’s not that we didn’t have reasons to stay after worship. One member regularly brought excellent, homemade food, and plenty of it — this wasn’t your typical “Coffee Hour” repast. But good food does not create community; it can only aid the process. Community was in fact a scarce commodity.
To focus on community, I had a great ally in the liturgy. Our diocese uses the Church of England’s Common Worship, which splits the Communion service into four parts: the Gathering, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Sacrament, and the Dismissal. So we explored the Gathering for our first four weeks. What does it mean that we are gathered together? It means that we are more than a collection of individuals who happen to be at the same place, at the same time, offering our individual praises to God. We are called to come together, God gathers us together into this place, to worship together. Common Worship’s intentional emphasis on the Gathering helped drive home lessons of community.
As mentioned in an earlier post, one of the central things we did these early weeks was play games. Games are a great way to build relationships and to learn about each other. There’s a reason they are used as icebreakers in the corporate world! One week we split up into small groups and answered questions about likes/dislikes, Coke vs Pepsi, that kind of thing. Another week we answered questions about favorites: books of the Bible, Bible characters, parts of the liturgy, etc. These allowed people to share about themselves and learn about each other in low-risk ways.
Of course, we didn’t just focus on community because Fortune 500 companies do. Scripture is clear that God has designs for the gathered life of the Church. So to focus our learning, I did the teaching these early weeks during the Gathering, rather than preaching in the regular liturgical spot. We spent three weeks looking at NT verses that use the Greek word for “one another.” What does the Bible think our life together should look like? What kinds of churches was Paul writing to, and how do his messages to those churches speak to our congregation?
These first weeks were pretty rocky. There were a lot of questions about why exactly we were doing this, and some raised eyebrows to playing games at church. A few people stopped coming all together, “until you’re back in the church.” But by the second month, some were beginning to see the value of the project. Next post, I’ll talk about the next three weeks focusing primarily on the Liturgy of the Word.