A couple Sundays ago I confessed some of my yearnings for control in the interim period, despite acknowledging that the interim time is a period of some intentional chaos – where being off-balance in the midst of change helps us learn and discover our new identity. And so control isn’t really the point.
This was the reason behind spending the first 45 minutes of our last Board meeting surfacing the changes we have experienced in our congregational life over the past 2 or 3 months. As we identified some of the things we’ve each noted as new or different, we were able to release some of the anxiety and instead tap into our shared curiosity and desire for learning. What were the reasons behind these changes? What can we learn about ourselves and our community from our reactions to them? What is the new invitation being made and what would it feel like to say yes – to experiment with a new thing?
Most of the changes on our list had to do with Sunday morning. We talked about the dedication of the offering, the intentional greeting that David and I are doing, and the receiving opportunity after the service. And we spent time talking about the chairs in the social hall. As in, there not being any.
It’s true. We’ve asked our ushers and our newly created role of the Worship Host (think: stage manager or if you’re into the Vicar of Dibley, you might think: verger) to refrain from putting up chairs in the back unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Why? For a bunch of reasons, including:
- We have enough space in the main sanctuary to accommodate everyone most Sunday services. There are usually 3 or 4 fully empty rows in the upper west side (closest to the ministers…hmmm….). We have realized that people coming in later cannot always see these empty chairs, but they are there, most Sundays. And when they aren’t (like last Sunday’s awesome turn out! – then the ushers are authorized to put up chairs as needed.
- The social hall sitting experience is not a great experience of worship. The sound isn’t great. There are often distractions. It keeps us divided.
- This point is made more important by the fact that often newcomers sit in the social hall. This keeps our guests literally at a distance, keeps them from being fully invited in to our community. Often this includes families with younger children and young adults – those people who we all agree we need the presence of in our church community!
At the same time, creating a space of welcome for everyone without those chairs will take a group effort. We ask that people who arrive earlier to sit towards the front, especially the upper west side (we won’t bite or call on you….much). And we ask that ushers do more active ushering, helping people find a place to sit when we’re full, and asking people to move over to make room. And finally we have set aside the last row of the sanctuary for those who arrive late to easily be able to find their seat. We’ll keep the “reserved sign” there until the Greeting of Neighbors so that anyone who arrives after that point is assured a seat without having to pull up a chair in the social hall. (Also people who want/need to be able to get out quickly i.e. parents of younger kiddos – been there! – are welcome in that last row anytime.)
We do all this so that we can all be together in our worship service, in the same place – so no one has to have that “second class” experience, and to be clear that we are inviting everyone in – all the way in – to the heart of our community and the good news of our faith. We have a big task – to further the reach of love in our lives, in Northern Colorado, and beyond – and so we need us all, first time guests, long time members, and everyone in between. Let’s be sure to make the necessary room so all our partners have a place – on Sunday morning, and in all of our shared ministry.
PS Since I posted this I received a couple questions about those who may still want to sit in the social hall for various reasons. Of course, if you prefer to sit there, no problem! You can still do that. We just don’t want anyone to feel like there isn’t room or welcome for them in the sanctuary. Thanks for reading and being in the conversation together.
(If you missed my Oct 19th sermon on Letting Go – or any sermon – you can always find them available by audio at http://foothillsuu.podbean.com/ and this and many of my sermon texts are available on my blog: http://revgretchenhaley.weebly.com/another-possibility.html.)