One of the very cool parts about being the director of ECC is that it allows me to spend Sunday mornings visiting churches all around the Diocese. Sometimes I go as a guest preacher. Sometimes I’m filling in as the “substitute” priest. And sometimes I just go and sit in the pew. I have loved getting to know the churches in our Diocese and seeing the ministry that we have happening in RI. I love being able to participate in worship in so many churches and with so many people.
I think that’s why I’m surprised that I feel nudged to start a new church. First of all, I never wanted to start a new church. I always had a ton of respect for people who do that, but I was perfectly happy in a well-established parishes that had been in place for years. Second, we have plenty of churches in RI. We have even closed churches where the congregations were so small that they couldn’t pay the bills. So why try to start something new when there seems to be a significant chance that it won’t take off at all? And finally, am I nuts? I’m kinda busy running a camp and conference center, and helping with Diocesan youth ministry. I’m not bored.
I probably would have ignored the nudge (at least for a little while longer) if it hadn’t been for the Bishop, who while visiting ECC one day casually said “sometimes I just think we should start a church here.” I don’t know if he meant to plant a seed in my brain, but he did. And I’ve been thinking about it since.
I guess ultimately I want to offer a church that’s just a little bit different from what our churches in RI are already offering. For me that means having our primary worship service in the evening. We have lots of RI churches that offer evening services, but their main gig is in the morning. I want a church where the main gig is at night. I also want to worship in a style similar to that of our worship at ECC. For those of you not familiar with church in the barn, here are some of the elements of that worship:
– Worship is informal (which does not mean it is “casual” or “irreverent”. It’s just informal.)
– We worship in the round (or the rectangle, as it is in the barn). We are all on the same level and the space is not like traditional church architecture.
– Our singing is most often accompanied by guitar or we sing with no instrumentation at all.
– Sometimes we are a little bit loud and rowdy. Other times we are really quiet and reflective, but most of the time we are a little rowdy. If I were using a more churchy word to describe it I’d say “joyful” but I want to be honest – some folks would just call it rowdy.
For years people that have loved worship at camp have had trouble loving worship at traditional church services. While the language of the Prayer Book is the same, the feeling can be different. As a priest in the church I’ve wrestled with this myself, and I wrestle with it as the director of the camp now. A large part of me wants people to realize that camp is different and it’s impossible to have the same kind of worship at Sunday church that you have at camp. A large part of me wants people to value the different experience that is offered in our churches on Sunday morning.
Another part of me, however, longs for the feeling that I have when I worship at camp throughout the rest of the year. I go to countless churches where I hear the organ play and the choir sing and my heart cracks open and I feel closer to God. But there are also times when I want the option of a different kind of worship experience. One where I can reach out and grab the person sitting next to me because I’m so close to them. One where I can hear the dreadful singing of the person beside me because even though we stink at singing we just want to shout along with the rest of the group anyway. One where I can go in my jeans or yoga pants and be sure that no one is going to look at me like I just don’t love God enough to dress up.
All of this is a long way of saying that I’m going to try and start something new. The Bishop has given me his blessing to fail miserably if it means that at least we’re trying something. So I’m just going to stand on a cliff and throw myself off – hopeful to fly or at least parachute, but aware that I might face-plant. And I want to invite you to jump and maybe face-plant with me. (Do I know how to make something sound compelling, or what?) But seriously, if you don’t have a place to worship right now and you are wanting a spiritual home I’d love for you to come and be part of this – whatever “this” may be.
We’re going to start meeting in the church that was formerly Calvary Church in Pascoag. I live next door to it now, and this church has been empty for five years and needs a little TLC. We might move to the barn at ECC when the weather is warmer. We might become a traveling congregation. We might meet once and decide to never meet again. But we’ll start at 158 Broad Street in Pascoag. For now we’re just calling it “New Church”, and we’ll see what happens from there.
On February 23rd we’ll worship in the church just as it is now (a little musty and dirty and with the pews still in place) and then we’ll head next door to my house for a pot luck dinner and start talking about dreams and possibilities.
After that, I’m hoping we’ll start regular worship on Sunday evenings at 5pm at the start of Lent. I love Lent because we remember Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness, and planting a new church is pretty much wilderness in my book. There’s going to be LOTS of good scripture to grab onto while we try to figure this thing out. I’m also hoping we can share a meal together after church because I’ll want a little more time with you, and it’ll be a long drive for some folks to get all the way out here. I don’t want you to have to worry about dinner.
So if you need a church, if evenings are a better time for you to worship, if you are a camp person that never could manage to make the jump to church on Sunday, if you like to get a little bit rowdy sometimes when you praise God – come join us. Bring a friend. Email me and let me know you are coming so I have enough paper plates.
Please, if you already have a church but think you want to be part of New Church, be in touch with me so we can talk. I don’t mind if you want to come to extra church, but I don’t want to take you from your current church. They love you there.
Ok, that’s enough rambling from me. Can you tell I’m nervous? I’m nervous. But God has never called me to my comfort zone before, so probably won’t start now. Given that, I hope to see you in the wilderness!