Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Everybody's church

When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction,
a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.
All these must be done for the strengthening of the church....
1 Corinthians 14:26

             When I was being trained as a pastor, I soon began to realize that all congregations were different.  Some were older, some younger; some were formal, some relaxed; some very traditional, some modern; some energized, some kind of sleepy.  For the longest time, if someone asked me about Atonement, I wasn't sure what kind of church to tell them we were.  We're a mix, I'd say -- a little of this, a little of that.  But now I just say we're "everybody's church."
           Our worship life reflects who we are, and what kind of church Atonement has become.  Our normal 10am service is a blend of traditional and contemporary music and styles with leadership shared between pastor and lay people.  After our new bishop’s assistant Connie Schmucker visited us in worship last month,  she remarked about how great it was to see participation from so many different people.
              It is a great strength of Atonement that what we do here is everybody’s business.  Reaching out, serving others, witnessing and caring for people are not just the pastor’s job.  It’s what we do as people of God and as members of Atonement.  That 10am service really is a “people’s service” in many ways.  Lay people share their talents reading, ushering, singing, and sometimes preaching. 
I celebrate that aspect of our worship, and I’m happy to be a part of a church where people want so enthusiastically to be a part of it.  At the same time, it’s not easy putting together services that are so people-oriented.  For one thing, we always try to keep a balance between older and newer music.  Also, finding people who will greet, usher, read the lessons, serve communion, acolyte and assist with the liturgy each week means you’re always hunting for available volunteers.
             We also have the issue of friendly fellowship in the sanctuary.  Visitors sometimes walk into a sanctuary filled with holy huddles, people talking to their friends in little clumps, people excitedly sharing the events of their week but often ignoring those outside the huddle.  Suzi Morgan’s article in this month's (October 2012) newsletter points out that friendly chatter and conversation have gotten out of hand in the sanctuary, and offers a solution that the Worship and Music team hopes will move that fellowship to a more appropriate time and place.
              Another result of being “everybody’s church”  is that we have lots going on.  That’s a wonderful thing in a congregation, far better than the alternative.  We do want to let people know about things that are happening and opportunities they have to get involved.  We also want to share the news of our various ministry teams.  At the same time, when many people are giving announcements, the service can drag on and people not near a microphone aren’t heard by everyone.
We’ve tried this before, but again we are going to go back to having me give all the announcements.  Announcements needs to be written and placed up on the lectern before the announcement time at the end of service.  Please don’t tell me something at the beginning of the service and expect that I’ll remember to announce it at the end.
             Looking around in our 10am service, it’s clear that people who come to Atonement have differing ways of worshiping and praying, differing ways of dressing and talking.  Some find it difficult to sit in a service longer than an hour.  Some are bothered by noises and distractions,.  Some find it too hot or cold to be comfortable.  Some are just waiting for another person to notice them.  Please take time before worship starts to look around you, notice, and pray for your fellow worshipers—that they too are able to experience God’s loving welcome here at “everybody’s church.”