There was a Starbucks in the church lobby. Jumbo screens filled the worship space. Just before the service began, the lights dimmed, the music swelled, and a two-minute countdown clock appeared beneath a video of people laughing and praying. That was just the first five minutes.
Last Sunday, a group of young adults from my parish went to a non-denominational church in Alexandria. During Easter, we’ve been visiting other churches to get a fresh perspective on our own. We challenged ourselves to see what non-Episcopal, well-attended communities have been up to.
Could we learn something from Christians really different from us?
Honestly, we weren’t sure. The technology and lattes were over-stimulating. The song lyrics were vapid: “Jesus, I just can’t stop thinkin’ about you.” And the sermon was 43 minutes of pleading calls to Godly living, loosely based on David and Goliath.
I tuned most of it out, until I felt an inner tug, “Do you really believe God is not at work here in some way? Could you stop being smug long enough to learn something?”
Yes, I could. And we did. After the service, over wine and fries, we found ourselves digging deep into who we are, what we have to offer, and what we learned from the passion and production value we saw. Then we got excited about what changes we might make.
I’d say God used that church, despite its objectionable practices, to energize us. I am grateful for that, and for a few things I took away—
- Clarity matters. The bulletin we got at the door was crystal clear. The church was God-first and multi-cultural. A detachable card let us drop our email and questions in the offering plate. There were 4 steps to get involved. Connecting is never simple, but getting started never seemed so easy.
- Calling matters. This church had a strong sense of who God wanted them to be, and they weren’t embarrassed to say it. Why can’t we be as confident in our commitment to questioning or justice? We too should spend time praying to discern God’s call in our corner of the city, and then proudly proclaim it.
- Context matters. This church knew who it was after. I don’t think we should spend as much money on branding, but we could think about who would resonate with the gifts we offer, and then go find them. They’re probably just around the corner at local coffee shops listening to NPR.
I left church Sunday night hungry for more than fries. I was starved for the story, ritual, and metaphor of the Episcopal way. I was also fired up to imagine how God might call our parish to introduce stories and rituals in a fresh way, to new people, who are just as hungry for it as we are.
Jeremy Ayers is a Texan, beach lover, and serial comma user. He is a member of St. Thomas’ Parish Dupont Circle.