Over the last year, the vestry was reading a book by Episcopal priest and theologian Dwight Zscheile titled The Agile Church. In his book, Zscheile walks church leaders through a way of becoming more agile in mission and to learn and grow in discipleship precisely because of our willingness to become more agile in what we do as church. In one chapter of his book, Zscheile discusses taking on small experiments to learn new things about the people around your parish, in your city, and about doing mission in your own context. It seems that our reading of that book was somewhat prophetic. We are now in a time in which small experiments will be necessary for our parish as we begin the process of learning how to re-enter in-person worship together.
You might have noticed that we announced a new worship schedule last week with a new evening worship time on Sunday evenings. The new schedule was created so folks would have the ability to participate in online formation programs AND attend in-person worship on a single Sunday, and of course, we have already had insights about the schedule and how we are going to need to shift the evening schedule ever so slightly to accommodate all the things that we hope to offer on a Sunday. The small experiment of an evening worship service is already offering to us new insights!
As we move forward with our new schedule, we are going to tweak the schedule by moving the evening worship service to 5:00PM on Sunday evenings. The new time will grant to us ample time to worship together and to host youth group every other week at our parish. Over the next 90 days or so, we will be watching to see who begins to show up at the evening worship service, which will be characterized by contemporary language liturgy, a conversational sermon, and a relaxed outdoors atmosphere. The whole process is going to be one through which we will need to remain agile and attentive to what people respond to in the service. In conversation and careful listening, we may learn new things about what people are seeking when they arrive, and we will need to be ready to respond to that learning by making shifts in what we are doing in our liturgy whilst staying faithful to the traditions of Anglicanism. In the words of theologian Ellen F. Davis, we are seeking to do critical traditioning by listening carefully to the needs of the community around. We will have the opportunity and the gift of making small adjustments within our experiment as we seek to learn what will work in our context, in our neighborhood.
The agility of our church will be reflected in the ways that we respond to the needs of our context and our listening to the people that show up for the evening worship service. It is also being reflected in smaller ways beginning next week. On Monday, September 14, 2020, we will return to having an open campus. Our business hours will resume to normal business hours; however, we will continue to use online meeting formats for the majority of ministry meetings and conversations. If you do come to the parish, you will be required to wear a mask while on parish grounds – especially when inside a building with others.
The last six months have been a time of continuous learning, and the need to keep learning is not dissipating with our return to in-person worship, with a new worship schedule, or with resuming normal office hours on our campus. Instead, we will have more learning in our future, but we can do that learning together by hosting honest conversations with each other. When a ministry council attempts something new for a short amount of time (i.e. 90-180 days), we will receive the invitation to adjust and pivot as the experiment unfolds. Our whole parish is invited to learn how to attend in-person worship while wearing a mask and maintain 6-foot distances between one another. Whether we wanted it or not, Christ is inviting us to be a learning community; we are invited to embody the words of St. Anselm and to be a community of “faith seeking understanding.” We are invited to embody love and to do so with a light touch.