In the past six weeks, I have preached at some RADICALLY different types of churches.
My latest traveling marathon began with the invitation to be the official Imagine No Malaria spokesperson at a 5k event in Lakewood, Ohio. As part of the festivities, I preached at the Cove and Lakewood United Methodist Churches.
Cove and Lakewood are beginning a new mutual partnership. Lakewood essentially hired a third pastor, a deacon, who serves part time at Lakewood and part time as the pastor at Cove. In reality, all three pastors preach and rotate between the two congregations. They are building new relationships, drawing upon gifts to enhance one another, and I really hope it will be successful for all involved!
Worship at Cove UMC was in a beautiful sanctuary with dark wood and nautical themes and a huge anchor at the front of the sanctuary. The choir was rowdy and fun and provided most of the energy for the service. The crowd was sparse and folks seemed to tumble in at various times. The church itself is shared between the United Methodists and the U.C.C. folks and so it was easy to see the overlap in the morning activities. Before the service was over, I was rushed out the door to make it to Lakewood to preach at their traditional service.
Lakewood UMC’s traditional service is in a strange L shaped sanctuary. The choir and pulpit sit at the corner of the L and it makes for a really interesting preaching venue. They are in the process of renovating so the space is less awkward and they can add some technology like screens and powerpoint and better sound. I arrived most of the way through the service, just in time to get to the altar area and begin preaching. Large choir, beautiful stained glass, very traditional style of worship… with the exception of that weird layout!
Then I preached at their contemporary service in the fellowship hall. A band played along the right side of the worship space with screens at the front. It was strange to have a very traditional altar and decorations in between high tech televisions, but it worked. That service was very casual, seated around round tables, and it was nice to be able to look every person in the eye as I preached and shared.
When I got back from Ohio, I had a weekend off and then I preached another three service – this time at a three point charge in South Central Iowa.
Decatur City is a small little church and most folks don’t actually live in that community anymore. The ten of us gathered for worship not in their sanctuary, but in the kitchen/fellowship space – with the altar as the kitchen counter. The group was really close-knit and you could tell they looked out for one another. The music was played on an old piano and they sang their hearts out. It was informal and holy and the type of service where if someone interrupted with a question, you just went with it.
Davis City felt very different in comparison. While it was also a tiny little church, the sanctuary they worshiped in was for a much larger congregation. The stained glass, the dark wood, felt very heavy in that space because there were so few of them. In reality, no fewer than the previous church, but they all sat spread out at the back of the church. Music came from the Hymnal on CD which added a different element to the service. My favorite thing about worshiping with this group was the little girl who bounced here and there and everywhere. You could tell they all loved her very much and as she took the offering, she clicked this little thing around her neck as a “thank-you.”
The third church in this cluster was Lamoni. The building was newer (maybe mid 70’s), lighter, and fuller. Young people were everywhere. The music was blended, there was a screen and powerpoint, and the tiny sanctuary was packed with folks who were excited to be there and excited about the possibilities in their community.
The next weekend, I also preached at three services, but this time in one congregation – Grace in Des Moines. I started with their Saturday night service and made an assumption it would include a praise band and contemporary music and was pleasantly surprised to find a small chapel area, a good crowd, and jazz stylings on the piano with Taize selections from The Faith We Sing. No screens, but good coffee and treats afterwards. I could pass around a picture to illustrate my sermon and have great impact with the group.
The early morning service on Sunday was in the same space – a fellowship area they are trying to convert into a chapel of sorts. It was a traditional service, stripped bare, with a good community feeling. This was the early bunch and afterwards everyone rushed off to Sunday School so there wasn’t a lot of deep community in that worship service that I could sense… you could tell it might be worship for the folks who want the traditional worship from Grace but might have things to do that day.
The main worship service was very different. Large sanctuary, three choirs, over three hundred in worship with long deep aisles and the balcony above. No screens… just the music and the words. Lots of folks young and old. Very traditional and formal type of service. Preaching from the pulpit, I felt far away from the people, but also had the sense that all eyes were on me. But worship extended beyond that space, it wasn’t necessarily the crowning jewel in that church, even though it was a highlight. You could tell as they left the space, they went to gather, drink coffee, join in mission opportunities, go to lunch together, etc.
The next weekend, I was at another church for three services, but not to preach this time. At Altoona UMC, they were in the midst of a series and so I shared for about five minutes as part of the sermon at each service. Their traditional service was so different from what I think of as “traditional.” There was a choir, the songs were all standards from the Hymnal, but the format of the service itself was very contemporary – front loaded with music with a long preaching/teaching time at the end. Lighting changed the mood between prayers and message and songs. Blues and reds lit up the stage and the audience was dimmed for the teaching portion. The choir left after their music was finished and then a chair and a table was set in the middle for Pastor John’s message. Technology is a huge part of how this church worships and it added to every single detail in a way that was seamless.
The second two services were similiar to one another. Traditional, praise band, in many ways the exact same format as the first service, but with very different music. The church is growing fast and every service had a sense of life and energy to it. Pastor John did a great job of making some kind of personal reference with people in every service, calling someone out and showing how the point in the message impacted them personally. It was a nice touch, and you can tell people know one another, are open about where they struggle and what they celebrate.
In the next few weeks, I have to fill out my Pastoral Profile form and indicate what type of community I feel called to serve in the next year. Come July, I will be in a new appointment, because my work as the Imagine No Malaria Coordinator will be finished. I thought knowing the diversity of what is out there might help me to check some boxes and not others, but to be honest, all of this moving between churches has given me whiplash. I think if I had to think about the places where I felt the most grounded and connected, it was those services/congregations where there was a sense of community and support. Not only for one another, but for what was happening in the world, too. I want to serve in a place where there is a willingness to think connectionally – both with other churches and with the wider world. I want to serve in a place where they come to be fed so they can feed others. And I realized in my whirwind preaching tour that it is not the size or location of a church or even they style of worship that determines whether or not those things happen.