workshop description: re-imagining worship in a traditional space

The Uniting Church in Tasmania is blessed with many fine old church buildings.  They’re traditionally shaped, and often furnished accordingly. Long fixed pews, pipe organs, even old-school box pews are common. Heritage listing prohibits re-shaping many of the buildings to a form more appropriate for a modern faith community.

Those buildings are both a blessing, and a profound challenge to the church – in ways that we’ll continue to explore.

Last week we had the opportunity to run the latest in our regular “Hobart 2020 Forums” for those interested in exploring the themes of “How then shall we live?”, the interim report of the Uniting Alive: Hobart 2020 process.

We were wanting to confront the idea that old buildings are useless for anything other than ‘old’ worship – but also wanting to engage the group (some of whom would be new to the idea) in imagining what might be possible in re-interpreting traditional worship.  We used a simple process:

  1. Got the group sitting in the front rows of box pews. Asked them to spend some time in silence looking around to ‘see what you notice’.  Asked them to talk with the group about what they saw, about what these old-school box-pewed auditoriums enable us to do, and what they inhibit, or make difficult.  Some good discussion resulted.
  2. We then asked the group to move around the building. To sit in different places, to go up to the balcony, stand behind the high raised pulpit, check out the organ, the side chapel, the art and windows.  Then let the space ‘breath on them’ by taking time to inhabit it.  And to ask themselves the same questions “what does it enable?” and “what does it inhibit?”
  3. Introduced (very simply) the idea of stations worship.  Read the first part of last week’s gospel reading from Luke Ch11 in which Jesus teaches the Lord’s Prayer (the short 5-line Luke version) as the basis for a simple self-created stations worship time, using this ‘old-fashioned’ space.
  4. Split them into 5 groups, gave each group one line each of the prayer, and 30 minutes to create a ‘space’ somewhere within the church that people could visit, sit, reflect, respond.  The space had to be largely self-explanatory.  We had a few bags and boxes of misc resources – laptops/data projectors/white boards/paper, food, plus the furnishings and anything else that could be found within the auditorium (Wesley graciously allowed us to use the facility and to use the resources it contained).
  5. We then participated in a short (30 minute) ‘worship time’ using the stations. Started in whole group, reading the scripture, giving brief explanation, then sending people on their way to move as they saw fit.  Finished in whole group with open prayer time.
  6. Went next door to the “no bucks café” for supper, debrief and reflection.

There was some really good discussion afterwards – not just about the re-interpretation of space, but also about the value and ocess of having groups participate in designing and creating their own space/agenda/worship.

The 5 spaces created by the small groups mostly took the form of ‘reflection aids’:

  • Hallowed be thy name: projected image and words onto the ceiling of the church. Visible from everywhere, but best from lying down on the pews
  • Your kingdom come: small collection of signs and banners, drawing attention to justice related issues, also a ‘dressed’ table with candles etc.
  • Give us our daily bread: bowl filled with good luxury eating treats, and a picnic blanker…..and a collection of simple empty wooden bowls
  • Forgive us, for we also will forgive others: soft music, candle, tapers/candles which could be lit with participants invited to reflect on grace, and to consider a person/situation in which they need to offer forgiveness – and to light a candle remembering that person/situation
  • Lead us not into temptation: focus on temptation of time, sitting behind the broken clock, with old and new items/resources all around

It was a simple night, but worthwhile (in my view), and with positive response.

This story first published at tasmission

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