Posts Tagged ‘worship’

Post-Coronavirus Safe Gatherings

May 24th, 2020 No comments

Someone forwarded this:

3. Attending a religious service indoors: high risk

Worship services involve people from different households coming together indoors for an extended time. “All of the ingredients are there for the potential for a lot of people becoming infected in the short amount of time,” says Kimberly Powers, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She points to outbreaks linked to churches: In one, 35 out of 92 people who attended a service at a rural Arkansas church developed COVID-19.

Singing — whether from the pews or the choir — is high risk, several experts noted, citing a study of a choir practice in Washington state where over half of attendees became infected.

What alters risk: If people are appropriately socially distanced, wear masks and avoid singing, it may reduce the risk, Karan says. Also, avoid any shared worship items like hymnals, Janowski adds.

Risk goes down if places of worship adapt, Guzman-Cottrill says. “My parish began having in-person services last week,” she says. The church had advance sign-ups to limit attendance to 25 people. Attendees were required to be healthy, wear face coverings and sit at least 6 feet apart.

Source: NPR

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Reopening a Church

April 22nd, 2020 No comments

Add this to the list of things they don’t teach in Seminary.

I’ve been thinking about how the end (or maybe the next phases?) of the Coronavirus lockdown will affect our congregation.

Government-supplied Guidance

First, if you haven’t done so, it’s worth looking at the CDC guidelines for a phased reopening of America.

Also, Governor Dunleavy has announced that businesses can begin to reopen starting this Friday, April 24, subject to “strict” health and safety standards. The “social distancing” Mandate 11, however, will continue to be in effect until it is rescinded.

Some key words are “Strict” vs. “moderate” vs. “limited” as applied to physical distancing protocols.  Strict means 10 or fewer people and six feet of spacing; moderate means 50 or fewer and six feet of spacing; limited appears to do away with limits on group size, but seems to envision continued extra cleaning and use of masks and/or gloves. See below.

An article at the Christianity Today website gives some ideas about how the reopening will roll out in churches across the different areas of the country.

I compared the CT piece with the CDC guidance and it seems pretty reasonable. I would summarize it for our purposes as follows:

Vulnerable populations (many of our congregation due to their age and/or serious underlying health conditions) will be encouraged to continue to shelter in place until Phase 3, when they will still be encouraged to practice social distancing.

Phase One permits large venues (including houses of worship) to operate “subject to strict physical distancing protocols”. That’s more or less what we have now, and difficult to implement in our facilities (see the implementation ideas below for the reason).

Phase Two permits houses of worship to operate under a moderate physical distancing protocol. This would entail:

  • sanitation – cleaning surfaces like doors, rails, countertops, bathrooms, and posting schedules listing when last cleaned. Also making hand sanitizer / disinfecting wipes readily available throughout the building. 
  • safety – providing masks and gloves for people coming to worship; family worship only (no children’s ministry); and spacing out the seating (possibly adding multiple worship services). 
  • size – the limit of 50 is actually more than our building will accommodate if we space out the seating. We’ve averaged 45 people in worship this year, but we probably can’t have more than 30 or so with proper spacing. Will we need multiple services?

Phase Three allows vulnerable individuals to resume public interactions, but with physical distancing. For their sakes (and maybe? — but I can’t find it mandated) we would continue to provide phase 2-level sanitation and safety features.

Reopening JLP

The Governor’s Mandate 11 lists several businesses that can reopen this Friday, but houses of worship aren’t on the list. (Perhaps by oversight?) As may be, the UMC Bishop said that all UMC churches in her area, including Alaska, are to remain closed through April 30.

It appears, however, that JLP could reopen as soon as May 3. To do so, we need to:

  • convince liturgists, musicians, technical arts, and any others involved in leading worship that we’re ready to worship together again.
  • but also to discourage vulnerable people (at least half the congregation, depending on the definition of “elderly”) from joining those who are worshiping together. In Christian charity, this would require at least a livestream of the service to be available online.
  • space out the pews appropriately
  • recruit volunteers to implement an enhanced cleaning regimen and provide them necessary supplies
  • obtain supplies of masks and gloves to supply to people who wish to use them.
  • figure out how to livestream a real worship service (one with parishioners present) including both the technical and volunteer-training requirements

That’s not a small amount of work. What else needs to be done?

We should firm this up into a real plan and begin implementing it.

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Online Worship – Things to Think About

April 19th, 2020 No comments

I liked these two brief videos about producing online worship because they suggested taking a step back and thinking first about goals. (Don’t get me wrong: I’ve appreciated all the great content that bypasses that, for people who just want to do something. But with Easter behind us and no clear timeframe or picture of how the Covid-19 lockdown’s going to end, we need to look at the bigger picture.)

The first video asks you to consider what works best in the online realm. Are you trying to replicate online what you’ve been doing on Sundays, or are you (virtually) inviting people over to your house, like you would for a small group?

The second video picks up from there. Now that you’ve decided how you view the online medium, the next thing is to consider your objective. Why do you want to have worship online? There are lots of possible reasons. Pick one and go from there. (The video gives some ideas if you just can’t settle on a single objective.)

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Church Architecture

December 23rd, 2019 No comments

Someone sent me a reflection about church architecture that included this quote from R.C. Sproul:

It behooves us, I think, to note the great care with which God gave His people plans for the tabernacle, their first worship environment. Like the temple that followed, the tabernacle was a place of beauty, glory, and transcendence. It was like no other place in the lives of God’s people. We need to understand that our church architecture communicates something to our visual senses, and, therefore, that architecture can promote or hinder our sense of the presence of God.

R.C. Sproul (attributed)

I haven’t read much of Sproul, but I admire what I have. This is a good example of how even the parts of the Bible that don’t seem very interesting — in my Bible, Exodus 25–27 spans five pages. In my Bible software, it spans 98 verses and 2400 words — are worth giving unhurried reflection.

I remember having the feeling of awe that Sproul describes when we went to Europe. It was especially evident in St. Peter’s, although we weren’t able to spend much time there. I understand Jacob’s desire to memorialize the thin space where he saw the angels going up and down the stairway to heaven.

But be careful. There are (at least) two dangers here, both related to idolatry. First, building God a house might be a noble idea, but then again, it might be an attempt to domesticate him, or at least put him in a box. If we’re honest, for most people it’s a little of both. And God doesn’t like being boxed in. Consider the way that the Israelites tried to use the Ark of the Covenant as a magic talisman. Note also that God never asked David to build him a Temple. God was happy with a Tent. Even the divine name seems designed (unlike our word “God”) to resist human attempts to limit or constrain or manipulate God.

Secondly, not every idol takes the shape of a Golden Calf. God specifically forbade the use of visual imagery to represent him and there’s a fine line between glorifying God and making an idol. God gave instructions for the Tabernacle and for the Temple, so I have to assume that, if they were followed, and followed properly, that danger was avoided. But when Nehemiah and Ezra rebuilt the Temple, it made people cry who remembered the old Temple. They missed the good thing that was being done right then, because of their lingering attachment to the former things. Jesus, for his part, seems remarkably unconcerned with the fine stonework in Herod’s Temple.

I can’t speak for other traditions, but Presbyterians aren’t enamored with the idea of sacred space. Yes, as the seraphim never stop telling each other, God is Holy, Holy, Holy — transcendent otherness, squared and cubed. And yet, as they also said, heaven and earth, are filled with His glory — all of earth, like all of heaven. If Jesus can sanctify a manger in a barn, or a gore-covered instrument of torture, then so can he make a big box in a strip mall become a house of worship.

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Sunday Worship Attendance

November 29th, 2016 No comments

Tony Morgan has a series of blog posts about declining attendance in Sunday worship services, and I found it interesting:

Part 1: Panic at the Church: Dealing with Less Frequent Attendance Patterns

Part 2: How One Church Leans In to Less Frequent Attendance

Part 3: Church Attendance Decline? There’s a Problem with Your Product.

Part 4: Large Church Gatherings Are a Strategy, Not the Mission

Part 5: Why You Might Not Want People In Church Every Sunday

It’s well worth reading. Part three is tough, especially for people in church leadership, but part four is just plain thought-provoking.

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Worship Leaders Tip

February 20th, 2015 No comments

Donald Miller: the difference between an artist an an entertainer. We want our worship to be enhanced by the contributions of artists. We don’t want entertainment. (Truthfully sometimes we do want, but it’s a desire we should resist.)


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God’s Great Dance Floor

August 25th, 2014 No comments

“Praise and worship” differs from other forms of Christian popular music because of its explicitly stated purpose for facilitating experiences of worship. This is music designed for use by Christian believers to actively negotiate their relationships with God. … the standard of quality is ultimately curatorial rather than performative. Like the deejay, worship leaders are judged on their ability to enact a meaningful encounter for the gathered community rather than their ability to correctly realize a pre-determined musical product.


Popular music actually shapes the ways that believers come to know themselves as religious subjects in worship.


… I do not mean to suggest any degree of insincerity or inauthenticity on the part of the music’s devout practitioners. Rather, by describing evangelical worship music through a syncretic lens, I argue for the importance of music as a primary theological discourse which allows parishioners to construct, contest, reify, and transgress the boundaries of official “orthodoxy.”

Kudus: Ethnomusicology Review.

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Age-Segregated Worship On the Way Out?

September 8th, 2011 No comments

Here’s an interesting sign of the times:

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale now offers only one service at 10:15 a.m. with, essentially, blended worship – that means no more separation based on age, likes and comfort.

For years Coral Ridge was the best-known Presbyterian Church (PCA) in the country, due to the influence of the late Dr. D. James Kennedy. But now, under Senior Pastor Tullian Tchividjian, a grandson of Billy Graham, it’s ending its practice of offering two distinct worship styles (“contemporary” and “traditional”).

The article assumes that preferences in worship style is synonymous with age, which is not always true, but it’s right a lot more often than it’s wrong.

My camp of Presbyterians, the PC(USA), believes that children should be part of worship, as stated in our Directory of Worship, §W-3.1004:

Children bring special gifts to worship and grow in the faith through their regular inclusion and participation in the worship of the congregation. … The session should ensure that regular programs of the church do not prevent children’s full participation with the whole congregation in worship, in Word and Sacrament, on the Lord’s Day.

If that’s true of children and worship, how much less reason is there to segregate different groups of adults?

(Sorry I can’t provide a better link to our Directory of Worship. There don’t seem to be many people in our denomination who understand things like open standards, permalinks, etc.)

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The Seminary Bubble

April 25th, 2011 No comments

Via Twitter, I saw a fascinating article on Forbes’ blog about the “Seminary Bubble.” Excerpt:

After all, what matters more to the customer, the member: the ability to discuss the relationship between Paul Tillich’s theory of ultimate concern and Karl Barth’s version of neo-orthodoxy in light of the demythologizing textual hermeneutic of Bultman, or the ability to keep the congregation/audience’s attention for twenty minutes with a relevant sermon about family life? Seminary tends to give you loads of the former and little of the latter.

I might quibble with the word “customer” there, but then, I’m seminary-trained and quibbling is my stock-in-trade. Other than that, there’s a lot of truth to it. The theological gibberish in that quote is spot-on. God forbid I ever say anything that stupid from the pulpit.

I’m not sure 20 minutes is the target any more, either. It’s still the norm in the mainline, but the point of the article is that the mainline is hardly a standard any more. My guess is that a lot of “customers” want more than 20 minutes worth of sermon. Anything worth doing is worth doing. Also, as people become less and less familiar with Christianity, liturgical rites and ceremonies are increasingly arcane. You can’t devote most of an hour to incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo and assume it’s relevant to people just because you’ve eliminated references to Barth and Tillich.

(As an aside, the writer says the disconnect also has to do with politics. This is a stock complaint. “The mainline denominations are populated, barely, with Prius-driving Democrats, while evangelical churches are packed with Nascar fans who vote Republican.” That may be true, but 1800 years ago, the Temples were filled with rock-ribbed devotees of Juno and Apollo, and Christians were in the arena. So what?)

That’s not to say there aren’t some real insights in the article. Read the whole thing. The gist is that seminary is expensive but doesn’t necessarily produce people who “succeed” in ministry. (That’s another word I can’t help but quibble with: success in ministry isn’t necessarily measured in a church’s budget or seating capacity.)

When I speak with less-well trained ministers, the less tactful of them tell me something that boils down to: “we equip the called, and [your denomination] calls the equipped.”

Maybe. But my guess is it has at least as much to do with assuming pastoral ministry is something you can learn in school. It’s not a question of who’s called, or not always. It’s a question of how you equip them.

Paul didn’t send Timothy off to seminary. A lot of people at “successful” churches — especially church planters — have spent a fair bit of time either in what amounts to an apprenticeship, or belong to networks that provide more support than a denominational superstructure provides. (For a hilarious-but-tragic example of denominational indifference, see Eugene Peterson’s Under the Unpredictable Plant.)

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Purposeful Worship

November 28th, 2010 No comments

Have you ever stopped to wonder why we worship? What’s it for? It’s the most salient feature of church life; in fact, people often use “church” as shorthand for “worship.” If someone says, “Let’s go to church this Sunday,” for example, it’s shorthand for, “Let’s assemble at the customary place for gathered worship.” But why would we do that?

Read more…

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