which is used for mid-week concerts attended by hundreds. It is also played well by one of three organists at our four worship services that occur there every Saturday and Sunday. The floors of the sanctuary are white tile with periodic impressions of sea shells. The space invites formality; processions on high holy days are majestic and beautiful to behold. The space is pristine and invites prayers spoken in unison and more practiced participation.
The second location is in a small neighborhood of Melbourne Beach (on the east side of the causeway). The sanctuary at the beach is equally beautiful, with 10 stunning stained-glass windows that depict key moments from the life of Jesus, the sacraments of the church, and symbols of our faith. The windows, as well as the sanctuary and extended facility, are worn from having been rebuilt with limited funds after two hurricanes in 2004. Instead of tile floors, the beach has older blue carpeting. It is a space in which one senses both years of pleading with God and a stoic resilience from the faithful.
Both locations have their strengths, their beauty, their history. Both locations host preschools during the week with 40+ children. Both locations weekly draw faithful believers, visitors, guests, and skeptics.
One thing we have learned since these two churches merged into one a year and a half ago is that we could not overlay the the practices that made worship flow well at the Suntree campus, onto the Beach campus. The contexts, the cultures, the space … nearly every single element related to worship cried out for choices in prayers, hymns, and styles that would be consistent with the space and the population itself.
What I am pondering today is this: we are intentionally trying to be inclusive at both locations. Our preschools are discussing how we can best serve children with disabilities. Our technical teams are trained to provide headsets to help those who need them, hear. Our leadership is routinely considering how we can best build a community in which multiple-generations worship, serve, learn, and play together. Our musicians are being asked to expand their repertoire to include selections of global music.
And yet, we have 6 services every single weekend between these two locations, and the services each have a “personality” that draws people with strong preferences about what worship ought to be like. If you want to hear the choir, you attend 9:00 at the beach or 11:00 at Suntree. If you prefer to be led by a band, you attend 9:30 at Suntree or 6:00 at the beach. If you want to come in flip-flops, you hit the beach. If you would never dream of showing up at church without a coat and tie, you come to 8:00 at Suntree.
And so my puzzling is this: how do we live into the full inclusion of all people…when the content of our worship is organized to appeal to those who are like-minded in the way they prefer to worship?
I have long been a proponent of something called blended worship — which has a really bad reputation. Many church musicians say that blended worship lacks authenticity; like a person who reinvents themselves daily, it doesn’t quite seem to know what it is.
I contend that blended can mean simply, diverse. I know it can be done well. I also know it requires more thought, more planning, more practice on the part of the musicians. It demands flexibility, cooperation, and imagination. It is not done lightly. And maybe that’s the problem. Because the numerous people who plan, prepare, and lead these six services only have so much energy and time to do so. And many are already giving more than a pastor could ever expect a volunteer to give.
Our 6:00 Sunday night worship at the beach is the closest thing I believe we have right now to blended worship. Eight to eighty-year-olds attend. Our band, Non-Fiction, (guitar / bass / drums / keyboard / vocals) has played simultaneously with our organist. We have sung songs by both Skillet and Martin Luther in the same service. Numerous visitors attend weekly, and return.
It makes me wonder: does inclusivity demand diversity within the service as evidence that our desire to draw all people is sincere? If “blended” worship has a bad name, what might we call this new thing that is emerging and drawing new believers? How can we help such a diverse population seek to encounter God together when our worship organizes itself around individual preferences? Does mixing styles within one hour dilute the whole?
In thinking about this, I did some research on specific conventions people attend: Trekkie conventions, magician conventions, boredom conventions (yes, really…check it out: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703395904576025482554838642)
It’s amusing, the amount of resources people will invest to attend a convention with people who are a lot like themselves.
I guess my struggle today is this: if our shared interest is gathering to worship the God of all people, how can we create worship that speaks to the diversity of human experience, interest, and preference. Perhaps it has something to do with how willing we are to set aside our own preferences sometimes, to hear and see God through the lens of our neighbor.
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