A culture has three primary components: beliefs, language, and practices. Beliefs help you make sense of the world. Language helps you interpret the world. Practices help you interact with the world. At St. Paul we have been struggling to unify two very different cultures. The recent Kitchen Table Conversation and the follow-up conversations have helped me understand anything it is that these two very different cultures can love each other but really can’t live with each other. There are two different beliefs about worship. There are two different languages about what it means to praise God. There are two different practices, or ways, that are acceptable to worship. As frustrating the last twelve weeks have been it confirms for all that we can love each other but not agree with each other. Having learned this very valuable lesson we face another challenge.
As we seek to honor the past. To acknowledge that we all benefit from the hard work and dedication that has taken place over the last 138 years we are called to live into the present reality and create a new future. The present reality is that more than 75% of people indicate that they will never participate in what is considered “traditional worship.” That the traditional church suffers from the stigma of being labeled irrelevant and out of touch. This is a hard reality. Currently in America the Pew Foundation estimates that only 4% of young adults aged 18-35 attend worship at all, and almost none of them in a traditional setting. So how can we honor the past and still live in the present and create a future? How can the people of God who gather on this corner find a way to create a future that is more missional, more diverse, more representative of this community? This community where within three miles we have some of the wealthiest residents and some others who are struggling with feeding their children? This is the question that we struggle with that transcends our church based cultural skirmish.
The first step is to acknowledge that our two cultures, while loving and appreciating each other, are not able to worship together. So, with this realization in mind I have decided to return to two different worship services. Beginning Sept. 16, on Back to Church Sunday, we will have a traditional, hymn led worship service at 9 am. This service will include weekly responsive readings, piano led hymns, a communal creed, and quarterly communion. Tammy Gaulding has agreed to assist me by providing accompaniment and assistance with hymn selection. I am hoping that the Asbury Class will take the lead and organize ushers for this service and champion it as a place for them and their friends to find comfort and reverence. This is how I believe we can faithfully honor our past and provide a worship experience for those who value a traditional worship culture.
The new 10:45 am “rock and roll Jesus” worship experience will be guest oriented. It will be designed to be church for people who don’t do “church.” As an expression of our desire to reach the thousands of people in this community who have chosen to stay home on Sunday morning rather than participate in worship, this band led worship experience will utilize media, a praise and worship format, and be designed to welcome a younger audience. It will be louder and more energetic with a worship order that is simple, clear, and welcoming. It will be child friendly and, our prayer, is that it will be racially and culturally diverse, representing the cross-section of God’s people who live in Rocky Mount. It is through this worship experience, supported by our connection groups and active community based missional engagement that I believe we live in the present and create a new future for St. Paul United Methodist Church. It is a new day, and I believe that God is calling us to quit dwelling and blaming the past and to “get going” toward a new future for our church together.
Now, its up to you. The future of this congregation is in your hands. You, and the person next to you, can choose to join my family and get excited about what God is doing in this community through St. Paul United Methodist Church. You can invite your friends to come along on this adventure. You can step up your commitment to ministry and mission, your commitment to show love, share Christ, and shape disciples. You can, or you can just watch as the rest of us do our level best to answer God’s challenge to get going. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the desert, the desert is not the destination. I am ready to cross the river and enter the promise land, are you?