By Tom Tate
[Editor’s Note: Plaza Presbyterian Church was one of the pilot churches in NEXT’s Paracletos Project.]
Our worship service has changed a great deal over the year to create some new patterns that give life to our worshipping community:
- forty-five minutes rather than sixty,
- two hymns rather than three,
- scripture being “told” like a story more than “read” like a treatise,
- moving furniture to get an “in the round” feeling, and conducting worship from the Communion Table.
But, the offering was the same as it always had been. Ushers came through the congregation with offering plates. The choir sang or the organist played. Worshipers put something in the plate or didn’t. We usually sang the Doxology while the full plates were brought forward.
Recently, in a conversation with Jeff (who has served as my coach this last year) I began to wonder what we could do differently?
What could we do to engage worshipers, during worship, to make a different kind of offering?
Last January Plaza’s leaders wrote a purpose statement describing the kind of church we want to be and have printed it in the bulletin ever since. It reads,
“At this moment in time, God is calling us to be a living testament to Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Gospel;
to better serve others as Jesus taught us;
to be present in the community, identifying and responding to the needs of others and ourselves;
to be all-accepting;
to be a renewing resource for worship, education, and ministry for all; and to communicate in a way that stimulates us with creative ideas for embodying the values of the Gospel everywhere we go.”
Prayers have been based on the commitments in the statement. We’ve read it in unison. Sermons have been preached on individual sections and on the statement as a whole.
A few Sundays ago we began to use it in the offering.
A bulletin insert was prepared that reads,
“At this moment in time God is calling us to better serve others as Jesus taught [or one of the other sections of our statement].”
Instructions are also printed:
“As part of your offering today please write a sentence or phrase describing how you will seek to live into this commitment from our NEXT Church statement. Please put this in the Offering plate.”
The response has been fascinating – and more numerous than we expected, with almost 75% of worshippers participating.
Here is a sampling of what we have received thus far:
At this moment in time God is calling us…to be a living testament to Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Gospel.
- Helping a friend through grief.
- With my limitations of distance, age, and financial resources, I will continue to use my talents to the best of my ability.
- I will do my best to be an active Christian in Plaza Presbyterian Church, and a “neighbor” to those about me.
- I just began mentoring a new teacher at the high school. I hope to share my faith and love for Christ with her.
- I am going to listen to my co-workers and be calm as a new school year begins.
- To sing praises to God everyday.
At this moment in time God is calling us … to better serve others as Jesus taught us.
- To say or do something for someone else every day!
- I will call and pray for some close friends who are going through a very difficult time right now.
- Help certain ones at Plantations Estates who are experiencing dementia.
- Pray that The Lord will show me how to serve others around me if I can’t see them.
At this moment in time God is calling us …to be present in the community, identifying and responding to the needs of others and ourselves.
- Ask seniors in my neighborhood how I can help them.
- I will reach out to Shamrock Gardens Elementary and Plaza Place Family Shelter to welcome them to our fitness classes that I teach.
- I will continue to coordinate the medical transportation service, help my mother after her surgery, and support my friends in their endeavors.
- Lend an ear when someone needs to “vent.”
- To possibly retire and get more involved in the homeless population.
- I will try to learn to pray without ceasing.
The offering statements written by the congregation are being incorporated into prayers, proclamation, and announcements on subsequent Sundays. But more importantly, each and every Sunday people are seeing their lives as ones of discipleship and they commit themselves in very particular ways.
Our theology of worship teaches us that,
The Christian life is an offering of one’s self to God. In worship the people are presented with the costly self-offering of Jesus Christ, are claimed and set free by him, and are led to respond by offering to him their lives, their particular gifts and abilities, and their material goods. (PCUSA Directory for Worship, W-2.5001)
We’ve always offered material goods. We’re starting to offer our lives.
Tom Tate is the pastor of Plaza Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC.