Changing Worship Space — Notes from the field

Editor’s Note: Periodically, we will be sharing “notes from the field” from Plaza and Community Church. We hope their experiences will help inform your own… Perhaps to shape your thinking, spark a new idea, lend some energy to tackle something new, or invite leaders in your community to reflect on a particular guiding question.If this is the first you are hearing of this project, click here for the full introduction to this pilot program. If you missed the introduction to Plaza Church, click here

By Tom Tate

Five months back in the Sanctuary after our summer experience in a much more intimate and informal setting, we are finding that some of the things we did last summer have stuck.

This was our summer worship space.

This was our summer worship space.

Our worship is now forty-five minutes in length, (11:00 to 11:45 a.m.) using a modified version of the  “Service for the Lord’s Day.” It’s the same order but with parts missing depending on the emphasis of the message. Two hymns instead of three. More expressive readings of the Bible. And we pass the Peace following the Blessing as we move back into the world. We are also singing the Peace, using a version written by Charles Austin, our former Director of Music/Organist. (One reason for the forty-five minute service is so all our members can remain for the entire service. Some who live in retirement communities have had to leave during the final hymn to get home in time for lunch. Now they can stay for the entire service.)

New "in the round" space

New “in the round” space

We have moved pews and introduced chairs in an attempt to re-create some of the intimacy we found in the Conference Room. With the Communion Table moved deeper into the congregation we are almost worship-in-the-round.

There is some informality to the service even though I am wearing a robe again and so are our choir members. While our central pulpit and the Baptismal Font remain on the “chancel platform,” most of the service is conducted from the Communion Table with members in front and on both sides, and the choir behind in the choir loft. We have continued the use of different styles of praying sometimes interspersing spoken prayer with sung verses of a hymn, lining-out the prayer for congregation participation, even singing the prayer. There is less formal liturgy. When the choir sings with piano accompaniment, and they are doing that more often, they move from the loft to surround the piano. The piano itself is moved to a more central location on those occasions.


Preaching from the table, with the people

These changes have brought us closer together. We naturally see each other face-to-face as we worship. We are lingering after worship in a time of informal fellowship. And we seem to be more engaged in hearing the Word. Now we are working on doing the Word outside our sanctuary walls.


Tom Tate is the pastor of Plaza Presbyterian Church. He and Jeff Krehbiel will be offering a workshops on some of the learnings from Paracletos at the NEXT Gathering in Minneapolis!

1 reply
  1. Kitty
    Kitty says:

    Your article is helpful to me. I took my congregation out of the sanctuary last summer too. The congregation was hesitant at first and then loved it. New space powerfully evokes new possibilities !!

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