That is not something I expected to cross my mind in my first 3 months working in a church, but I thought it with all seriousness at about 7:32 p.m. on Wednesday, December 5.
One of my big projects at Centenary UMC has been helping to vision for and birth a new worship service. Roots Revival is a midweek service grounded in Americana/roots-based music. The idea came from our senior minister, Mark Ralls, in conversation with church member and musician Martha Bassett, who is the primary music leader for the service.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Mark and Martha for almost 9 months now in preparation for this. I visited churches of all kinds over the summer to get ideas and inspiration, brainstorming around contextual worship and community. I talked to people about worship, music, young adults, and church planting–because starting a new service, especially one like this, is a lot like planting a church.
We decided to try a “soft opening” to get us started: a 3-week Advent series centered around the songs of the season. We spread the word but didn’t do a ton of advertising. This was our opportunity to see what worked and get feedback. The plan: do this short run, take a break, and re-launch in mid-January.
Martha is joined by musicians Sam Frazier and Pat Lawrence, and we brought in one of the sound guys from The Garage, a music venue here in Winston-Salem. I knew that all of them were rock stars, but it didn’t really sink in just how legitimately good they are and how deeply fortunate we are to have them as the core of our team until we were doing sound check for our first service. I got a little giddy–even more so when in one service I got to sing backup to Martha.
This service promises to continue to be a lot of fun and a great opportunity for fresh explorations of worship, music and faith. We’ll draw on a variety of musical resources, from traditional hymns and gospel music to some contemporary Christian music to “secular” songs (I hate the word “secular,” but I’ll save that rant for another blog post). Artists whose music will likely make an appearance range from Gillian Welch to Bob Dylan to Mumford and Sons to more local artists we may even bring in for a service. We’ve already used The Rolling Stones and Leonard Cohen in worship.
What can you expect in a Roots Revival service? You can expect a relaxed atmosphere, a lot of really good music, and a strong emphasis on encouraging participation. We take time at the beginning of each service to teach any songs that might be unfamiliar, because we want people to join in the singing. We’ve even played around with a little bit of part-singing and hope to do more of that, so although you don’t have to be a musician to appreciate the service, you’ll surely enjoy it if you are. The worship includes prayer, scripture, a short sermon (you can read the messages from our first 3 services on our blog), and we will celebrate communion regularly.
We also want every service to have an active, participatory element beyond the music–so, for example, our first service included a time of candle lighting; in our second, we passed out prayer cards in response to a sermon about Mary; and in our third, we shared in a Moravian love feast. We’re hoping to provide more opportunities for interaction and conversation in the context of worship, which I think will make for a very community-oriented worship experience that I for one am enjoying so far.
We’ve also talked about adding an informal “pub theology” element after the service, because Foothills Brewery is right across the street. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a better way to spend my Wednesday evening than at Roots Revival followed by conversation over local brews.
If your interest is piqued, mark your calendars for every Wednesday at 7:30 starting on January 16. Check out our website, find us on Facebook and Twitter, and spread the word. I’m having a lot of fun and would love to share that with anyone who wants to join.
If you are a pastor or liturgy geek and want to know more about the ins and outs of how the service works, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll send you a bulletin and answer any nerd questions.
Sarah S. Howell