Experimenting with worship


An Episcopal church in San Francisco recently began offering Taize services on Thursday nights. I have not visited this church, but I was interested to read what the rector had to say about the Thursday services in his blog entry on the subject:

I'm hopeful that this service will continue to grow. It is congruent with the contemplative, Christ-centered character of this parish, yet accessible to newcomers in ways that Sunday Eucharist may not be. (emphasis added)
Episcopal churches are more or less locked into using the rites from their Book of Common Prayer for their Sunday morning services (except, for some reason, St. Gregory's, which got some sort of exemption from that). I give some Episcopal churches credit for realizing that these standard types of morning services are not everyone's cup of tea; hence the desire to try experimenting with different kinds of services, either on Sunday evenings or on weeknights.

The same blog entry that I cited above mentions that they had considered doing some kind of alternate Sunday evening service:
this service followed a nearly year-long attempt to launch a Sunday evening "contemplative Eucharist" that failed for a variety of reasons: lack of promotion, inadequate support from current members who found it hard to come back again after Sunday morning worship, a worship style that failed to differentiate itself enough from Sunday morning.
Although this effort failed, the fact that they were considering it shows an understanding that Book of Common Prayer doesn't work for everyone. I note that several other Episcopal churches in the Bay Area offer Sunday Evening services as informal or experimental alternatives to what they offer in the mornings. Examples include Trinity Episcopal in Menlo Park (5 PM "Informal Services"); St. Mary's in San Francisco (5 PM "Unplugged" service); St. Mark's in Berkeley ("user-friendly", "a low-key evening of prayer, scripture, chant, and the Eucharist"); All Souls Parish in Berkeley (6 PM "Contemplative Evening Worship"); and Trinity Episcopal in San Francisco, which offers a Wednesday night Taize service.

Other than the Taize services at Trinity Episcopal, I haven't experienced these other services, so I can't really comment on them specifically. But I do know that I enjoy the Taize services at Trinity, for both positive and negative reasons. It is true that they don't have many of the features of Episcopal worship that don't really appeal to me--including the Eucharist itself. Instead, the focus is on a contemplative atmosphere with beautiful musical chants, and a diverse body of readings, the vast majority of which come from Christian sources--but not always! (I have been there when they gave a reading from the Koran, and on another occasion they included a reading from a Sufi work.)

Perhaps that is why I enjoyed the candlelit service that I attended at the Night Church in Copenhagen a few weeks ago, even though the language barrier prevented me from understanding much of what was said. In that case, I enjoyed the quiet, contemplative atmosphere, I found the music to be beautiful--and there was no Communion, which is always something I'm a little uncomfortable with anyway. Simple, beautiful, contemplative seem to be the watchwords that work well for me.

If churches are going to attract people like me who sit on the fringes of Christianity, I think they are going to need to offer diverse kinds of worship.