Week of September 11, 2013

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

Here’s a pop quiz for you. In what year does this phrase from the worship bulletin of First Presbyterian appear? The members of the congregation are requested to resume their seats after the benediction, for a moment of silent prayer. Was it 1911, 1931, 1951, or 1971? (The answer will be provided on page 9).

Over the summer, I enjoyed surveying the worship bulletins of over one hundred years at First Presbyterian Church. We have the work of Damaris Steele, our former church archivist, to thank for such a splendid collection of resources! I wanted to get a sense of the worship life of our nearly-200 year-old congregation of Christian disciples. Besides picking up tidbits such as the one above, I learned about changes over the years. For instance, the Order for Worship, for a long time, could fit on less than one page; a printed, corporate prayer of confession was introduced in 1972; and while the Doxology, Lord’s Prayer and Gloria Patri were part of the service in 1931, the Apostles’ Creed was not.

I was peering into our history as part of a charge to develop a new service of worship for Sunday mornings. The Session recently approved a Strategic Plan that calls for engaging members of the church who are not currently active and regular worshipers. Because worship is the heartbeat of the church’s life and our current services do not connect with everyone (our total average worship attendance — at morning services in the sanctuary and at 5:30 in the Gathering Place — is about one-quarter of our membership), the Session has endorsed a plan to launch a third service, an alternative to both the formal services of the sanctuary and the contemporary service in the Gathering Place. That service will begin on October 6, meet in the Enrichment Center and commence each week at 10:55. Catherine Foster and I will be the ministers responsible for leadership and Todd Jones will be present by means of the sermon, recorded at the 8:30 service and projected in the Enrichment Center. This is a model that has worked successfully in three Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations similar to ours, one in North Carolina, one in Texas and one in South Carolina.

Already, a task force of members is at work preparing for that day, working to insure that the service is family-friendly, warm and relaxed and true to our identity as a congregation. A pianist/choir director has been hired who can lead the congregation in singing a variety of music, from hymns to praise songs to music from the global church. The new denominational hymnal, Glory to God, will be our resource. Children’s activities are being developed, so that the whole family can worship together without anxiety about disturbing others. Older children are being asked to read scripture in the service and help receive the offering; adults are being asked to serve as welcoming hosts and worship leaders; and, of course, coffee and donut service is being planned to persist throughout the worship hour! Our aim is to nurture the kind of hospitality that draws a people together in worship and sustains the desire to return, week after week.

One more tidbit I found in the bulletin archives was this motto, which appeared upon the arrival of Dr. Walter Courtenay in January of 1944. It was printed on the front page each week: Old in Tradition — Modern in Service. That is a motto worthy of First Presbyterian Church still, one that I pray we will be worthy of as we launch this new service!

Grace and peace,

Stuart Gordon

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