Sunday morning at a Presbyterian Church: Valleyview Community Church, Calgary, Alberta.
A few days before Sunday, November 8, 2015, my daughter's minister "warned" her the plans for worship would be somewhat different. He shared this in order to prepare her for an extended time with the children in their Sunday morning program. I've had the privilege of participating in a wide range of worship experiences and been part of countless "conversations" about renewing worship, but this Sunday in my daughter's church may have been the "edgiest" effort I've experienced in innovative congregational worship.
Except for chairs arranged in "pew-like" rows, the opening welcome and verbal announcements and a couple of closing musical pieces, nothing felt like church or even worship (whatever worship is supposed to feel like!). Valleyview Community Church, Calgary (Yes it's Presbyterian Church in Canada) had decided for the month of November to incorporate a "talk show" format to engage a number of cultural topics with the gospel. It's part of their ongoing use of Natural Church Development insights to shape their ministry.
Talk show set
The decision was reflected initially in the setting. The entire front of the sanctuary had been re-organized to replicate a TV studio, though in a bit of a reversal, the interview nook was set up to one side and the house band (sometimes moon-lighting as a worship team) was anchored in the center. At times space determines function! On the other side of the studio/stage, there was space for guest musicians in evidence.
After the announcements, the talk-show began with the band leader/host's side kick giving an upbeat opening welcome and leading intro music and then came the dramatic introduction (with over the top volume and energy) of the host. From off-stage our host/minister entered talking all the way, with the stereotypical high energy patter outlining the "show" and special guests.
Immediately the banter between side-kick and host began, all moving the show's themes forward, but interspersed with the requisite cheap shots and set-ups. Then it was time for commercial breaks (downloads from youtube) and the top ten ways God can surprisingly speak to us. Both parts again addressed the theme of the morning.
John Van Sloten, pictured on the left, interviewed by Grant Gunnink
The piece de resistance this day was two-fold. The special guest was a local minister, the Rev. John Van Sloten (author of the book "The Day Metallica came to Church"), discussing the themes and quests found in Metallica's music. This interview was pre-recorded, seamlessly spliced into the service. The AV was never a distraction and presented in two parts.
Calgary cover band Andrenalize performs
In the middle of the interview, the guest musicians, Adrenalize, a Calgary cover band specializing in heavy metal music, came "on stage" and pounded out two Metallica pieces, "Unforgiven" and "Until it Sleeps". From several vantage points, it was mind-blowing! Part 2 of the interview attempted to engage those songs in parallel with the gospel. It was insightful and effective.
What compelled me after the service wasn't any awesome sense of God's presence evoked in the service (I had moments of that, but nothing overwhelming); rather, it was several other abiding memories. One was grace. In the live public exchanges between the host and Adrenalize's leader, there was a sense of respect and a willingness to risk with the other. (I suspect the band was late to bed and far earlier to rise than normal on a Sunday morning!) Van Sloten also was deeply respectful of Metallica as he spoke of their music's themes and longings. And gentle grace as we interact with our culture was one of the messages underscored throughout "the show".
Another is creative courage. Sometimes we hear/sense God nudging us out of our comfort zones. How does one engage the community in which we live? There are tried and true and often effective ways, but sometimes a different form comes to mind (e.g. talk show format is not standard liturgy). Will we risk? Will we allow ourselves or others to risk?!
And, thirdly, will we commit? Doing something "off the wall" can be either hokey or merely an effort to appear "cool", avant-garde, or cutting edge. To do something radical demands not just gifts (don't try this at home unless…), but lots of hard work, e.g. re-designing the sanctuary, preparing dialogue, getting into roles and deep-sixing three point alliterations. Like music, if it is not done well, it matters little if it is "contemporary" or "baroque"; it's not inspiring!
So I commend Valleyview for trying to connect the gospel in culturally relevant ways with their community. I have no idea if the November talk show series will prove to be a lasting memory that produces long-term effects, or more of a learning experience of things not to replicate in the future. It certainly stimulated yours truly to remain alert to those strange nudges that might better connect the gospel to my community, both my community of faith and my community of neighbours.
This service occurred November 8, 2015 and can be found in the listing of sermons posted on the church webpage