St. Stephen’s is a learning community. Our mission invites us to be open to transformation by God through our interactions with others in the world around us. It is in this spirit that we intentionally embark on experiments. This spring our major experiment was the launching of Word and Table, an alternative Eucharist offered on Sunday mornings in the Havens Center.
The goals that we had in mind for this experiment were:
- To create an experience of prayer for those who consider themselves spiritual, but not religious
- To develop a model of community that we could move into the broader neighborhood
- To alleviate some of the crowding we were experiencing in the nave during the 10:30 Sunday morning Eucharist
- To build up muscle within the St. Stephen’s community for evangelism from a progressive Christian perspective, i.e., how can we share the faith that is in us without being manipulative, self-righteous proselytizers? How do we meet Jesus in our neighborhood?
- To empower young leaders in our community to create worship that is meaningful to them and others.
As is the case in most of our lives, we learned some of what we hoped to learn, but much that we did not expect. We discovered that while we had hoped to develop a cadre of 20 leaders to commitment to the 10 weeks, only 5 people were willing to do so. But we had a total of 57 people attend at least one session and we averaged 30 people each Sunday.
These 57 people were into the experience and wanted to talk about it. We received feedback from over 35 people over the course of the experiment. What we discovered was that Word & Table did not engage the “spiritual, but not religious” among us so much as it allowed us to express a more affective/feeling dimension of our spirituality among members of our current congregation. Folks talked about how it felt like camp, campus ministry, and other spiritual encounters that engaged play, conversation, and intimacy. The youth who participated commented on the freedom to move about, to engage deeply in conversation, and to be able to relate to others in a safe way. Some people missed sermons. Others loved being able to engage in silence. Some of our design team talked about the richness of creating prayer for the community and how it deepened their connection to God and the Church.
There was definitely more room in the Nave for folks to find a seat, although parking issues remained. Participants in Word & Table were glad to be able to maintain their relationships with communicants who chose not to participate in the experiment.
So what? What now? We are going to be creating Word & Table 2.0 for the summer months. In this iteration we are going to be addressing this “spiritual, but not religious” envelope. What does it mean to offer a sacred meal in its most essential way? From the feedback we have received we know that there are still barriers to full participation. How do we remove them?
Ten of the original leaders of Word & Table 1.0 have agreed to engage in this quest. During the months of July and August, Word and Table 2.0 will be created and launched at various sites, to be determined. The first planning session will be Thursday, June 26, 7:00 p.m. at the Havens Center. Feel free to lend your talent. A second planning session, at the chosen site of our launch, will take place on Wednesday, July 9, 7:00 p.m. Plan to attend, if you feel called.
We then plan to launch Word & Table 2.0 the following week.
We’ll keep you posted.