GATHER 2019: Re-imagining Worship & Soulful Community

Re-imagining Worship & Soulful Community For Rising Generations

Download the Case Study Summary Report

OVERVIEW:

Gather 2019 was a project of reflection asking how we might transform our worship at Convergence to meet rising generations. This one year study and experimentation time was made possible through a Vital Worship Grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan, with funds provided by the Lilly Endowment Inc.

Through an ongoing study group, blog, a podcast, virtual conversations and interviews with “experts” we explored the How We Gather and Something More reports from Harvard Divinity School and the book, The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker.

“Too many institutional leaders. Having devoted their lives to their community, feel as if they have failed when numbers shrink. This has led to a culture of shame. Yet, in a society so rapidly transformed by technology and globalization, it is no wonder that our religious lives, too, are changing. We invite leaders across traditions to tune their hearts to a new key of imagination and hope, exploring the unexpected ways that their decades of experience may yet bear fruit.”

Something More Report WWW.HowWeGather.org

APPROACH:

All of the questions and observations explored and developed through this project were the result of deep conversations with a large portion of our congregation. Through group exercises, discussions of podcasts and readings, we developed questions in three categories: questions to ask ourselves, questions to ask others we see “gathering well” in soulful community; and questions to ask “rising generations.” These questions then led to more conversation and questioning about who we are called to be.

In addition, the congregation participated in book studies to explore contemplative practices from a variety of traditions. These practices were then integrated into our Sunday worship gatherings as a way to experience and discern what felt meaningful for us. A big part of these conversations was focused on how to welcome new people in; how to strike the balance between making people comfortable and giving the accountability and real experience of God that is necessary to be fruitful.

As time went on we were drawn into more pointed conversations about where all of this reflection might be leading us including the consideration of giving up our physical worship space on a temporary basis to pursue “pop-up” services in public places, joint services with other congregations and the creation of a “Contemplative Underground” in the downtown area of our city. Fortuitously, we were also considering more of an online presence as well.

Due to the preparation from these conversations months before Covid-19, we were equipped to step into an online space with a clear understanding of what was essential for us: deep spiritual meditation using artistic means for broad welcome and engagement; shared, consistent spiritual practices; consistent focused connection with others around meaningful conversation; and shared leadership, commitment and accountability among our members in order to reach broadly and invite others into an experience of “something more” throughout the week.

Our online gathering now consists of a weekly video meditation created by an actor, musician and producer in our congregation using sermons and reflections written by the pastor. Each video is emailed out and posted on FaceBook and YouTube. These are paired with Online Spiritual Collectives; discussion groups of 6-8 people who meet on various days of the week via Zoom to pray, practice silence and holy listening, and share reflections prompted by the video meditations.

The entire congregation meets on Sunday nights via Zoom for an unstructured fellowship and prayer time. Thursdays at 11:00 AM Lectio Divina is held on FaceBook live by one of our congregation members. And once a month, we gather for our online Taizé service called, PAUSE, where we sing, pray, read scripture aloud and share communion together.

RESULTS:

While being separated during the Covid-19 crisis seems like an odd way to consider the way we gather together and worship in artful and contemplative ways; it has been extremely fruitful.

Through the study, conversation, prayer, questions and imagining that we did together during the first part of the grant period God had prepared us uniquely for “going online.” We had already considered the idea of doing sermons or teaching online and then gathering together in small groups for discussion as a possible new model of meeting. We had identified our heart for connecting more intentionally around art and contemplative prayer and our desire to build a way to involve those who were homebound or out of state more deeply in the week to week life of our church.

We decided to see this time as one of opportunity instead of derailment. We held our annual membership service online, have solidified our leadership team in new ways by adding new members and increasing commitment levels from our entire congregation. Members were asked to step into roles of leadership for our Online Spiritual Collectives small groups and we were able to include people who have been on the outskirts of our community in meaningful ways by bringing them into the center of our weekly worship and prayer life.

You can read our final conclusions and lessons learned from this one year study here: Project Conclusions. Below, you will also find a link to an assessment and planning tool for gathering well in worship based on Priya Parker’s book, The Art of Gathering, links to our podcast conversations, videos and Online Spiritual Collectives.


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

This project is made possible through a Vital Worship Grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan, with funds provided by the Lilly Endowment Inc.