Wednesday, March 12, 2014


I heard recently about a unique church experiment in Orlando, Florida. Apparently, a drive-in movie theatre shut down, and a nearby church took over the property. They have an altar where the big screen had been, invite worshippers to stay in their cars, and broadcast prayers, sermon and singing on a short-range radio frequency. One member described why this works for her. “I’ve been struggling with cancer, and simply want to cry at church, which would be hard if I worried about others seeing or hearing me.” Her voice, in describing the set-up, rang with welcome and relief. Of course, some things never change. After service, the old concession stand offers conversation, donuts and coffee!

Now, the news report where I heard about this said nothing about the church’s deliberations before moving. Presuming they’d previously occupied a typical building, I imagine those conversations were… animated. One person says, “We could do drive-in church!” Another says, “Are you crazy?!” Still others wonder, “Would it work? Should it?” Many likely kept silent. I’m sure the church lost some members, gained some members; they called a new pastor two years ago. Which suggests the experiment is working. At least, it hasn’t bombed yet.

In Iowa, one of our sibling Disciples churches does, not drive-in church, but drive-through church. That’s what they’ve dubbed it. People get out of their cars- mind you- but for only twenty minutes. One hymn, one prayer, a sermon, communion, offertory, and off to soccer games. This isn’t their only worship offering. There’s a fuller service at 10 am. Nevertheless, that church adapted to meet emerging needs for overscheduled families. I have another colleague and friend starting a church in Fargo. They don’t have a building, and aren’t sure they want one. Instead, they meet in a bar, after Sunday night Happy Hour, where a rock band plays old hymns with new arrangements. Some drink tea. Others prefer local craft beers. Together, they pray and praise in ways that feel right to them. A seminary colleague of mine leans traditional in most things worship and liturgy, though she’s theologically progressive. Still, usually she doesn’t go in for “newfangled” music and prayers. Nevertheless, this Ash Wednesday, she stood in her church parking lot during lunch, and invited passersby to get their foreheads smudged. Window down. Say a prayer. Apply ashes. Return to work.

Something the earliest Christians needed was new forms of worship. You see, most were committed Jews for whom the Jerusalem Temple was the center of faith. But once they decided to follow Jesus, the Temple was off limits. Crisis ensued. How could they faithfully worship if the forms and styles their ancestors used were no longer available? Some models remained at-hand. Synagogues were just emerging for use among non-Jerusalem Jews. Traveling rabbis had long brought people together. Jesus instituted the Last Supper. Nevertheless, for most things “church,” little precedent existed. And if you read the New Testament closely, you can tell that much creativity was attempted, while controversy circled endlessly.

Eventually, they “settled” into worship forms and church organization structures that we still use, though rarely with complete agreement. Indeed, throughout our faith tradition runs an impulse to try new ideas, shake things up. And that’s entirely appropriate, right? After all, God- fundamentally- is a Creator. One who delights in beautiful newness. What better way to worship that One than to create ourselves, to never be settled?!

All of which is to say that, as much as you and I may enjoy certain aspects of what we’ve grown accustomed to as “worship” or “church”, none of that is set in eternal stone. We stand on the shoulders of those who made things up. And while their creations might work for us, as the broader population- particularly younger folk- increasingly distrust traditional “church” and styles of worship, we’ll need to adapt, step out of our comfort zones if we intend to grow, or even endure. Is that drive-through or drive-in church? New music priorities? New ministries that serve our neighbors? Ask yourself (and tell me!) what you consider essential for Plymouth Creek? And what can- perhaps should- drastically change?

Grace and Peace,

P.S.- Last Sunday, Plymouth Creek “live streamed” - via Skype- our sermon to members sailing in the Caribbean, one of whom led Communion for the entire church just after. They’ll go off sailing again for several months at a time, and we emailed on Monday about making this a regular thing, where they’ll even invite fellow sailors away from (or without) church to their boat on Sundays, gather around a screen, sing, listen, pray, do communion. Because, well, why not?!

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