Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Starting a New Missional Community: Day 85
July 24, 2011
This morning (10:30 to noon, to be exact) my family and I worshipped with The Cove, a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation that was birthed in September of 2002 by a mother church (First Presbyterian Church of Santa Rosa) and the Presbytery of the Redwoods. The faith community started with 70 adults from First Presbyterian; it has since grown to about 250 people. It has benefited from $105,000 from the PC(USA) and an award of $50,000 (the Walton award). The similarities between this venture and what I'm up to include the fact that The Cove's pastor was previously a long-time associate pastor with First Presbyterian (I do not, however, have 70 adults and $155,000 with which to work).
On this Sunday in July, close to 150 people (including seniors, children, and everything in between) gathered to worship God. The church has property in north Santa Rosa (suburban, growing)--two small buildings, one for corporate worship and the other for classrooms and offices. The worship space was contemporary, simple, and flexible, with the seating arranged on this Sunday in a semicircle facing a platform (raised only slightly) with Communion table front and center and praise band behind it. It was an intimate enough space to allow for easy dialogue between speaker and congregation.
The service opened with four keyboard-driven songs (accompanied by drums and two guitars), one of which was an update of a traditional hymn and another of which I had not heard previously. The band was made up of two women and four men. Their sound was soft rock.
After the opening set, the pastor (a fiftyish white male in casual attire) rose from where he was sitting with the congregation and made some announcements about the "Life of the Church" (per the barebones order of worship, which was brief enough to fit on the front panel of a trifold bulletin). These announcements were followed by an opportunity for visitors (there were several) to be introduced. An offering was then taken, with prayer for both local and global concerns offered during the passing of the plates.
The message (more testimony than typical sermon) was given by a thirty-something laywoman. (The Cove's commitment to the priesthood of all believers is also evidenced by the fact that its worship team, listed in the bulletin, has 18 participants.) The preacher based her "talk" (as she described it) on 1 Samuel 1:1-20. It lasted 35 minutes, concluding with an opportunity for listeners to write down prayer requests (for something for which we were "waiting") and put them in baskets located around the room.
The service concluded with the sacrament of Communion. Using informal language, the pastor invited those of us who trusted Jesus to partake. Bread and juice (in chalices) were then passed from row to row.
We had a pleasant hour and a half with the Cove. This church is evidence that given some people, some funding, and some time, a mainline Protestant church start can become a healthy, medium-sized, self-sufficient community. The Cove doesn't seem to be reliant on extremely charismatic leadership. Instead, this faith community has contextualized faithfully and smartly--which in the context of suburban Santa Rosa looks like gender inclusivity, informality, and simplicity.