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Unoriginal Vision, New Worship

by Rev. David Arthur Auten, First Congregational Church of Ramona

     When our church decided to launch a Sunday evening alternative worship experience this past fall, it wasn’t done lightly.  Nor was it done simply because contemporary worship happens to be en vogue and effective at reaching people today.  For us, it was done as an expression of the vision we believe God has placed before us as a church.  For years and years (certainly long before I was the pastor here at the First Congregational Church of Ramona) our congregation has been known in Ramona as a deeply loving community.  So it only seemed natural after a year’s worth of prayer, reflection, and discussion through our Church Council about the identity of our church, to claim this explicitly as the vision that God has called us to be faithful to.  Simply put, our mission is to “live a life of love.”  It’s a vision statement plagiarized straight from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter five verse two.  It’s not creative.  It’s totally unoriginal.  But it is “us.”  And it was Jesus, who told his followers the most important thing we could be about is love (Matthew 22). 

     This is the vision that gave birth to our new Sunday evening worship experience which is averaging between twenty to forty worshipers each week just four months after its launch.  At least half of those attending are people new to our congregation and, as some of them will plainly tell you, the service is not your run-of-the-mill contemporary worship; nor is it very elaborate.  In fact, it’s the exact opposite of elaborate.  It’s simple.  There are three simple movements in the service:  music, message, meditation.  We open with twenty minutes of mostly acoustic, mellow yet passionate alternative Christian music led by one person.  We then enjoy a twenty minute message based on the Word of God, but also often weaving together insights from philosophy, psychology, science, narrative theology, and a variety of other sources.  We then conclude with a twenty minute time of Christian meditation where people are invited into prayer primarily as listening, participating in the sacrament of communion, sharing in the offering, and candle lighting.  That’s it:  music, message, meditation.   The worship experience was conceived and launched as an expression of love.  We’re just trying to love people, to lovingly connect with those in our community that we haven’t connected with before.  So far, we’re off to a good start.  And although it might be tempting to point to marketing strategies or personalities or new audio-visual equipment in our sanctuary as responsible for this, I believe it is first and foremost a result of our commitment to living out the specific vision that God has placed before our church.  Scripture reminds us that where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18).  Which means the converse is also true.  Where there is a vision, God’s vision, the people flourish. 

Wishing you many blessing for the New Year,
Rev. David Auten

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