[reprinted from the COS staff newsletter]

urban_dox_internsAs many of you know, or noticed, I was on sabbatical this summer. Much of the time was spent in Richmond, VA at East End Fellowship, where I taught worship and songwriting to five college-age interns, played bass with the worship band, and took part in community life.

In many ways EEF is about as un-COS as a church could be. The congregation and church leadership is about half African American and half European American, with a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds. The music is all “off-the-page” (improvised by the musicians and sung from a screen), and the style leans toward Black Gospel. The services are noisy and interactive, with meals afterward in the worship space. It meets in a rented theater, the Robinson Theater, named for Richmond native, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. But though it looks and feels very different from COS, there are many similarities. EEF is committed to racial reconciliation, community outreach, and social justice. Their worship, beneath its extemporaneous surface, follows similar Reformed and liturgical patterns to COS. At the heart of both churches is a commitment to following Jesus in our particular contexts.

robinson_theaterEEF services were on Sunday afternoons at 4pm, so I had a number of opportunities to visit other churches in Richmond (and in Grand Rapids after I returned). It was instructive to experience everything from “visitor friendly” churches that I found off-putting to “insider” worship that felt welcoming. I hope the insights I gained as a visitor will inform future discussions at COS about how we welcome visitors.

The combination of experiencing the EEF community deeply and being a visitor at a number of other churches was helpful in my other sabbatical task: writing a book on the basics of worship and worship leading. My goal is to write an introduction to worship theology and practice that will provide a good foundation without being narrowly tied to one tradition. I frequently found myself wondering, “Would this make any sense at the church I visited last week?” or “How would I explain this to the interns?” I’m about halfway done with the book, and will keep chipping away at it in the coming year.

People have been asking me, What is the big take away from the summer? I think some of them are worried I’ll come back to COS and change everything, and others are hoping…well…that I’ll come back to COS and change everything. Richmond is a very different context than Grand Rapids, so there’s no easy, direct application from one church to another. The main lesson I learned is that there are many ways to worship God faithfully. Every church’s worship will look different depending on time and place. My prayer is that COS can remain pliable, adapting to our ever-changing context.

We’re certainly in a healthy position to grow and change. This summer showed that we have an extremely strong and talented pool of volunteer musicians, artists, and leaders. Special thanks are due to Maria Poppen, who kept all those volunteers organized, even though she was also in the process of taking over liturgy production from Nancy Van Baak.

Looking forward to the coming year, many things will look the same as they have in the past: the adult choir, youth choir, and Joyful Noise Orchestra will start up again with a new school year. Guitarchestra will cha cha onward with their quirky charm. The Basic English Service will continue to run parallel to the 11am service, we’ll welcome Advent with a service of Lessons & Carols, celebrate Christmas with special gatherings, and start 2015 by introducing the winner of this year’s New Psalm Contest.

But at a deeper level we’ll be praying for renewal and following wherever the Spirit leads in the coming year.

–Greg Scheer, Minister of Worship