Some people love to be surprised; and perhaps that is why those haunted house experiences are so popular every October. For the rest of us; however, we rather like the idea of knowing what we are getting into. Going to a new place of worship for the first time can be stressful. How should I dress? Will they sing music I don’t know? How am I expected to behave? Will I be able to sneak in and out without being noticed? (Those are actual questions our pastor has asked himself before visiting a new church. You are probably better adjusted than him.)
We would like to provide a basic introduction to what you can usually expect at Engage on most Sundays.
We do meet in a traditional looking church building, but that is about as traditional as it gets visually. We begin our very informal time together in the basement fellowship room, where we sit around a U-shaped configuration of tables. Often people grab a hot chocolate, coffee or tea before we start the service. Because we are informal most people dress quite casually.
Our time together for the first three Sundays of the month unfolds like this:
Our services begin with singing two or three contemporary worship songs, led by one or two singers who are accompanied by an acoustic guitar. Occasionally, we will sing a more traditional hymn when its words fit with the theme of the service.
Within the past year we have decided to have the children’s educational time and the adults’ sermon focus on the same passage of scripture. These passages are set by “Shine!” the curriculum we use. This curriculum is produced by the Mennonite Church and the Church of the Brethren. The Introduction is a short and simple talk designed to present the core idea for that Sunday.
After the Introduction we highlight any important information which the congregation needs to know.
We draw the first part of our service to a close by blessing our children before they move upstairs for their lesson. We use a single refrain which both signals a transition and break as well as reminds us of an important calling we all have as believers. The refrain we repeat three times is “May you know God and make him known.”
At this point, we take a ten to fifteen-minute break for more coffee, a snack, catching up with one another or meeting new friends.
After the break, we focus on what most people will recognize as a sermon, but what we refer to as the Message. While exploring the biblical text’s original setting and meaning we also attempt to make relevant connections to life today. Most Sundays this relevance connection is further made by a time of open comments and feedback from any who wish to contribute.
Most congregations pray together, and so do we. Our prayer time takes a variety of forms. Sometimes the pastor leads us in pre-written prayers which span the history of the Christian Church, sometimes we pray for world, state, local and congregational concerns, and at other times we simply pray as we feel led to pray.
We wrap up the service with one final song.
The official worship time is concluded with a benediction, which is a fancy word for blessing. We usually use the same closing words because they are an important reminder, we aren’t alone and we have a job: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship with the Holy Spirit be with you now and evermore. Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.”
Since we rent our space we need to return the furniture to its original places, and we do that as soon as we finish socializing with the people we just worshipped with!
The fourth and fifth Sundays of the month differ from this pattern. On the fourth Sunday, we replace the second talk with a different activity or focus for the adults. The children still leave the fellowship room for their Bible lesson, but the adults engage in a discussion of a common text or topic. In February and March we are discussing David Gushee’s book Changing Our Mind. We, also, celebrate communion on the fourth Sunday. (By the way, we have an “open table” policy for communion. If your conscience allows you, and you desire to follow Christ, you are welcome to participate in communion.) Finally, we usually have a fellowship meal after the service on the fourth Sunday.
One element which makes Engage a little unique is the fact that we don’t have a service on the fifth Sundays of a month. We encourage our regular attenders to visit other congregations which differ from us (we acknowledge we don’t have a corner on Truth) or organize an informal gathering for others like a hike and picnic on the Appalachian Trail or plan a service project with a local non-profit agency.
That is essentially what a Sunday morning at Engage looks like. If you have further questions, feel free to contact us.