Thinking Outside of the Sanctuary

It’s surreal to be installed during a pandemic. But in some ways it was the most fitting way to install pastors who are called to think outside of the sanctuary. I’ve been temporary at Third Church for six years. I was hired as the senior pastor was planning to retire, stayed through the interim senior pastor, and last Sunday the new senior pastor and I were installed (semipermanent, because really nothing is permanent). I am thrilled to have a colleague in ministry who is willing to experiment with this idea we call church (I hope he feels the same). I’m lucky to be at a church that asked tough questions during their pastoral transition and continued to do so during the pandemic. We are working on how to live out our mission statement in meaningful ways. I am really grateful to be part of Third Church at this exciting time.

Unfortunately, there are many pastors (and congregants) that have lost a sense of meaning and purpose over the pandemic. It’s hard to lose all of the parts of your job and your worship that you loved and think about doing church differently. More unfortunate perhaps is that we’ve all been performing church instead of being church. So instead of taking the opportunity to try something new, many of us have been trying to do the old church thing in a world that has drastically changed. I’ve often wondered how many pastors would attend the church they serve if they were a lay person and my guess is not many. But here we all are doing what we think church is supposed to be and people are attending because that’s what they are supposed to be doing and no one is really loving any of it anymore. Sometimes traditions are peer pressure from dead people, and the church has lots of dead people. As we transition back to in person events (and continue to have virtual worship) I think we should be wondering about what in person events are necessary for the kin-dom. What is the mission and/or purpose of the gathering of church members? What does it mean to worship God? Is there anywhere we can or can’t worship? What would bring more love, joy, peace, healing, (insert your own buzz word) to the community? At Third Presbyterian Church we’ve been asking these questions even before the pandemic, and we’ve come up with the idea of Third Spaces. Here’s a brief excerpt from the concept:

Third Spaces: Physically distanced, socially connected, mindfully engaged

A Third Space is somewhere between the sanctuary and the zoom meeting where you encounter other members, neighbors, and the divine.  Worshiping in a virtual setting has allowed us to think differently about worship as well as our connection to each other and our neighbors.  While we miss worshiping in our beautiful sanctuary and being able to share Christ’s peace with a handshake or hug, we have learned to appreciate worshiping in other spaces too.  Many of us never thought of our homes as sanctuaries with comfy couch pews and communion coming from our own table.  The lines between holy and ordinary are blurry now.  The session and pastors of Third Church have begun dreaming about how we can continue to intentionally blur those lines and allow for different expressions of fellowship and worship.  As we experiment with this idea, we will host Third Space events that engage our congregation and community in ways we perhaps haven’t tried before and in ways that we may already be engaged but haven’t shared in traditional church settings before.  We hope these events allow each of us to experience new ways of worship and fellowship and to share our own expressions with our Third Church community.  Our goal is that these Third Spaces will be accessible, safe, and fun for all generations of worshipers.  

Other ideas I’ve been thinking about:

I would love to create a space for people to work out what their belief system or code or spirituality could be, even if it’s not presbyterian or christian. I would love to link it to our DfG program because I’ve noticed that while there are many people who have “required” service hours, most of them enjoy service work and find meaning in it beyond the requirements. I would love to have a safe space for conversations about why so many of us feel called to serve others. Most of the people from the community that help with DfG are not Presbyterians or Christians. Some of them have a faith system but others do not. It would be wonderful to share stories and ideas and allow people to establish their own spirituality. Maybe it’s a new faith community maybe it’s not. But the point is that I am serving a church that is okay with that type of exploration. I’m looking forward to dreaming this summer and implementing in the fall some sort of something… yes, very descriptive I know, but that’s how nebulous the idea is. I’m sharing it here because I want to keep this vision in front of my eyes, maybe get some feedback from readers, but most importantly to remember how grateful I am for this call at this time in this place.

And we (the DfG Pittsburgh Chapter) have been thinking about restructuring our chapter meetings too.

I’ve put together a power point for the first time in a long time to give a talk about DfG and a sermon to another church and just putting it together sparked new ideas and gratefulness for what we have been and what we are becoming.

I’m hoping to dive into more feminist theology books this summer too.

More gratitude:

I’m very grateful for the local pastors who participated in the installation service. It was wonderful and amazing to be among friends and hear what they had to say about Third Church and our calls here. It was so affirming and wonderful, especially since that imposter syndrom feeling had been creeping up as the date for the service approached. Congregants, family, and friends (including one Rabbi) gathered for the service on the lawn just outside of the sanctuary and I can’t imagine it feeling any more special. There were kids laughing and playing before, during, and after the service. It felt like a Third Space, the kind of Third Space I feel called to serve.

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