service times and feedback

Several weeks ago I began speaking of our plan to move, for a trial period, our primary Sunday service from 10:30 to 9:30am. The change will be from Feb. 22nd – May 24th (Lent and Easter Seasons) and be followed in the summertime by a return to our normal schedule and a process of discerning what worked and what didn’t.

I’ve received a good bit of feedback that I wish to share, along with reasons for trying this, in a place where all could offer their own perspectives.

Why are we trying this out? Quite simply, we hope to build a community time in which a much greater number of parishioners can participate in Sunday fellowship and study. I envision a time in which the whole community – folk of all ages – gathers together each week to break bread, reflect on the service, and teach the faith.

While some of our areas of ministry already thrive on Sunday mornings, others struggle to build momentum. This temporary change will help us to explore new models for:

  • Formative, engaging and robust programs for children and youth outside of the worship service
  • Adult sessions and classes that allow many more parishioners to encounter the ideas of Christian practice, ethics, history and liturgy
  • Lively fellowship that continues to engage a great number of our parishioners each Sunday, and welcomes many who have not yet attended

In my years as a priest I’ve observed something of a standard lineup of Sunday morning services: early morning services that are attended mostly by older adults, midmorning services that draw a mix of young families and adults of all ages, and late services that cater largely to older adults while also seeing some participation by younger families.

St. Andrew’s more or less has the early and late services.  Have we been missing out on participation through our current schedule? Might offering children’s programming after our primary service, rather than before, help build important momentum? I have seen this structure work with great success in other churches, and I think it is worth trying at St. Andrew’s.

I have received a great deal of valuable feedback in the past few weeks. As you might expect from a group of faithful Episcopalians, some are in favor, others oppose it, and many are willing to give it a try to see what might happen.

Here’s some of what I’ve heard from those who are opposed. Some feel that this disrupts a schedule that they feel is already working well. Some, noting that Fellowship (“coffee hour”) has grown in participation, are concerned that this will undo a success story. One person has suggested that this is just another attempt at building “Sunday School” according to an outdated model.

Just as some find the 9:30 start time an improvement, others do not. This calls on choir members to rehearse even earlier, a challenge for some. A few worry that their ability to make it to church at all would be compromised. They are also disappointed that this trial period was not the result of a parish-wide discernment process.

All of these are important points. So what’s the right answer? I don’t know, but I believe that we need to be willing to try new things – and indeed risk failing from time to time – in order to get where we need to go.

I hope you’ll offer your thoughts below. What possibilities could a trial change in the service times open up? What challenges does it present?

No anonymous comments please! In responding, please speak only for yourself – not “people are saying…,” etc.  Let’s abide by the classic “I” language of group process. Please also be respectful of one another’s thoughts. This is not a forum for arguing with one another, but simply an invitation to offer your own perspective. Finally, if you have a thought but would prefer not to comment here, you may contact me (bernard.owens@standrewsgso.org) or our fabulous our senior wardens, Cathy Jordan (crjordan@triad.rr.com) and Finley Middleton (finleynmiddletonii@gmail.com). Peace, BJ+

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About bernardowens

I'm an Episcopal priest in Greensboro, North Carolina.
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6 Responses to service times and feedback

  1. BJ Owens says:

    Here’s me testing out the comment section to see if it works.

  2. Dan Smith says:

    My family is excited to try this out.

  3. Bob Emmaus says:

    I support the proposal. But can we start ringing the
    bell again to announce to the world that we’re here?!

  4. Marcia Moore says:

    I have mixed feelings about this new experiment. I agree that trying new ideas and configurations can be a very good thing, as sometimes the “same old same old” can become stale and rote. I want to first say that when BJ kept talking about creating enthusiasm around a “mid-morning service,” I was confused – but perhaps to someone with young children, “mid-morning” IS 9:30! I think those terms may mean different things to different people – many large churches have their late-morning services at 11:00 or 11:30 – to me, our 10:30 service has always been our mid-morning service.

    I’m one of those choir folks who comes every Sunday at 9:30 to rehearse the music for the 10:30 service. Even though we spend every Wed. evening practicing and rehearsing, that time we spend in review on Sunday mornings (in the sanctuary) is critical to knowing we are prepared to lead music for worship. With the new schedule in place, we will be starting Sunday rehearsals at 8:30. If we support the new plan, we will attend Fellowship (coffee hour?) and Formation classes after the service, all adding up to almost 4 hours in church on Sunday mornings. Not that I begrudge the time spent – but I have to admit I am dreading having to get up and go that much earlier every Sunday. And “dread” is not an adjective I like to apply to my church attendance.
    I have complained about not being able to attend Formation classes because of the rehearsal time. But for those of us who have a need for learning and study, we find other outlets; for me it’s EFM, for others it might be book groups, Bible study, etc. Sometimes we just have to set our priorities and make choices.

    I am hoping that service times can be posted outside the church somewhere – I’m concerned this will be confusing to many, including newcomers and those whose attendance is less regular, and even more so when we switch back to 10:30 later.

    I’m also one of those who would have preferred to offer feedback BEFORE the decision was made and the plan implemented. This is a BIG change, as clearly there are strong feelings; not sure it needed to be subjected to a long process, but a few questions or short survey may have been wise.

    Finally, I must acknowledge that I am not always well-informed as to what works best in many settings. If this new plan for changing the service time helps to generate enthusiasm and energy and increase attendance in the areas discussed, I will be celebrating and embracing those positive changes.

  5. Pingback: the final (trial) schedule | mission and renewal (a rector's blog)

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