Reflections on a New Experience
By the Rev. Rebecca Knox, Christ Lutheran Church, Grill
It was summer. I had just begun reading The Power of Asset Mapping by Luther
On page 6, Snow writes, “I once listened to a speech by Mark Hanson, presiding
bishop of the ELCA, in which he talked about how they used to run church council
meetings where he was a parish pastor. Instead of the usual business agenda,
they would get most things done by prayer, Bible study, and discussions of faith.
And they would open every meeting with a question, ’What signs of
God’s grace have you witnessed lately?’”
I was compelled to highlight the passage, turn down the corner of the page, and
write “worship starter” in the margin.
During that week, conversations with three separate families revealed folks tired
by Sunday morning, dragging themselves to church, and getting more tired. Each
time I thought to myself or said out loud, “Worship is supposed to be energizing.” Instead,
for us the cup is half-full. I realized that we needed to take a different path
What would help? I prayed and reflected. Our congregation is a close group. In
statistical terms, that means that 28 of the flock gathered that next Sunday
morning. We're in a beautiful village, in a picturesque red brick church. The
faithful core is wholeheartedly trying to love God and neighbor creatively.
But an annual deficit of $5,000, shrinking attendance at worship, evaporating
savings, and dramatically increasing average age of active members are stumbling
We, pastor and people, too often look at our congregation and, on a good day,
see a half-full glass. On rough days, we only see a few dregs at the bottom.
So the next Sunday we began worship differently. I explained in my welcome that
announcements would be abbreviated so that we could focus on sharing our experiences
of God’s presence in our daily lives. I told them about the book I was
reading and gave these reasons for changing the format of worship:
“So”, I said to the seemingly agreeable congregation, “What signs
of God’s grace have you witnessed lately?”
- This will help us better prepare for worship. We can let go of distractions
like “What did I forget from the grocery list?” or “Will the
service end in time to change and get to the field for the game?”
- This will help us see that God’s presence is in, with, and under us
as we move into the unknown of different styles of outreach and other ministry.
In the moment of silence that followed, I thought, “We’ve witnessed
to each other before. There have been a few power-of-prayer testimonials and
even the occasional benefits-in-my-faith-and-life-from-increasing-financial-stewardship
faith stories. I’m sure someone will be comfortable enough in our intimate
summer worship space to share…”
And they did!
First was a beautiful description of forgiveness in an airport: A forgotten ID,
a departing flight, and, instead of wrath and unknown security measures of punishment,
compassion in the form of a hug. All this was witnessed out of earshot, but well
within range of the heart.
Then a moment of joy as a member told of experiencing the delight in the celebration
of people of a different culture. “They know how to celebrate! It was beautiful.
I never knew.”
“A soldier friend came home from Iraq to her US base,“ noted another member. “It
is only for six months, but now she can be with her dying grandmother.”
We began worship in these shared moments. Then we went into the worship printed
in the bulletin. There was God’s grace among this flock, all over the place!
The next week we began worship again with "What signs of God's grace have
you witnessed lately?"
A baby was born into the congregation.
A child had shared a beloved toy with a friend. Dad thought that the exchange
must’ve been coerced. But no, it was sacrificial giving, God’s love
straight up from one child to another.
Ahhh. Again one could sense the awareness of God's presence as we proceeded into
worship! “It brought our minds and hearts closer into God’s presence,” said
We continued with this worship practice for the rest of our summer worship.
At the end of those worship experiences, I prayed silently, giving thanks. “God,
your grace is amazing!”