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Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Open Door

The 220th General Assembly is unusual in that its Sunday-morning worship was not in the familiar cast-of-thousands, stadium-style format.  Rather, local congregations of Pittsburgh Presbytery invited their ecclesiastical visitors from afar to come worship with them.

This morning, along with two others – my roommate, Paul (stated clerk colleague from Elizabeth Presbytery), and Doug (campus minister at Eckerd College) – I drove to one of the churches not on the official list.  Turns out, the only reason this church hadn’t rolled out the red carpet along with others from Pittsburgh Presbytery is that, at the time the local arrangements committee was putting the list together, this congregation didn’t have a Sunday morning service.  They used to meet only in the evening.

You’ve probably figured out by now that this bunch is “not your father’s Presbyterian Church” (to paraphrase that old car ad).  The Open Door is a self-described “missional church community.” It meets in a churchy-looking building that is, technically, no longer a church.  It’s a former Baptist Church that’s now a community center, from which the Open Door rents space on Sunday mornings.

In many ways, their worship looked and sounded familiar.  It followed the typical Presbyterian order of worship, although in a very informal way.  While there were no hymnbooks, the words projected on the wall came from traditional hymns.  The singing was accompanied by a single guitarist (I understand this isn’t always the case, and that they often sing other songs besides).  Still, this decidedly younger crowd did fine with the traditional hymns, which are obviously part of their repertoire.

The sermon by Pastor B.J. Woodworth – who on this sweltering summer day was clad, like most of his congregants, in baggy shorts and a loose-fitting shirt – was on the Kingdom of God, and was quite good.

The Open Door folks are pretty mission-oriented (true to their motto).  Today’s service included the laying-on of hands – not to ordain officers, but rather to commission several interns who are working in an “urban farming” vegetable-garden project.

The Passing of the Peace was something else altogether.  The actual “Peace-be-with-yous” were over pretty quickly, but the interlude continued for probably 10 minutes, with folks moving around to visit with one another, fetch cups of coffee, etc.  Obviously, fellowship is a big part of what this church is all about, and the boundary between worship and the rest of congregational life is pretty porous.

The biggest eye-opener for me, though, was personal. Two of the worshipers were dead ringers for our son and daughter, both twenty-somethings.  Not only did they look like Ben and Ania, they also dressed like them. (Readers who have met our kids will probably be able to pick these young adults out in these pictures.)

Knowing that, at this stage of their lives, my kids – whose names remain on the roll of the church I serve for the sake of good old dad – don’t make congregational worship a regular part of their week, it was a powerful thing for me to see their d√∂ppelgangers so actively involved here at The Open Door.

It made me wish there were an Open Door worshiping community in their neighborhoods, so I could point them in that direction.

Maybe we’ll just have to start one in Point Pleasant.

A statistical presentation at the General Assembly this afternoon reported that the average age of Presbyterians is 60 and climbing. Obviously, we’ve got to rethink some of the things we’ve long been doing in worship.

It’s becoming more and more evident to me that the future of the denomination is in church-planting efforts like The Open Door.  So, what are we waiting for?

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