During Lent this year, we enjoyed worship on Sunday mornings in the Chapel. It wasn't the first time the room had been used as such. One of the reasons the room was called the Chapel is because it was once used regularly for Sunday morning worship, especially when the sanctuary was being built in the 19th century. There was also a balcony at either end where smaller rooms now exist. Folks would sit facing the Fogg Building (where the church offices and kids rooms are).
During the last two summers, we have also enjoyed using the space for worship. We missed the sanctuary, but a warm, approachable side of ourselves became more accessible in the smaller space. We felt more connected.
We miss the Sanctuary whenever we are in the Chapel. It is one of the treasured jewels of Newton (and beyond). On Easter Sunday, we returned to the Sanctuary with a joyful celebration!
We have learned there are benefits and costs to using both spaces, the Sanctuary and the Chapel. We have noticed, in particular, that welcoming new people on Sunday morning is easier in the Chapel.
At the moment, we are a small congregation, and the grandeur of the Sanctuary easily overshadows the intimacy available in a smaller group. It is also difficult to notice changes in attendance. A difference of 20 people is hardly noticed in the Sanctuary and impossible to overlook in the Chapel.
Offering hospitality is a core activity of a church. It is spiritually formative to receive it and to offer it. We are all very interested in nurturing the growth of the church and many people enter the community via Sunday morning worship. Practicing hospitality on Sunday mornings is crucial.
After some thorough discussion and hearing from others, the Council has concluded that continuing to worship in the Chapel on Sundays may encourage growth by helping new folks connect, fostering relationships, and enhancing our worship in a way that is difficult to replicate in the Sanctuary at our current size. Moving forward, from April 19 to September, we will worship in the Chapel. We will, however, have the best of both worlds. On communion Sundays (the first Sunday of each month, May 3 and June 7), we will gather in the Sanctuary and fire up the organ. As the summer closes, we will reevaluate.
I think this is a wise choice. First, we are blessed to even have two spaces to consider! What this church offers is unique, exciting, and important. It is transcending familiar (and tired) categories like traditional/contemporary, left/right, formal/informal. We are "all of the above" and it should be shared. I want to see the Sanctuary filled with people looking for something they can't find elsewhere, but in the meantime, the heart of our little village is easier to access in the Chapel.
The difference in my experience is distinct. When speaking and leading music, I am closer to everyone - physically and emotionally. Our subtle interactions as a group are amplified. We can hear ourselves sing together. And when we sing, we are looking (and singing) up rather than down towards a bulletin or hymnal. We literally "sing from the same song sheet". We can hear each other speak when we invite conversation. Simply put, the Chapel is more suited to what we are trying to accomplish right now - deepening trust and discovering our mission.
I suspect we will look back and treasure this season in the Chapel as the disciples may have treasured their time meeting with Jesus in homes before gathering on lakes and on hillsides to accommodate the growing crowds. Change is never easy and we will help each other, remembering that there can be no Spring without the change from Winter and there can be no adulthood without a transition from childhood. My hope is that we will continue to embrace the adventure with gratitude for helping us feel alive and a part of a large and holy conspiracy.
What else can we do to offer hospitality? Add your comments below.