Westfield’s story is a common one for New England churches. Historic congregations find themselves in the early years of a new millennium struggling to figure out how to remain firmly rooted in the traditions they hold dear while looking for ways to become and remain relevant in a society and culture that is constantly evolving. It’s not an easy process and there are no easy answers.
Like any challenge that needs solving, you start with what you’ve got. The good people of Westfield have a lot going for them, but what struck me as a particularly wonderful set of assets are these: we share a deep and abiding commitment to the community; our life centers around worship; and we own a beautiful, old building.
In the early summer of 2012, I first visited this stately church. I walked into the sanctuary with eyes widened by excitement. My escorts led me into the sanctuary through one of the front doors, near the chancel. I couldn’t soak it in fast enough–the pipes of the organ, the 7 foot wide pulpit, the bright red carpet, soaring windows. And that balcony. Oh, the balcony that proudly wrapped around the room. It was a sight to behold that immediately started my mind racing.”
Old churches like Westfield are wonderful places–places that are teeming with that great cloud of witnesses cheering us on as we go about our work in this day and age. They are also places that can become heavy with the voices of those who’ve gone before. We’ve all heard them in our churches–that chorus of voices singing “but this is how we’ve always done it” or “we’ve never done it that way before.”
My point is this: old, stately churches carry proud heritages steeped in tradition (or at least, perceived tradition) which can make it a challenge for church leadership to do a new thing even when the congregation requests it.
It became clear as I walked the aisles and rows of Westfield during that first visit that as their pastor I would have to find new ways to engage the congregation while (1) respecting the church’s (and congregation’s) history and (2) being authentic to who this congregation is.
This is a passion of mine: using old spaces in new ways. It’s a creative endeavor, really–one that calls to discern what our fundamental commitments are, to strip away the excess, then begin creating anew. It calls us to honor the history of a space and look for what’s coming. One way to do this is by utilizing creative worship visuals. Learn more about my altar design work.
These are important conversations to have with your congregation–and conversations that I am glad to help facilitate.
Questions? Let me know!