Mrs. Doohickie and I have a friend who is a Presbyterian minister. She has gravitated in her short career toward church redevelopment- transforming congregations that have hit a static spot in the life of the church. She is now pastor of a Presbyterian church on the west side of Fort Worth. When she got there it was called St. Giles Presbyterian. The sanctuary was a longish room with traditional pew seating facing the chancel one end of the room.
We visited there a few times and, while the people there were nice, they were generally older and you got the sense the church was dwindling toward oblivion. It seemed that on a typical Sunday, fewer than 30 people would be there to hear Betsy's sermon (which is a shame, incidentally, because she's an excellent preacher).
Betsy spent several months being their pastor, but then started to consider what changes were needed to stop the downward spiral of the congregation. She formed a committee of people from the church and from surrounding Presbyterian churches (including us) and started to look at what the strengths were that could be leveraged to revitalize the church.
Anyway.... that's all background.
We went there today and... wow, what a difference a few weeks can make. The church is now called Westside Presbyterian. They've rearranged the sanctuary to a more welcoming arrangement where everyone is closer to the pultpit, which, rather than being at the end of the room, is now in the middle of one of the longer walls.
Several of the old pews have been rearranged to provide traditional seating, but also tables and chairs have been brought into the sanctuary to give a more welcoming seating option. They moved their coffee cart and snacks into the sanctuary so that gathering time is right there instead of out in the hall.
A combination of pews and tables & chairs provides a comfortable setting to hear the Word
The result is a more open feeling. Rather than being individuals seated in pews focused on the preacher, we are now a community in faith. The arrangement, almost paradoxically, lends itself to a better focus on the lessons, music and sermon because people are more comfortable in their seats. There were a few small children in the service, and they were well-behaved, mostly because they were allowed to be kids: Each table has a bucket with crayons and paper, and the kids can quietly and non-disruptively work on their masterpieces while their parents can pay attention to the service.
It was church like I've never experienced it before. And it was pretty cool.
At the end of the room where the pulpit used to be there is now the "choir loft"
But here's the kicker: You know how I said the church felt like it was dwindling into oblivion? Well now there is a spirit of excitement, of life, of, well, the Spirit. There were almost 50 people in church, nearly twice what they used to have.
And they have identified a mission that will make the congregation a useful part of the community: the are working with the elementary school across the street, and several organizations, to start a community garden for the school.
After the service was over, people stayed and chatted for several minutes about the sermon, prayer requests, etc.
If you want to keep tabs on their progress, check out their blog: Westside Gatherings.
They have a long way to go before their long-term viability as a congregation is assured, but I really feel they've turned the corner. There's a new spirit on the west side... it's Westside Presbyterian Church.