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Columbia churches create more expressive services for members

Monday, April 27, 2009 | 10:29 a.m. CDT
(left to right) Kellen Landry, Nathan See, Preston Turley, Anna Griffith and Scott Buchanan rehearse the music for the new blended worship service at First Presbyterian on Tuesday, March 24, 2009. The more contemporary, or blended, worship service is at 9 a.m. on Sunday mornings with a more traditional service at 11 a.m.

COLUMBIA — The sounds of an acoustic guitar helped Jane Anne Gideon sing praises at Trinity Presbyterian as a college student in the 1970s when the use of contemporary music was coming into vogue at more modern worship services. Today, she dons a choir robe and sings alto during First Presbyterian's traditional service. No matter the style of worship, music has always been an important part of her spiritual life.

“It’s my gift to the church,” she said. “It’s one of the main expressions of worship.”

First Presbyterian building dedication

First Presbyterian has recently completed a building renovation and addition that will add multipurpose space for worship, including a new blended service. The renovations add a new welcome center, kitchen facilities and an auditorium. The blended worship will be held in the auditorium.

A dedication service will be held Friday, May 29 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. There will be a ribbon cutting ceremony and tours of the building. The event is open to the public.



As a means of helping worshipers find ways to express themselves, First Presbyterian Church, 16 S. Hitt St., has added a blended service on Sunday mornings. Gideon said the congregation is excited about the new service, which began last week.

“We’ve been ready for it,” she said. The new service provides the congregation with more ways to worship, and Gideon said, likely will help revive the church's college ministry, which has languished in the past 10 years.

During her college years, Gideon said contemporary worship service was influenced by folk music. “Think Joan Baez,” she said.

The acoustic guitar of those days has been replaced today by the electric guitar and drums. But, the overall informality of blended and contemporary worship services is still the same and has grown in popularity.

A study conducted by the Duke Divinity School found an increase in informality among worship services from 1998 to 2006-2007, especially among Protestant faiths. The study shows that more worship services today contain the following elements: drums, jumping, shouting, dancing and speeches by people other than leaders. More churches are eliminating traditional choirs in favor of drums and other instruments, the study found.

The most striking difference between traditional worship services and more modern services is the style of music they employ. Traditional services will often have organs and choirs and sing hymns. Contemporary services tend to have electric guitars, drums and sing popular Christian music, like what you might find on a Christian pop and rock radio station. Blended services, a middle ground between the two, combine elements from both. However, the goal of all three types of services is the same: providing people with opportunities to express themselves comfortably as they worship.

Preston Turley, director of campus ministries at First Presbyterian, said the need for a more modern service was brought to the attention of the church’s governing body.

“Basically, they saw that there were portions of the community that weren’t being reached that could be reached if they created the blended service,” he said.

The blended service will retain certain aspects of the traditional service such as specific prayers and liturgy readings, but will allow room for contemporary music and dance, drama and artwork, Turley said.

“I’ve been part of a service where there was a large easel up on the stage and, just throughout the service, while the music and different prayers were going on, someone painted this huge six-foot-tall picture,” he said. It’s God-given gifts such as that, Turley said, that will find an outlet in the new service. Pamphlets at each service will provide church-goers with information on how they can share their talents with the church.

Turley was hired by the church for his experience in musical ensembles and organizing blended worship services; he joined the staff in mid-January. He has spent time auditioning people for a band that will be a staple of the new service. So far, he’s heard and accepted a guitarist, bassist and vocalist into the group. He has also contracted with a company that provides access to a database of popular Christian music in order to keep up with what is being played on Christian radio stations.

Up the street, First Baptist Church at 1112 E. Broadway has been offering its members a contemporary service, called "Awakening," for the past five years.

“People come to church with various desires and expectations,” Pastor John Baker said. “So, to not have a service of that style, you’re basically closing the door to people who are looking for that kind of service.”

Baker leads both the 9:45 a.m. Awakening service and the 11 a.m. traditional service at First Baptist. Although he gives the same sermon at each service, "It comes off very differently," he said. 

The Awakening service is held in the Fellowship Hall. It’s a casual atmosphere. Attendees are seated around round tables and Baker is dressed in a button-down shirt and slacks. The band plays songs by Jars of Clay, a Christian rock and pop band, and Baker occasionally joins in some songs by playing the congas. 

“We have all kinds of musicians in the church that weren’t using their gifts in the traditional services as much as they are using them in the informal, contemporary service because they are guitar players. They aren’t trumpeters, they’re not pianists, they’re not organists,” Baker said. “When we don’t use all the talents that people have, we miss some talents that people have. So, this way, they are in the service of the Lord and the church, I think, is more fully using those things that God has provided.”

Awakening, Baker said, is a contemporary service, not blended. The church still maintains a traditional service later on Sundays.

“Our traditional service is an excellent service, and I don’t want to take anything away from it," Baker said. But, people who like the contemporary service, he said, don’t care for the music in the traditional service as much and vice versa.

Occasionally, both services are combined for significant celebrations such as Easter, he said.

"We feel that both services are the same church, but unless we intentionally put them together from time to time they can kind of each go their own separate way," Baker said.

Turley said First Presbyterian is hoping for less of a division within its congregation with the creation of the blended service.

"We're still very, very interested in maintaining a church family," he said. By not being exclusive to just contemporary music, Turley said the blended service will help to foster a sense of inclusion and eliminate cliques.

"If someone wants to sing a classical hymn, I don't want to say, 'I'm sorry, this is the contemporary service. Save it for the next service,'" he said.

Turley said it was also important to the congregation not to disregard or disrespect the traditions already in place at First Presbyterian. It is accommodating the traditions by replacing one of two traditional services it used to have on Sunday mornings with the blended worship gathering. With the church’s proximity to area colleges, Turley expects to see a rise in college-aged members, though the blended service is not meant for just university students.

“The two really go hand in hand,” he said. “They are the ones that will champion the service to the community.”

Involvement in college ministry had declined in the past few years, Turley said, because of a high turnover rate among campus ministers. Though the blended service is expected to revive it somewhat, high attendance was not the primary reason behind the creation of the new blended service.

“The point isn’t to have a big service,” he said. “The point is to provide for as many people in the community as you can.” He added that it’s middle-aged adults in the congregation that have been praying for the new service.

Gideon said she plans to visit the new blended service once it starts, but is committed and happy with being a member of the church choir during the traditional service.

“The choir has the most fun,” she said.


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