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FROM READERS: The Altar at Olivet offers a mix between traditional, contemporary worship services

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST
Worship leader Brad Bryan performs at Mid-Missouri Pridefest's interfaith worship.

Brad Bryan leads an alternative worship service called The Altar at Olivet at the Olivet Christian Church, plays drums in the local rock band Disengaged and participates in philanthropy work in the community.

As familiar as I am with Christian worship in Columbia — Brad Bryan son of Jim Bryan son of Monk Bryan — I started to realize there was something missing in our offering to the community. Columbia does traditional worship and, what has accurately or inaccurately become known as, praise or contemporary worship very well. Our traditional worship-choir robes, organ music, acolyte processionals, etc. — and our contemporary worship-electric bands, use of multimedia, informal settings, etc. — stand out as an example throughout our state and across denominations. Still, however, I found something missing. Frankly, and maybe selfishly, that missing piece was a place where I wanted to worship.

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This missing worship experience lay somewhere in the space between the organ music churches and the rock band churches, between the choir robe churches and the jeans and untucked collared shirts with rolled up sleeves churches. Missing from our wonderful tradition of Christian worship was a place for people who longed to know God, to experience God, to worship God, but didn’t connect to the high-church atmosphere of traditional worship or the energetic, emotional atmosphere of contemporary worship.

So, in 2010, I sent out a letter saying as much and attached to it my resume to pretty much every church in the Columbia area. One church responded, an interview and discernment process started, and, to make a long story short, The Altar at Olivet was born.

Olivet Christian Church has a long and powerful history of ministry 3.5 miles east of Broadway and 63. This ministry took on depth with the longtime servant-leadership of Pastor Dennis Swearngin. And, in the mid-oughts, they began to explore offering something new to the community. My letter came across their desk and our relationship began.

The Altar at Olivet is a service designed for those “in-between” people; people interested in worship, the Christian faith, exploring a real knowledge of God, for whom the other styles of worship do not provide a connection to the divine.

I want to be clear that this is not a question of the deficiencies of any other church in our community, only a matter of worship style. Three things stand at the heart of our alternative personality to other worship experiences:

  1. Our Holy Conversation takes the place of the traditional, presented sermon and we gather as a community around our honest reactions to the night’s scripture, asking questions and relating stories and learning from one another;
  2. There will always be something to DO at The Altar, something related to the scripture and the conversation actually put hands on and experience in a real, tactile way; sometimes it’s a simple candle lighting, other times it has been plunging hands into a bucket of mud!;
  3. The music used at The Altar is a mix of classic Christian hymns and relevant music from the secular world; you know, music that people would actually listen to! This past week, for example, we sang Bruce Springsteen’s “The River,” and Al Green/Talking Heads’ “Take Me to the River.”

I personally believe that The Altar at Olivet is an exciting addition to the worship life of Christians in Columbia, and it provides powerful, meaningful, transformational worship experiences especially for people who don’t like church, who feel one style is too dry and the other is too boisterous, or who just don’t feel the sense of spiritual connection they’re looking for at the other great churches in our community.

But, before this turns into that Bryan kid tooting his own horn, and since this section of our paper is devoted to the voices of the community, here’s what real people experience at The Altar at Olivet:

  • “I like The Altar because … it asks thought-provoking questions that I have asked myself.” —Patrick Hall, 21
  • “I love The Altar because the message is delivered in a way that makes sense to me and I am never told how to worship or what I should feel but am given an opportunity to let the word speak to me.” — Brynn Hamilton, 29
  • “The Altar, to me, is a welcoming, comfortable, inviting place to worship for someone who has had a bad experience with church; It’s a great place to ‘start over.'" — Brad Atkins, 33
  • “When trying to describe The Altar to others I tell them it’s part conventional, but there’s a bible study aspect, and it’s interactive with the Holy Conversation and laid back with a casual, friendly atmosphere, and the music is awesome!” — Paula Hall, 50s
  • “[The music] is performed in a manner and atmosphere that is ‘spiritual’ even if it is a Skynyrd song. Also, I am impressed with how the music selections relate or tie in with the evening’s scripture selection.” — Ken Bartley, 50s
  • “Love the conversation portion of the service. It really makes you think … I talk about the service many times throughout the week and find myself passing on thoughts that have come up in our conversations.” — Linda Cook, 65
  • “For still being kind of an outsider, I feel very welcome at this church and service. I don’t feel like I need to try to impress anyone … I am starting to feel [like] part of the family.” — Sharon Koebel, 30s

This past week at The Altar at Olivet we read the story of the baptism of Jesus, wrestled with the big question, “Do I have to get baptized to go to heaven?,” worshiped through “Down In the River to Pray,” “The River,” and, “Take Me to the River,” lit candles in prayer, had communion, and remembered our baptisms (or experienced a cleansing) with a pitcher, a basin, and a towel.

These are the kind of things that happen every week. If reading this has moved you in any way, I invite you to come and experience The Altar at Olivet, Olivet Christian Church, Wednesdays at 6 p.m., 1991 S. Olivet Road, with provided dinner before and children’s worship offered during. If you want to learn a little more, like our Facebook page.

If not, I encourage you to explore the communities offered by the churches of Columbia, MO. (And, YES, there are churches east of 63!) If that doesn’t interest you, I encourage you to always search for God, truth, your place in the universe, Enlightenment, whatever you want to name it.

Seek, first, the kingdom of heaven.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising Editor is Joy Mayer.


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