By Margret Hjalmarson
At St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Reston, Va., we are pretty proud of being a welcoming, inclusive community. To that end, we’ve created a diverse portfolio of services to accommodate a variety of tastes, generations, and time slots. We have a 7:45 a. m. Rite I with no music service, a 9:00 a. m. Rite II service, and a 5:00 p. m. contemporary, Come as You Are service.
Sunday School for the kids happens around the 9:00 a. m. and the service includes a mix of
traditional hymns, gospel and contemporary music. We have just been re-vamping our 11:15 a. m. service to add more traditional Anglican music (think chanting, a professional
organist, and choir robes). All this diversity means we have a wide range of age groups
and people represented on any given Sunday.
For a few years, the 11:15 didn’t have much music. Attendance was waning. Energy was
lacking. But, we noticed that we got a lot of newcomers at 11:15 and then they moved to
9:00 (where the all the action was in the morning). So, we struggled for a long time
about what to do. We talked about reggae, jazz, theme services, and folk services.
The rector wrestled with what to do with 11:15 and the need for an identity for the service. I began to call it “7:45 for people who like to read the newspaper and drink a cappuccino on Sunday before church.” It was definitely quieter than 9:00 where all the kids were. It was filling a need, but we had some trouble pinning down how to capitalize on what people wanted from 11:15 to keep them coming to it. We also know that we are an exciting, dynamic church and the service was not giving that impression to newcomers.
Then, the music director got energized at a conference over the summer about doing
traditional Anglican music. When the rector first told me this was the plan, I said
something like “we’ve been hearing that people think 11:15 is boring so we’re adding stuffy music and chanting?” with a quizzical raise of the eyebrows.
However, I’m now convinced this was the right choice because it rounds out the portfolio. A few people have said to me, “You know we got started in a coffee house in the 1970s and people would have left the church a few years ago if we had purchased choir robes.” I then quote Bob Dylan and say “the times they are a-changin.’” The 11:15 has been re-energized. This is particularly important since it is the entry point for many of our newcomers including folks who want something a little more peaceful and reflective with music. By going back to our Anglican roots, we are going forward. If we believe that diversity is good in terms of the people who come in the door, then we need diverse ways for those people to worship.
Can we keep what was good about the coffee house and still have choir robes? Yes. We can. Inclusion means not just welcoming all people, but welcoming new ways of doing things. We’ve welcomed a new way of worship (for us) back into the Sunday line-up. We still have a coffee house feel at 5:00 where the sermon is a dialogue, communion happens in a circle around the altar, and the jazz trio plays after the service during wine and cheese hour. But, we can also be a church that has Rite I and Anglican chanting. These are all ways we encounter God and worship together on a Sunday. More importantly, we are expanding our opportunities for inclusion and recognizing the opportunities that diversity brings.
Margret Hjalmarson is senior warden at St. Anne’s, Reston. She is an assistant professor in mathematics education at George Mason University, and blogs at Progressive Pragmatist.