A MESSAGE FROM THE REV. J.C. AUSTIN: Holding on to summer

There are always a few clear signs of the end of summer. Labor Day is the traditional calendar marker, of course. The resumption of school for children and teens and college students is perhaps the biggest indicator in family life. And the sudden onslaught of pumpkin spice flavored everything is a definitive cultural shift. All of those things have happened in the last couple of weeks, so welcome to fall, everyone!

I myself was grateful for some good and restfulRev JC Austin summer vacation, and for the Session’s encouragement for me to take that and for Lindsey’s wonderful leadership while I was away. I am also grateful to be back and to be looking towards an exciting season of ministry together this fall.

However, we are going to hold onto summer just a little bit longer as a congregation in one respect. The Session met Wednesday night and unanimously approved a recommendation from the Worship Committee for us to maintain our summer worship schedule of one service at 10 a.m. through Sunday, October 2.

This was done for two reasons. First, with the repairs and renovations that were done to the Kirk Center/gym this summer, we have the opportunity to reopen the gym as an actual full-sized gym for the first time in decades. This is not only a resource for our own congregational ministry, but for partners in the community where gym space is in great demand.

In fact, just this week we’ve already had multiple inquiries from the community about utilizing the gym for their programs. The plan has been to move the 9 a.m. Contemporary Service to Fellowship Hall to allow this to happen, but Fellowship Hall generally remains pretty uncomfortable in September, which often still feels like summer in terms of the outdoor temperature. Thus, the Worship Committee felt it might be prudent to wait a little longer before starting up worship in there.

But second, and I think more importantly, we want to use that time to evaluate what we all have learned and experienced during Summer Worship. For over four years now, one of our identities as a congregation has been to be an “Experimental Church.” That means we try new ideas out for defined periods of time, evaluate how they went and what we’ve learned, and determine how to build on that learning for the next stage of ministry. The Session has decided to use this slight delay to do that in terms of Summer Worship, and is asking for your help in doing so.

Anecdotally, we’ve heard a lot of positive feedback from people about Summer Worship, from appreciation for experiencing both traditional and contemporary elements of worship, to the exploration of ways to be more intentionally intergenerational, to having everyone together in one service.

But we also assume there are a lot of different feelings on those matters. Some of you probably liked that for the summer but would not want that as the only option going forward, preferring either the greater informality and musical styles of a contemporary service or the hymns and atmosphere of the traditional service.

Others may prefer an earlier or later worship service on a regular basis. And so on. So: the Session will be asking for your input so we have a sense of how the current congregation is feeling about Summer Worship and our worship life in general going forward.

In about ten days, you will be asked to complete a short but important survey. An electronic version will be available through the newsletter and website; a paper version will be available to those who receive a print newsletter, and also distributed and collected in the worship services on September 18 and 25.

If you are uncomfortable with the online version and cannot be in worship either of those Sundays, please call the church office (610-867-5865) and request that a survey be mailed to you; please do that ASAP, however, so there will be time for it to be sent out and back in the mail by September 25. The Worship Committee will evaluate the results of that input and report to the Session, which will then determine how that will inform our worship life going forward after October 2.

So please keep an eye out for that survey and make a point of completing and submitting it so we can have the best sense of what we have learned this summer and where we should go from here in fulfilling one of our strategic mission priorities as a congregation: to provide “Vibrant and Diverse Worship” opportunities for people of all ages. Thank you, and happy fall!

Grace and Peace,