Sowing SEEDS of faith: American Lutheran reinvents church nightWORTHINGTON — Wednesday night has long been designated as “church night” in Worthington. Sporting and school events are generally scheduled for other nights so local parishioners can attend confirmation classes, youth group meetings and choir practices.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
Now the parable is this: The seed is the Word of God. — Luke 8:11
WORTHINGTON — Wednesday night has long been designated as “church night” in Worthington. Sporting and school events are generally scheduled for other nights so local parishioners can attend confirmation classes, youth group meetings and choir practices.
At Worthington’s American Lutheran Church, the staff recently introduced a new kind of “church night,” incorporating informal worship, fellowship, confirmation classes, rehearsals, service projects and more into one action-packed evening. It’s called SEEDS: Spirituality, Explore, Enrich, Dinner & Service.
The concept evolved from an observation the church’s associate (and married) pastors, Ryan and Liz Radtke, made as they sat in the back of the church and watched the children’s Christmas program in December 2010.
“The sanctuary was packed with people we rarely see,” Liz remembered. “We realized that these are people whose needs we aren’t meeting. We began to talk about what happened to Wednesday night as church night, how to reclaim Wednesday night as church night. We started playing around with ideas — it was a holy playing.”
“We’ve had the frustration all along of people who aren’t able to make it on Sunday,” added Sylvia Anderson, ALC’s children and family ministry and worship coordinator. “They can make it to special events, but not on Sunday morning. We’ve heard the frustrations about all the activities and events that happen on weekends. We’re not a Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 culture anymore.”
With a lot of brainstorming about how to make it work and the support of the church council, the staff decided to implement SEEDS with the start of the new program year in September. One of the keys to implementing such a project, they decided, was to offer a meal to kick off each evening. Six menus were developed for a rotating schedule, and volunteers prepare and serve the food.
“You just come here and you don’t have to cook it or clean up after it,” said Liz. “The meal is kid-friendly, but adult-friendly, too.”
“We have a separate sign-up for that, and in the first six weeks, we had 90 people help with the meal or in the nursery,” Ryan noted.
The meal is served from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Spirituality Time, basically an informal worship service in the sanctuary, is scheduled from 5:30 to 6:15 p.m., followed by Bar Time — fellowship and a sweet treat — from 6:15 to 6:30 p.m.
Then participants go their separate ways for Exploration Time. There are separate kid programs for children in kindergarten and younger and grades 1- 5; confirmation classes for the older youngsters; and three options for adults. One adult group is assembling health kits as a community service project. “God in the Tube” currently meets in the church’s new coffeehouse, a former storage area that has been named HeBrews, where the participants watch a sitcom and talk about it from a Christian perspective. “Sing the Faith” explores classic favorite hymns and their origins in scripture. Closing out the evening are weekly meetings of the WELL Youth group and chancel choir practice.
The ALC ministry team refers to SEEDS as a “buffet” from which the participants can choose elements.
“You can come and eat and leave if you want,” Liz said. “Some people come just for the service. Some people come just for the coffeehouse.”
Spirituality Time — a reinvention of the church’s former Time Together Service — has become a particularly dynamic part of the evening, according to the Radtkes.
“Part of it was to re-imagine what Wednesday night services looked like,” said Liz. “It’s based on a movement called the Emerging Church, which in a very scaled-down definition, is a way to look at church and God in a new and different way. We’ve even changed the way the sanctuary looks on SEEDS nights.”
A sheer curtain is pulled to make the sanctuary into a cozier space for Spirituality Time. SEEDS participants are encouraged to ask questions — faith ponderings — which are discussed by the pastors and sometimes special guests. For instance, the Rev. Jim Callahan from St. Mary’s Catholic Church talked about purgatory one evening; Pastor Scott Peterson from Solid Rock Assembly led a discussion of the Rapture; and Brian Frodermann gave a presentation on Love INC and faith in action.
During January, ALC members have been encouraged to share their own “faith talks.”
“We want to make it a less intimidating, easier, more comfortable way to learn faith and share faith,” explained Ryan.
“We interact. We stop and ask questions,” Liz added. “We have prayed with candles. We’ve prayed with a fishing net. We’ve banged nails into a board on Reformation. We welcome noise and movement. One night we had a completely interactive service where they all had to move as a group around the sanctuary. … Each week there are common threads, but it’s a different thing.”
Participation in SEEDS fluctuates from week to week, but so far the ALC pastors have been gratified with the response. Most people who attend SEEDS once return again.
“Once you experience one or two, you want more,” said Ryan.
“Part of the reason I became a pastor is that I love this whole feeling of experiencing God in a different way,” Liz said. “God is relevant to you as you are, where you are. You can be who you are and have a strong relationship with God, and we’re trying to be a place to facilitate that.”
Getting Midwesterners — and Lutherans in particular — to think “outside the box” when it comes to their faith practices isn’t an easy task, the ALC staffers acknowledge, but they hope to expand the program even further through community outreach. They also welcome people from other churches who might want to check out the SEEDS offerings.
“Lutherans are asking questions in a service. Are you kidding me?” enthused Liz. “It’s been a really fun night. … We want to start doing something out in the community. SEEDS is becoming a congregation within our congregation, and we envision going out into the community and doing things as a group and social things together.”
While they are pleased with the SEEDS that they have already planted in the congregation, the ALC staff members hope more people will find something to pique their interest on Wednesday nights.
“It goes back to that whole concept of it being a buffet,” Ryan said. “You just need to nibble around until you find your niche.
“SEEDS is a time and a place to grow together.”
Readers may reach Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers at 376-7327.