J. White grew up Baptist and childhood church was in a parishioner’s home, so moving around to find places for worship and fellowship was part of her background. She’s been an Episcopalian for thirty years, and has noticed the typical Episcopal resistance to change. She thought that the focus on Exodus would legitimize the idea of doing something different.
Grace Church is a lay-run ministry. Ten years ago parishioners were faced with what seemed like a choice. Do we keep our priest or do we continue to do ministry in this building without a priest? They chose to continue and expand ministries in the sacred space that had served as a light on the hill for College Hill and the surrounding communities.
Since then, they’ve worked at making Grace a community center that numerous groups use on a regular basis, and that people can reserve for weddings anniversaries, parties, and more. They’ve already been in exodus from the usual way of doing things for quite some time, and they used the opportunity of the Exodus Big Read to become even more visible in their neighborhood.
On the first two Sundays they set up tables at the back of the Nave and worshipped around the tables. The doors were open because of the warm weather, and they were right in the doorway. There’s a bus stop and a traffic light outside, and passersby could see them and join in the sermon discussion. Following that they held services in the parking lot for two weeks. They took a keyboard outside and invited people to stop and eat and talk. Grace has a Community Supper that feeds 200 people every Wednesday and some of the neighborhood people who come to the supper stopped by the service
In addition to holding services out in the neighborhood, Grace used the Exodus Big Read as an opportunity to grow closer as a church. One Sunday they held their healing service in their choir room and arranged the chairs in a circle. They paired off and prayed for each other, which would never have happened in the pews. The circle brought the church together because people found themselves sitting beside and praying for strangers or mere acquaintances. Every service was followed directly by Snack and Chat (Coffee Hour) in the same place, allowing the fellowship to transition seamlessly to social time.
For some of the ten weeks that the parish spent in spaces other than the nave, people would sometimes complain, just like the Hebrews in the desert. The leadership reflected on this with the congregation, and on how the church was repeating the story of Exodus. Grace is a very diverse church and some parishioners are immigrants, particularly from Uganda. They spoke about their experiences and tied it to the experience of the Hebrews, and how they felt when leaving their country.
“It was a good experience, ” J.says. “Depending on who came to us on a given Sunday, some questions were asked and there was an open discussion. I think people got to know people who they sit in the pews with but didn’t really know. Even though we’ve been seeing each other for years, we got to hear people’s stories. It forged some new understanding and friendship that we may never had forged sitting in the pews. I think that everyone should step out of their comfort zones and experience GOD and each other in every space of our sacred buildings.”