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Pastor's Piece:

I have many fond memories of my time as vicar at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Trenton! It was probably the most diverse congregation that I have ever served. The congregation had a rich tapestry of members and friends including German immigrants who had been members of the congregation for many years and Liberian immigrants who had recently arrived in the United States. There were several Spanish-speaking individuals and families. There were middle class professionals and working class individuals from Caucasian and African-American backgrounds. There were street people and drug addicts. There was a wide spectrum of age, education and economic backgrounds. The congregation’s makeup was probably the closest that I have experienced of what I believe the Kingdom of God is and will be. Like every congregation, however, is was not stagnate. Change was in the wind at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. The congregation’s worship attendance had been shrinking, giving was lower and the endowment was disappearing. The new immigrants from Liberia, however, were increasingly filling the pews on Sunday mornings. With their presence came new life and energy and giving slowly began to increase, the worship space filled and the laughter of children was everywhere. The change, however, has led to a more homogenous consistency to the congregation, and the rich diversity that was present when I arrived no longer exists. The congregation is alive and thriving and its doors are far from closing, but mostly Liberian folk call it their spiritual home now. God has brought wonderful growth in numbers to a group of people I will always keep in a special place in my heart! I do, however, miss the mixture of people from the past. The studies that I have heard regarding church growth indicate that the more limits are placed on diversity, the greater the growth in numbers will be. People still tend to be more comfortable in groups where there is the greatest similarity. Although diversity is harder and perhaps a slower way to numerical growth, is it still the more faithful approach when it comes to growing community in Christ?

I think of this congregation in Trenton as we wrestle with what it means to be faithful in our own circumstances here at Prince of Peace. The Worship, Music & Art ministry has asked our council to consider the merits of splitting our Sunday worship into two services. The division would be based on musical preference. One service would be supported by the organ every week. The other service would variate between the piano, the Band of Peace and other occasional formats like “Brunch Church.” We actually already use this approach when we celebrate the feasts of Christmas and Easter. It has been suggested that this would be an approach that would keep the largest number of people happy and provide the optimum circumstances for increasing overall worship attendance. Worship studies generally support this conclusion. I still wonder, however, if numerical growth is always the most faithful way to build the church. I have personally enjoyed our “eclectic” approach to worship. The diversity reflects the catholic nature of Christian community. I have enjoyed the attempts that we have made as a congregation to be an inter-generational body at worship. If we divide our worship, I wonder if there will be other ways to celebrate our unity in Christ as one congregation. I ask you to please join me in prayer as we consider these options, discern what decisions might mean for our common life, and seek to make our reverent best guess regarding what is the most faithful direction to take. One way or another I remain confident that the Resurrected One, Jesus Christ, will find ways to ensure that the fruits of Easter are experienced in whatever way we proceed!

- Pastor John Holliday

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