Now that you’ve heard a bit of our process, you may be wondering where our recommendations came from. Remember: I’m sharing only from my experience and journey.
I shared with the group some about my thoughts on worship and community as I experienced them as a child. I also wondered if such an experience would be possible at NFC. We have three services with half and hour in between. The service structure is packed: not a lot of time for flexibility.
And not a lot of space to congregate, so if service runs over, people are backed up everywhere — and not in a good way when it’s commonly known as the “cattle shoot”. When I first experienced worship at NFC, I was floored at how quickly folks vacated the sanctuary. I figured it was to congregate somewhere superdupercool because why else would people run out as though their pants were on Holy Fire? Because where I came from, the earliest we got home from church was about an hour and a half *after* service had ended. People chatted; kids played; kids maneuvered their parents into going out to lunch with friends so that the conversation and community didn’t have to end.
As the Next Steps group shared their longing for community, we recognized we didn’t really have either the space or the time. So folks began to brainstorm: what would it look like if we went to two services and had a longer time for fellowship? What if we knocked down the walls to the library and built out onto the lawn? What if we removed the pews from the sanctuary and installed interlocking chairs that could be moved around for fellowship time? Should we remodel the Friends Center to make it more conducive to congregating for a longer period of time?
People got excited. But they also felt bogged down by the idea of fundraising: did God want us to spend our time raising money to build a bigger building? Is that what would help us reach out to those in our community, or would that weigh us down?
I started to wonder if the setup of Newberg created an environment for fellowshipping for longer periods of time. If we had space, would we actually use it? When I lived in Boise, I lived 20-25ish minutes away from the church. After getting up, getting dressed, getting fed, getting in the car, we weren’t going to go anywhere for quite some time after arriving at church: we were settled. So we’d go to children’s church and then Sunday school and hang out with friends and come home after a long bit – enough time to make the drive “worthwhile”.
But in Newberg, everything is close and convenient. A drive across town is about seven minutes. It’s easy to have a ‘drop-in’ mentality: I’ll drop in to church, and then drop in to the store, and then run back home. If I forget something at home that I wanted to take to church, I can make it there and back and not miss any significant amount of time. I don’t know that people would come and stay for fellowship at NFC.
So what does that mean? I started thinking about Newberg in general, noticing the types of buildings and establishments. And you know what’s abounding right now? Empty buildings. A number of businesses have moved or closed, and empty facilities are left standing. I wondered what it would be like for faith communities to move into those empty places: not necessarily as a church building, but perhaps as a ministry, creating space for the community of Newberg as a whole to fellowship. What would it look like if we moved into one of those buildings as a community center? And on Sundays we could set up activities for fellowship after church (to “drop in”)? Or what would it look like if some folks from different faith gatherings took on leasing a building and putting in a business that helped those who needed a job have one? Or make it a place to teach? Or just hang out (a bowling alley? Hello!).
There’s an empty building I pass every day as I drive from Newberg to Dundee, and I’m so moved to pray that God will fill that building with something that will bless the people of Newberg. I hope my faith gathering gets to be a part of that – the redeeming of the empty places . . .