Hartford Pew Review: South Church (contemporary service)
By Kerri Provost
March 28, 2012
Same building, same pastor. Totally different service.
SOLID GROUND, the contemporary service at South Church, felt more like a Baptist gathering than anything.
After grabbing a cookie at the between-services coffee hour, I slipped into the chapel ten minutes before 11, thinking I might be too late to get a seat.
As I would learn, nobody arrives until about two minutes before this service begins. There was no greeter, but bulletins were easy to find by the entrance. While the South Church Praise Band rehearsed, I pretended to read through the program, noting that I had been in the building for a solid ten minutes without receiving any type of greeting. But after the rehearsal wrapped up, one of the vocalists came over to say hello, as did Pastor Adam.
Moments before the service started, Pastor Adam joined other congregants in posing for cellphone photos. A large percentage of the contemporary service was made of youth– teens and young adults.
About 25 people found seats in the pews as the service began; they would be joined by another handful of latecomers. Attendance could have been stronger, but for the size of the room, it did not feel empty.
What was most memorable about this service was the amount of music. I think there were four songs (with everyone standing) before the sermon, and another two or three songs after it. These were clustered, rather than interspersed with dialogue.
While the praise band performed, lyrics were provided via large screen; they were actual large enough for me to read in the back row. Pastor Adam played the drums.Though the band was fine — inoffensive lyrically and lovely musically — things got spirited when a worshipper handed out maracas (note: I call any instrument that can be rattled maracas) to folks in the pews, some of whom have as much rhythm as I.
The initial bit of song was followed by a minute or two of quick greetings. The silence that met me at the beginning of the day changed dramatically, as I received several hugs, including one from a woman wearing a tie-dye shirt. When they say “dress is casual,” they mean it. I saw one suit, a few nicer outfits, and a lot of flannel, hoodies, and jeans. I would say I blended, except that it is such a small group that the visitor is immediately obvious. I was ensured I would feel like family in no time.
The day’s sermon, called “Holysynthesis,” was about the mustard seed– the idea that something large can come from some unassuming thing.
It was funny.
It was supposed to be funny, unlike the traditional service I attended where the message about hellfire was probably supposed to be solemn.
It was also not controversial in the least. There were even some “amens” heard at times when people were not instructed to do so.
The following week, while I did not witness this, there was a sermon at South Church on exorcism.
As the service wrapped up I tried to make a sprint for the door but that was thwarted when an acquaintance snagged me and introduced me to half the congregation. On my second attempt to sneak out, I was nabbed again, this time by the greeter who offered me a swag bag, despite my failure to fill out a guest form.
This was exciting. Another reusable bag. But wait, there’s more! The bag included folders of information, a pen, and a copy of the New Testament. I was handed a cross made from olive wood in Jerusalem. And, I was given information about a program called “Cookies and Christ,” which has forced me to sing variations on “C is for Cookie” ever since.
The contemporary service has diversity of age and is not devoid of racial diversity. It mostly feels like a musical event, which makes the hour fly by. The sermons are quirky.
It’s still a struggle to reconcile such otherwise positive energy with an organization that chooses to affiliate itself with certain causes
South Church is located at 277 Main Street, easy to access by bus. They have a large parking lot. I did not notice any bicycle racks.
Reprinted with permission of Kerri Provost, author of the blog RealHartford.
To view other stories on this topic, search RealHartford at http://www.realhartford.org/.