Reinterpreting worship and community through the Stillspeaking Worship Institute

Reinterpreting worship and community through the Stillspeaking Worship Institute

The Rev. Ivy Beckwith believes there is no better way to learn about something than to experience it, and then take the opportunity to talk about it with others who’ve shared the same experience. This fall, the "something" people can learn about through experience is innovative and creative worship. The goal is to reinvigorate the worship experience of UCC congregations by helping churches expand their outreach to the surrounding community.

As the United Church of Christ’s minster for faith formation, Beckwith and the Faith Formation Team of UCC Local Church Ministries are extending an invitation to the people of the wider church to come together and participate in creative worship and discuss the ideas with their innovators at two national gatherings this fall. The two experiential and reflective worship education events in Minnesota and Colorado, inaugural events for the Stillspeaking Worship Institute, aim to bring together pastors, worship leaders and lay leaders to network and create an individualized experience, one built around outreach to special needs families and another involving the arts and music.

"We’ll have different events that focus on ways to energize a worship experience, and I think what a church will take away, in the big picture besides the networking, is being there with like-minded people,’ Beckwith said. "The longevity of each of the events is with the resources and networking, so people can tweak and share ideas down the road, and get feedback and share success stories." 

The Stillspeaking Worship Institute connects UCC churches doing innovative worship practices with other UCC faith communities interested in developing those practices in their congregations. Attendees participate in the worship experience, reflect on what they see, hear and experience with worship leaders from the host church, and leave with an understanding of how to transfer the foundational aspects of these worship practices to their home congregations.

"Stillspeaking Worship events offer the opportunity to experience and reflect upon local church innovative worship practices with people from other churches and the chance to ‘pick the brains’ of the people creating the innovations," Beckwith said. "Stillspeaking Worship events are unique settings for resourcing and networking around best practices in worship and a good chance to meet others who are walking the same path.

On Oct. 26, churches interested in enhancing their welcome to adults and children living with disabilities are invited to attend the Parables service at Wayzata Community Church in Wayzata, Minn. Parables is "an interactive, ‘special-needs friendly’ Worship Service, open to anyone and everyone."

"Once [Leslie] started this, special needs families came out of the woodwork because there was something there for their family," Beckwith said.

"I think at the end of the day, it goes back to [the book of] Corinthians, where we talk about the body of Christ and how all of us have gifts to share," said the Rev. Leslie Neugent, pastor at Wayzata Community Church. "In the case of people living with disabilities, the difference between us and most others is that they come from a place of charity, but not out of a place of empowerment, to say each person has a gift to share with us as a person. What’s important here is we are living that out. We hold up people the world pretty much discards."

"We believe that each member in the special needs community is a present day Parable," Neugent said. "Each offers deep and challenging lessons for all of us, turning our world upside down, and demanding that we wrestle with ambiguity… They are wise teachers in our midst."
After the worship service, event participants will gather to reflect how they can transfer the idea to their church setting. Parables is sponsored by the Minnesota Conference of the UCC. More information about Parables is available online.

From there, the Stillspeaking Worship Institute moves to Denver on Nov. 8 and 9 for the Let Them All Come service to explore and reflect on inclusive worship and building use at Washington Park UCC. Saturday evening includes a concert and discussion of how Washington Park UCC has opened its building to neighborhood artists and musicians through the Wash Park Center for Music and Arts.

"One of the reasons they reconfigured their space was to bring some life back into the church and reach into the neighborhood, and it’s caught on throughout the Rocky Mountain Conference," Beckwith said.

Washington Park’s senior pastor, the Rev. J. Todd Smiedendorf, believes that the arts are a place where a faith community can express a wide community welcome and work for good. "We can be a place where there is a valuing, nurturing, and teaching of creativity that leads to healing and inspiration for the person and the society," he said.

Sunday morning will include an experience of intergenerational worship, followed by a reflective discussion about how attendees might carry the idea back home to their churches. More information about Let Them All Come is available online.

For more information, and other possible Stillspeaking Worship Institute events in the future, contact Faith Formation team leader the Rev. Ivy Beckwith at

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