I previously mentioned a backlog of items I wanted to blog about, and I’m dipping into that pool to offer a few thoughts on my visit to Solomon’s Porch on August 28th, 2005.
I had never attended or visited any of the “famous” or well-known examples of emerging churches, so I was keen to do so when I passed through the Twin Cities on a bit of a holiday with my family a few weeks back. On Sunday evening, I left the wife and kids enjoying the pool in the hotel and located Solomon’s Porch in their new location at Aldrich Presbyterian Church. I parked about 3/4 of a block up the street and arrived right at 5:30 to find Arlen waiting for me.
Solomon’s Porch has been noted for meeting “in the round” sitting on couches, comfy chairs, and so forth. At first I was a bit disappointed to know that we’d be in a traditional church sanctuary and that this famous flavour wouldn’t be there… this proved to be an incorrect assumption. Within the traditional space, the rear pews are taped off to discourage their use. The choir loft is used for “regular” seating, there are couches moved onto the platform area, and an overflow area to the side is opened up for additional seating. The worship band was set up on one side of the open area between the pews and the platform, opposite the overflow area, with two LCD projectors pointed at the walls on either side. People were seated all over, including in the traditional pulpit and all around the open floorspace in the center (“formerly” the “front” of the sanctuary). All-in-all, it seems they’ve worked hard to maintain the casual in-the-round feel to the gathering, and while I can’t compare to the original venue, it seems they’ve done a pretty good job of maintaining this particular distinctive.
After a few songs and an invocation prayer recited together, pastor Doug Pagitt introduced a member of their community who was to introduce a guest speaker. Turns out she had met the guest, Diane Bloomfield, in an airport while they were both travelling and delayed. After some conversation between them, she invited Diane back to visit and speak to Solomon’s Porch.
Here it gets interesting. Diane is Jewish, living in Jerusalem, and shared a little about her faith and about Torah Yoga. She talked about the Hebrew word for Egypt, as well as the words for “water” and for “constriction”, all of which seem somewhat related. I was challenged by her committment to mention Egypt twice daily as a part of the remembrance integral to her Jewish faith. She had everyone practicing a tiny bit of yoga as she explained what she did.
From there we moved into communion. There were tables set up at several points in the room, most with grape juice except for one with real wine for those so inclined…. which Arlen and I were. People approached the tables and served the elements to one another. As we landed at the table with the wine, it turned out the bottle was running low and the person pouring handed me the bottle to pour until she returned with another. After being served the elements, the group partook together and then pronounced a benediction in unison.
We were about 90 minutes into it at this point, and I thought we were done…. which was disappointing because I had wanted to observe Doug’s reimagined preaching in action. About this point I discovered that this was actually next on the agenda, and Doug took to the rotating stool in the middle that allows him to spin around and face any direction while he speaks…. and he resumed a series he’d been doing on church history. We discussed several of the reformers, after which several announcements were shared, a song was sung and we were done. Arlen and I were headed out for some Guinness so we didn’t stick around…. maybe next time I’ll try to corner Doug and pick his brain on this whole reimagined preaching thing.
A few observations:
- Doug and the Gang at Solomon’s Porch are clearly not planning their Sunday gatherings with an eye to avoiding criticism. Arlen and I could both just imagine the emerging church critics jumping all over the fact that they’d had a non-christian speaking to the group… and about yoga of all things. I admit this pushed the edges of my boundaries, but I tried to remain open and I learned a thing or two, and was challenged by some of what Diane shared as well.
- Solomon’s Porch has good music. It isn’t that upbeat happy-clappy type, but the meditative, contemplative type that for the most part lifts your spirit without regard to manipulating your emotions to get you there. We even had a bit of Latin in there, and the background story on the writing of one of the songs made a powerful connection.
- The tone was above all casual. Most churches don’t look at strangers who wander in off the street and say, “Here, you serve communion for a while,” and they don’t let the riff-raff sit in the choir loft.
- I felt like a welcomed guest in a real community gathering. I was struck with a bit of revelation at a point during the meeting…. when Doug refers to a book that the community wrote, he means it. There’s a real sense of community there. Speaking of books, I mentioned that Doug hadn’t plugged his new book at all… maybe in that context it’d have been like trying to sell a book to its contributors, or like selling a biography to your family who had already watched, so why would they pay to read it?
- Overall, I enjoyed the gathering and the “free and open” form it took… and particularly the welcoming nature of the whole affair.
After all of this, I would point out that there’s no emerging church formula to follow. Solomon’s Porch has some interesting aspects to it that I wouldn’t mind seeing implimented in some of the church gatherings that I would attend, but there’s something about it that would resist carbon-copying. Indeed, a carbon-copy would certainly not be a very “emerging” thing to do. The main lesson learned probably has to do with simply expressing the character that resides within the group. This is not so much an entry for ChurchReviews.org but just a few observations after visiting a non-traditional emerging church expression. In short, it was fun. I’d do it again.