The twelfth episode in the "A Religion for Our Time" series explains how First Unitarian in Albuquerque, New Mexico, attracts a diverse group of worshippers through a contemporary service on Sunday afternoons.
As the sanctuary became more and more crowded during the two Sunday services at First Unitarian, members of the congregation had a decision to make. They didn’t need to deliberate over whether to add another service, but about what kind of service to add. A survey pointed them in the direction of contemporary worship, and now the congregation rocks out with the house band each week.
“When I put together a service, I look not only for music that will be energetic,” explains Vance Bass, contemporary worship director at First Unitarian. “I also look for music that encourages a sense of community, both in terms of the lyrics, and also in terms of the encouragement to stand up and clap, sing along, dance in the aisles.”
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Rev. Peter Morales: Here's a good problem to have. It's getting a little crowded at your Sunday service and you need to think about adding a second or third service. What do you do? A carbon copy, or something a little different? Here's how First Unitarian in Albuquerque, New Mexico, decided to move ahead.
Rev. Christine Robinson: Our hope when we started the service was to have a third service that was distinctly different and would draw a little bit different crowd.
[SINGING] Gonna keep on moving forward, never turning back.
Vance Bass: We put together a survey, and by far the largest percentage of them said that they would like to see a contemporary service.
David Haughaqout: The contemporary service to me is the music, the people, the community.
Rev. Christine Robinson: In a contemporary worship service, it's the band leader who is the leader of the service, and traditionally the preacher only preaches. And since we were going to three services and I was worried about how much energy I would have for three services, that seemed very attractive. Plus we already had a church band that the church loved, and giving that band a chance to play every week seemed like it would be a big draw.
Vance Bass: When I put together a service, I look not only for music that will be energetic.
[SINGING] Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
I also look for music that encourages a sense of community--
[SINGING] We've got to pitch in, work together, give each other a helping hand.
--both in terms of the lyrics, and also in terms of the encouragement to stand up and clap, sing along, dance in the aisles.
Anna Harrison: If I had one word to describe this service, it would be excitement. I mean, it's like a spiritual excitement.
Tiffany Minor: I really enjoy the sense of togetherness that I get when I'm singing.
Vance Bass: We also find that if we project the lyrics on a projection screen, then we don't have people with their faces in a book. We have people looking up and singing enthusiastically. So we think the technological change there is something that's made a difference in the atmosphere of the worship.
Congregants: When we're group singing, singing along, and I look over at Andrea, and she's just having a grand old time singing along. She doesn't sing enough, but when she gets to sing, it's wonderful.
Rev. Christine Robinson: Amongst the things that have surprised us is the diversity in the congregation.
Anna Harrison: I think we can attract a lot of young people. I mean, I'm old and I love it.
Rev. Christine Robinson: It's also turned out to be a more racially and ethnically diverse service than our first two services by a noticeable measure. And I'm not sure what to attribute that to, but we like it.
Vance Bass: I think we had a slight advantage, in that we're in a modern building. We have a grand piano which can be moved around on the platform.
[SINGING] Gonna find a place where I can close my eyes and imagine a world of peace and a world of hope.
If we were in a traditional building, say with a pipe organ, I still think we could do this. Because we found that people have been very, very willing to embrace a more modern and less formal style. It's amazing what Unitarian Universalists can do when they're asked.
Rev. Christine Robinson: I think that one of the things that has happened that I also didn't anticipate is that a church that has a contemporary music service is a different entity than one who doesn't, even for those who never come. Most people in our membership come to the service that they've always come to. They worship in the morning, that's their lifelong habit. They like the traditional music. But their church has a contemporary music service, and they like that very much. And I think it sets a tone for the church going into the future that's important.
It's an important project, and it's fun to have a completely new way to think about worship and preaching after all these years.
[SINGING] We are sharing together, we are praying together, we are working together for a better, for a better world.
Visit the First Unitarian in Albuquerque website for more information.
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Last updated on Thursday, April 24, 2014.
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