Contemporary Worship at St. Paul's, Ottawa

In the fall of 1999, people within the church of St. Paul's — especially teens, 20-, 30- and 40-somethings — started asking for more contemporary services. Previously, contemporary services had been held monthly at St. Paul's. At the same time, our church was facing the prospect of adding a second Sunday morning service due to increasing attendance. It seemed the time was right to add a second, contemporary service to St. Paul's Sunday morning worship.

The term "contemporary worship" conjures up many different ideas, emotions and thoughts in today's church. Does it mean adding choruses to the worship service? Does it mean using guitar or drums, drama or reading from The Message instead of the New King James? The truth is, contemporary worship means different things to different churches. At St. Paul's Presbyterian it means putting the emphasis on God, his Word and shaping a space where one can worship in a spirit of freedom. The foundation for our worship comes from John 4:24: God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth. And when we worship in spirit and truth there is an honesty and a freedom in worship that cannot be escaped. By "freedom" we mean that we are able to worship God as a unified body while being accepting of individual styles of worship. Ultimately, we want to create a place where as a body we are comfortable enough to be abandoned to God in worship together. Of course, this is easier said than done.

Our worship teams span three decades with people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Those involved have different church experiences — Presbyterian, Anglican, Pentecostal, Community churches — to name a few. We combine readings, prayer, new "takes" on old hymns and new choruses into our worship service. And while our worship teams span three decades, the church body spans many more. Originally, many seniors in the church came to the contemporary service because it was held at an early time. Now, many seniors say they have come to appreciate and love the contemporary service; some even prefer it over a more traditional style of service.

We've seen God at work in all parts of the service. The congregation and worship team members have been moved by Scripture and prayer. We've felt God's presence during our times of singing. Personal prayer requests have been shared with the congregation and we have responded as a body — and as individuals — by praying publicly and privately for those in our church.

The congregation actively participates in our worship services. Each week, our congregational prayer is either led by different people from our congregation or is opened as a time for the congregation to voice their prayers (i.e., "Popcorn" prayer). We have also incorporated elements into our Eucharist service that increases congregational participation.

Throughout the last year we have celebrated Communion by having different couples involved in lay ministries in our church family serve the elements as the congregation comes forward to receive them. As a result of these efforts to increase congregational participation, and of course lots of prayer, the sense of community in our worship services is growing.

We continue to look for ways to increase the intimacy, transparency and freedom within our services. We recently came across a devotional by Ken Anderson entitled Pray-Listen-Obey. This simple phrase describes perfectly where the St. Paul's contemporary service is currently at. We've taken more time to pray as teams before practice, praying for each other and for our music ministry. We're also meeting before our worship services on Sunday (and have invited anyone from the church to join us) to pray for a spirit of worship and God's blessing upon all that takes place at our church.

A mother of four school-age children was asked how she is able to maintain her membership in the Worship Team. Her reply: "It is the highlight of the week for me!