Note: this is part of an ongoing series. Mystery Worship One is here; Mystery Worship Two is here; Mystery Worship Three is here. Four is here. Five is here. Six is here. Seven is here. Eight is here. Nine is here.
For Mystery Worship Ten, I choose Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.
This church, begun in 1989 by a group of 15, had recently moved into its first permanent home ever. About 4500 people worship weekly at Redeemer now–with six different Sunday services.
Multiple greeters in the airy and light reception area welcomed me and directed me to a set of stairs which descended to the first floor of the worship area. I assume there is an elevator, but stairs are just a part of life in New York City.
The large, spare looking room featured descending levels furnished with pews. The pews curved around a large and unadorned stage on which sat a piano, altar table set with communion elements (cups in trays), a couple of microphones, a few simple chairs, and a music stand or two. No windows, as we were in a basement. Well lit–bright but unobtrusive lighting. No ornamentation-just basic functionality.
This area could seat at least 450; the balcony probably as many more, and both quickly filled. More could have been accommodated as there was still adequate personal space between people in the pews, but there were no gaping holes.
The extremely helpful and thorough worship bulletin included these words under the “Worship Etiquette” section:
- We encourage parents to use the fully staffed nursery.
- Please allow Ushers to seat you.
- We appreciate your moving to the middle of the row, and avoiding using seats to store personal items to ensure space for visitors.
- Seat saving is subject to the discretion of the Usher Captain and Redeemer Staff once the service begins.
- Special seating is available to those with disabilities.
This is serious crowd control–what a great problem to have!
The very traditional service was completely set out in the worship booklet: hymns, with music scores included, all readings, prayers and responses, along with space to take notes on the message. The very well-known Dr. Tim Keller was the preacher that day. He generally preaches at four of the six Sunday services, but no one knows ahead of time which services he will preach. There are two other teaching pastors on the staff and they all work from the same Scriptures and topics each week.
His message title, “The World Will Hate You,” came from the Matthew 10:5-25 passage where Jesus gives ministry instructions to his disciples, telling them to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the leper and drive out demons. Jesus also reminds his followers that life is going to be tough–but that they will experience no trials greater than their Master will also experience.
Dr. Keller’s preaching style is relaxed, conversational, somewhat academic, yet clearly engaged with the lives of these New Yorkers who filled those hard, wooden seats. His almost pleading call for everyone there to be in mission and ministry made me suspect that they have the same problem many large churches do: lots of people in worship attendance, far fewer involved in hands-on transformational mission work.
Communion, with careful instructions about who may and may not receive the sacrament, a prayer of thanksgiving and benediction ended the 75 minute worship service. The crowds headed out, either onto the street, or to an upper floor for coffee and conversation.
I walked away, having very much enjoyed my time in there. Yet worship is not for my personal enjoyment, but for the glorification of God, for the hearing of God’s word, and for the change that takes place when the fallible, broken human comes more intentionally into the presence of the Holy One. I sensed that I had been given just that opportunity there, and received it gladly.