“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”—Isaiah 43:19
This fall Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church introduces Chapel Church, a Sunday morning worship service featuring the rhythms of piano and guitar and celebrating weekly communion. The inaugural service will be at 9:30 am on Sept. 25 in Kirkland Chapel. The new service will continue on a trial basis through Nov. 13.
“After two years of lockdown and Covid precautions, the clergy and the Worship Committee felt this was an opportunity to do a new thing,” says Senior Pastor Scott Black Johnston. “Chapel Church at 9:30 and Sunday Worship at 11 will offer distinct experiences of worship, even as they follow a similar liturgy and deliver the same Good News.”
The vision for Chapel Church took root in one-on-one conversations and small group meetings among the staff. Scott asked Associate Pastor Sarah Speed to lead a team to explore how Fifth Avenue could contribute something new to the worship landscape of New York City. Her proposal for Chapel Church got the unanimous consent of Fifth Avenue’s Worship Committee in July.
Across the country, many urban congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) feature a more informal service, such as Chapel Church, among their worship offerings. New York City is an exception. Among the numerous contemporary services in the city, none takes place among the largest mainline congregations.
“We believe Chapel Church will appeal to seekers, those outside the church who might be drawn in by the intimate atmosphere we intend to create,” Sarah says. “Chapel Church will not stray from Fifth Avenue traditions. We will follow the fall sermon series, stick closely to a reformed order of worship, and provide a welcoming, family-friendly environment.”
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Chapel Church will be the music, led by a band rather than a choir, and centered on guitar and piano. Those attending Chapel Church will also receive communion every Sunday (rather than monthly). Coffee and refreshments will be available both before and after the service. Worshipers will even be welcome to refill their cups as the service proceeds.
Chapel Church will be an in-person service only; it will not be accessible via livestream. Following the eight-week trial, the Worship Committee and the clergy will assess how well the service has been received, what enhancements might be made, and whether to continue the new service in 2023.
“Every time we do something new in worship, we learn a little bit more about God, and a little bit more about ourselves,” Sarah says. “That is one of the things that excites me most about this service. Whether it flops or flies, we will see God in the process, and for that, I give thanks.”
“One of the most delightful things about Christianity is the rich variety of worship formats and styles that exist across the world,” Scott says. “There are thousands of different and beautiful ways to faithfully praise God. We are adding a second way here at Fifth. I am proud and excited by what Sarah and her team have envisioned. I hope everyone will give it a try. We are eager to hear what you think.”