Monday, March 23, 2009

Church Experiment #12: Christ Church Savannah

This week’s experience is divided into two distinct parts. But we’ll get to that in a minute. First, some background:

When I began the Church Experiment, I committed to visiting a handful of megachurches led by popular pastors. I couldn’t just fly all over the country for a church service, so I also tried to identify churches within driving distance of Cincinnati. Three churches I planned visit before the year ended were Mars Hill in Michigan (Rob Bell), Willow Creek in Chicago (Bill Hybels), and North Point in Georgia (Andy Stanley). All three pastors took this Sunday off. A fourth option, Southeast Christian in Louisville, is a huge church, but their pastor also took a break.

Perfect.

So, I decided to just get in my car and drive. It was the week of my spring break, so I didn’t have to be back in Cincinnati until March 30. I figured there was a church east of the Mississippi that I was meant to visit this week, so I took a leap of faith that I would somehow stumble through its doors on Sunday.

In addition to my search for a church, I also decided to take my time, forgo any structured plan, and just drive around experiencing different people and places.

The overall trip was extremely meaningful, but Sunday was all about Savannah, Georgia. Once I realized I was heading in that direction, I thought it would be fun to visit (I had never been). And once I got into town, I found the most amazing church building I have ever seen (the architecture in Savannah is gorgeous). And once I found the church, I learned about their Sunday night program called Service of Compline.

That, my friends, is why I ended up in Savannah, Georgia. Out of the hundreds of thousands of churches east of the Mississippi, God wanted me to experience Compline. But that is the second part of my story. Let’s begin with part one.

To finish reading about this experience or any of the reflections from my 52 visits, please purchase the full book here.

27 comments:

Paul Monnin said...

What is more sad?

That I am alone at my parent's house reading your blog or that I have seen every one of those musicals you named more than once in the last two years?

But seriously, Savannah, Georgia? Sweet. I've never been to Georgia before...I guess I'll add it to the places I'm going to hop trains to in my future life as a hobo journalist.

Kelly said...

Steve,
So glad you found the experience you were looking for. I have always wanted to visit Savannah, maybe someday I'll get there and to the same church.
So you are coming to the Westside? We really aren't that bad over here, I know many wonderful people, some of which I am sure you know. Maybe we'll run into each other this weekend.

Liz said...

The Compline service sounds really cool. I'm glad you enjoyed it. It sounds gorgeous in Savannah!

DanThoms said...

You know you want to come to the Vineyard Westside. We even have the word Westside in our name.

Stefen said...

It's amazing not only leaving your routine mentally, but physically departing from your day to day activities can open your eyes and ears to experience our Lord to a greater degree. I think of Jesus' ministry here, and wasn't He always leading his disciples on a "road trip" so that He could keep them out of the ruts and keep them in fellowship--Just a thought.

I appreciate this blog.
Stefen

Chris said...

Steve,

I love your church experiment blogs. I look forward to them every week. And I am thrilled to death that you were so moved by an Anglican church. I think I know the reason for that.

Your description of the church in Savannah reminds me of Trinity Church, in New York City. You can see a glimpse of it in NATIONAL TREASURE. It's as old as the one in Savannah, or maybe older; I'm not sure. I just know it's most recent history is that it's almost the only thing left standing at Ground Zero after the World Trade Centers went down, and they used the holy space for triage.

Marcus Borg, an Episcopalian theologian, talks about the fact that repetition and rote memorization in services are actually vehicles for reaching a meditative state during the church service. Reaching that meditative state allows the churchgoer to become closer to God in a way that cannot happen with all the dancing and happy clapping that can occur in some worship services.

I found it ironic that you spoke negatively about the rote apology prayer. That was the prayer my father loved the best, because he always moved into the meditative experience at that point. You can't see the emotion on the surface of the people there, because they have moved to another place.

Keep these coming-they're fantastic! (You ARE planning to publish these in a book, right???)

Anonymous said...

Steve! I kept waiting to read where you'd end up. Thanks for a great post. This west-sider is glad to know you're venturing over here. There ARE lots of police officers and firefighters in the area. You may even find a teacher or two you know. And...if you visit Vineyard Westside, you may be greeted at the door by my 72-year old mother Evalita ("Eve" for short). :-) Best--LML

Anonymous said...

NewSong Vineyard in Harrison for your Westside experience.

Anonymous said...

NewSong Vineyard in Harrison for your Westside experience.

bshawise said...

just a suggestion

Dan Kalbach said...

Savannah, Georgia. One of my favorite towns in America. Glad you found a holy wind to sweep you there.

jboog said...

National Treasure sucked.

Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed this project, but this last post left me a little confused.

One can be just as quiet in the drivers seat of a 20 year old car as in a 300 year old church, with the added bonus of being able to turn the choir on and off.

I'm all for the "Churchy-ness" of an old established Church (and what are those funky smells in those places? No, really... someone enlighten me), but where ever...

Click HERE to experience God right where you're at. And now He's HERE. And now HERE. He's in an old Savannah Church. Now he's in ThousandSticks, Ky. Now he's in Cincy.

Now be still, and listen. He's right there. Cool dude, huh?

Steve Fuller said...

Anonymous,

I didn't mean to confuse you. I'm not saying God only dwells in 300-year-old churches. I am saying my life is filled with so much noise that I have a hard time experiencing God.

I have been hearing a lot of static lately, and Savannah helped me tune in and focus.

Now, the trick is, as you say, not needing to drive to Georgia to make that happen.

Hillary Dickman said...

Are you coming to New Life in Colorado Springs? My husband and I were part of the Vineyard in Springdale for a while before we moved out here. We love New Life, despite its challenges. Or maybe because of how it has responded to its challenges. We'd love to have you come visit!

thecapitall said...

I'm so excited to find this blog (through This is Reverb)! What a cool idea. I'm curious to see if you'll decide to try visiting my church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints... aka Mormons). At any rate, I respect your journey, and I wish you the best of luck finding what you're looking for, my friend!

Mindy said...

Steve, you posted on the compline service made me think of another class I had at Bible College, call Sacred Space. One book we had to read, which I really enjoyed, was "Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity" by Philip Sheldrake. I remember coming away from that class reminded that any space can become sacred when God meets us there. The important, like you mentioned, is to "come" and "be still."

Sara said...

Steve,

I also found your blog through Reverb (via ThePioneerWoman) and have read it all, including comments, in one day - off and on.

I was raised Presbyterian, ran away from the hypocritical adults as a teen (imagine that!) and after much church shopping as an adult, finally hung around long enough in one place to "get" Anglicanism about 5 years ago. When I read about your previous 2 weeks, I was really so relieved to learn you'd gone next to an Anglican church. I do feel so close to God at my church and look so forward to that peace every week.

About corporate (all-together-now) confession, I had the same take on it as you did - for a LONG time. I never felt like I was truly confessing anything! I mentioned it only recently to a very wise long time Anglican woman at my church. She explained that as we know from the Bible, we're all to confess our sins to the Lord (1 John 1:9). That's something done privately during our daily (or so) devotional time. The purpose of corporate confession is to, as a church body, confess that we are all great sinners and acknowledge our need for a great Savior. That's my understanding of it now and I wish I hadn't waited so long to ask the question!

I *heart* compline, too, and wish it was offered more frequently at our little church.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

I came across this blog while searching for something related to Crossroads. Interesting quest you're doing here.

I just wanted you to know that I think it's really cool how God ministered to you at the Savannah Compline. I pray that you get a lot more of those moments.

Courtney Maxie

christianne said...

Hi Steve,

A friend posted a link to This Is Reverb on her Facebook this morning, and through that link I found the description and link to your experiment here. I've spent the entire afternoon reading through every single entry and comment page. I'm hooked!

Mostly, I find what you are doing entirely beautiful. You are a gifted writer, but you also have a very fair and balanced way of approaching each week's experiment. Thank you for embodying the gift of the way God made you. It's inspiring.

I chose to comment on this post because I can so relate to the feeling of peace and holiness and longing for God that you found in the quiet of the compline service. I have always been something of a contemplative myself, but for the past several months I have felt an increasing need for silence and solitude in my life. I think it's just like you said: there is too much noise in my life and my head; the silence helps winnow away the nonessentials and bring the reality of God and my actual conversation with him back into focus.

I'm loving your journey here. And now that I'm all caught up, I have no idea how I'm going to stand waiting a whole week for each new post.

And I'll echo what so many others have already said: this must be a book someday. In fact, I can't imagine it not becoming one. In my mind, it already is.

Grace and peace, my (new) friend.

Steve Fuller said...

Hillary,

I would love to visit New Life...if nothing else, I have been fascinated with Ted Haggard's story, but the trip probably isn't in the budget.

Anonymous said...

I am enjoying reading about your experiences. I would like to suggest that you try going to a Jewish Synagogue, and a Messianic congregation. I am studying about the Jewish Roots of our faith, and have really had a paradigm shift in my thinking. Would like to hear what you would think and comments on visiting these two places of worship.

~*~KIMBERLY~*~ said...

Steve,

I love your statement: "This was it for me. Messages are nice, but frankly, I am a pretty smart guy. I don't need more information, no matter how cleverly it is packaged. I don't need dancing in the aisles. I don't need big group prayers that seem to go on forever as people ramble on with hyper-religious terminology. I need space for God. Lots of space for God so I can focus and tune in to his voice. That other stuff is fine, but sometimes the religious mumbo jumbo can be a roadblock to what God is actually doing."

I couldn't agree with you more! Thank you!

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

I have just discovered your blog, and am working my way through it. Am amused at your idea that a church founded in the 18th century is old - ten days ago, I worshipped, as I have done on and off for the past 50-odd years, at a church founded in the 12th century!

The idea behind the corporate prayer of confession (you may have already discovered this, but I am only half-way through your journey!) is to give you words to use - in many churches the pastor leads on the congregation's behalf, either using words s/he has written, or a formal prayer; for corporate use, formal prayer is necessary. It is the contact with God that matters, not the words used! But they need to make sense to the congregation.

I love Compline, but experience it all too rarely these days now that I am no longer Anglican (not of my choice).

Anonymous said...

There is no choir in Cincinatti that I can find but there is one in Columbus: http://www.artsinohio.com/details.php?id=65239&type=e

Anonymous said...

I am a member of both of the choirs that sang that morning at Christ Church. Your blog post has been read to them and to most of the congregation as well. We are very glad you were able to have such a fantastic experience w/ God at Christ Church. And I feel blessed that God was able to work through me to affect you. Best of wishes in your continuing search.

Rachel said...

Looking at the date of your visit, I know I was there that day. Sorry I didn't have a chance to say hello.

A lot of the commenters have touched on your impression of the confession. But, I will, too.

I dislike that the shaking-hands portion of the service is always right after the confession or the prayers of the people. I hate it because I try to act like I haven't just been crying. I understand that those things can seem flat. But there's just something there that connects me to God. Those are the best parts of the service to me.

The confession is interesting. Yes, it's confessing my personal sin. But it's also confession of our corporate sin, the things which we have been responsible for doing/not doing as a congregation/community. Without that group focus, there are sins you would never confess because you would just think it's someone else's fault or someone else's job. Think things like, "Lord, we've neglected the poor in our community."

Anyway, sorry that was so long. When you're experiment's finished, you're always welcome back in Savannah.