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Contemporary style, timeless message

A church's new casual Saturday service is part of a metamorphosis.

Published February 4, 2007


Aside from the stage, the lights were low. In the lobby, Starbucks coffee was being dispensed by the gallon and morsels of dessert offered sweet temptation.

The anticipation was palpable. Countdown to blast off: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, zero! A burst of music and the 1970s hit Saturday in the Park filled the auditorium.

Yes, it was Saturday, but the enthusiastic crowd was gathered in a church, not a park. Known for its lavish holiday productions, Park Place Wesleyan Church was launching a new informal service, with guitars, earsplitting drums and multimedia presentations.

It was just another stage of a metamorphosis that aims to entice young members and people who normally won't think about attending church.

More and more mainstream churches now offer contemporary styles of worship, said Bill J. Leonard, dean and professor of church history at Wake Forest University Divinity School.

"The question continues to be, how much of the world do you bring into the church and how many traditions do you change to get the attention of a new generation?" he said.

'Worship wars'

The different services can alienate longtime worshipers and spark what Leonard calls "worship wars."

Park Place Wesleyan, like many churches, tries to please both traditionalists and those attracted to contemporary worship. The congregation at 4400 70th Ave. N, can choose from the new, casual Saturday service at 6 p.m. or the more formal Sunday morning worship at 10:15.

Some congregations, though, are sticking with the old ways. A sign at Lake Seminole Presbyterian Church offering an organ for sale doesn't signal a congregation discarding a traditional instrument for guitars and drums.

"We're not switching our format, we're upgrading the quality of the music," said the Rev. Robert Wierenga, adding that his church at 8505 113th St. bought a new Johannus organ from the Netherlands just in time for Christmas.

Some prefer traditional

"For us as a Presbyterian church, we use the traditional Presbyterian liturgy, and we find that it is very appealing to the people in the Seminole area," said Wierenga. "They appreciate the traditional services. They love the traditional hymns. They enjoy the historical elements."

For Gloria Nelson, a certified nursing assistant who sometimes works on Sundays, the new Saturday service at Park Place Wesleyan means she never has to miss weekend worship. The 53-year-old likes both offerings, but admits she prefers the traditional Sunday service.

The church's senior pastor, the Rev. Dave Terhune, leads the traditional Sunday service, but enjoys the relaxed Saturday service that began Jan. 20 and is led by the assistant pastor, the Rev. Phil Lewis.

"We believe the style of worship is for our times, but the message is timeless," Terhune said, adding that the new service is attracting about 300 people. About 500 people attend on Sunday mornings.

Leonard, the Wake Forest University professor, said it's understandable that young people would be attracted to modern forms of worship. "There's a whole new generation who did not grow up in the traditional church," he said. "They didn't grow up going to Sunday school."

St. Peter's Episcopal Cathedral, at 140 Fourth St. N in downtown St. Petersburg, offers a Sunday afternoon Celtic service designed to embrace people who want a different style or time of worship, as well as those who might "be intimidated by the full liturgical scope of the Episcopal church," said the Rev. Georgene Davis Conner, who holds the title of canon evangelist at the cathedral.

CAYA: Come As You Are

The 6 p.m. Come As You Are or CAYA service eschews traditional robes, liturgy and music and for communion, "we form a circle and people feed each other," Conner said.

All this might not be as revolutionary as it seems, she said. "I think a lot of the new ways are old ways," she said. "We're using ancient prayers dating back to the third or fourth centuries. What people are searching for is a way to get connected to each other and to God. We're just trying to be open to providing as many venues or worship experiences as possible."

That's the idea at Maximo Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg. "When you buy cereal, the cereal makers know that they have to diversify their cereals. We have different modes of worshiping or preferences in styles. We cannot say that one is wrong, the other is right, " said the Rev. Bobby Musengwa, co-pastor at the church at 3200 58th Ave S. "What we call traditional today was actually viewed with suspicion in its time," Musengwa said.

The well-known hymn A Mighty Fortress is Our God, for example, actually is sung to an old folk tune that was a drinking song, he said. "Today people think it fell down from heaven."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at 892-2283 or

[Last modified February 3, 2007, 20:52:45]

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