Worship and Adaptive Change

I spent a couple of weeks last summer with my grandchildren as they were attending various camps. We had lots of fun (with no parents around!) They are 7, 8, 8, 10, 11, and 13. So much easier than the days that were filled with bottles and diapers and nap schedules. Now it is my husband and me who need to take naps while they are with us!

I noticed phenomena while we were in the car and while we were watching screens that are light years away from the experience that I had as a young person at their ages. As we walk toward the car, not only do they call “shotgun” since some of them can legally and safely sit in the front seat now, but they also call “DJ.” I, of course, know what a disc jockey is—although people who play songs on most radio stations now surely do not have any kind of disc in front of them. But I did not know that my grandchildren would take turns using my phone to choose the next song that we would listen to in the car. Their experience listening to music is that they control it and are in charge of it. They do not just have to be held captive by whatever the professional “DJ” plays on the radio station.

Of course, watching screens is completely different from my day. I don’t think they believe me when I say we had three stations on TV and that if you wanted to change the channel you got up from your chair to do so. They cannot fathom that. At my house, we talk to the remote control and it takes us to what we want. We record things so we can skip the commercials. We have YouTube and Netflix and Amazon Prime. But even with all of that choice, we are generally not all watching the same thing. Because, of course, each person (including the adults) also has a smaller screen in their hands. Consuming media is no longer a shared experience.

I wonder about how we can bring this kind of sensibility into worship and other aspects of our congregations’ lives. Simply putting up a screen in the sanctuary really has nothing to do with this revolution. That is what most people would call a “technical” change. It is just another way to share the content that has been created by the pastor and other worship leaders. It does not make the worshiping congregation a part of choosing the content of worship nor does it afford individuals ways to choose their own content.

An “adaptive” change would be something completely different. How can we give people agency to create part of the content of worship? How can we create spaces in which people worship alongside each other but in different ways? That is surely a challenge for the years ahead, especially as we are forced to decide what elements are essential to a Reformed way of worshiping and what elements are merely habits as we bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ.

The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel, Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago