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Students at commencement

Biblical Preaching

Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church

Location: South Minneapolis, Minn.
Denomination: Presbyterian (PCUSA)
Size: Average worship attendance 35-50

Download Lake Nokomis Presbyterian's VCP report or see report contents below:

Ministry context
Creative, adventurous, intergenerational community of faith in Jesus Christ that lives into the mystery of God’s unfolding story through honest worship, abundant hospitality and intentional Sabbath rest. Celebrating its 90th year this year, located in a changing urban neighborhood. Mix of long-time members (mostly older) and newer members (mostly younger).
Pre-existing practices

1. Sabbath-Keeping

2nd & 4th Sundays we take as Sabbath Days of rest as a whole community. On these weekends, we begin our Sabbath practice with contemplative and interactive worship Saturday evening, followed by a shared meal.

We are sustained, nurtured, and challenged by the rhythm of our worship cycle (1st & 3rd Sundays, 2nd & 4th weekends on Saturday with Sabbath Sundays, and then 5th Sundays leading/sharing worship at St. Joseph’s Home for Children as our own worship).

2. Shared Prayer 

In nearly every worship service we bring forward our prayers and light a candle and the congregation responds after each prayer by singing “God, in your loving mercy, hear our prayer.” When not using this form of prayer, our prayer time is another experiential practice of integrating our lives and needs and hopes with the scripture and theme of worship that day.

Holding before God with and for each other the pain and joy of our lives is what makes us the church.

3. Including & Empowering Children 

As an intergenerational community of faith, children are seen as leaders and active participants in worship. We maintain an area of the sanctuary with quiet activities and books, and include cushions and rocking chairs throughout the sanctuary so that children can comfortably participate no matter their age. Instead of a nursery worker, we have a “children’s host” who assists kids in worship and helps those who might need a break during the service. Children write a prayer each week which is used in worship, and children lead prayers and even shape portions of our liturgy (e.g., The Doxology is sung every week with body movements they created and taught us). We all learn and grow from being involved together in the life of faith.

Discoveries from listening process

1. Sermons Should Be about Life as it Is: The Full Spectrum of Human Experiences

We at Lake Nokomis think sermons should be about life as it is. Life is not simple, is full of doubts as well as experiences where we sense God, full of energy and optimism and anxiety and pain. We appreciate that our preacher speaks to this.

Focusing on life as it is, with a full range of human experiences, engages the congregation in the working out the intersections of faith and community, relationships, work, etc. Stories seem to be the most effective homiletical tool, which is important for 1) preaching as a function of a teaching elder’s role, 2) teaching people within the congregation who would like to preach, and 3) sharing with the academy as a best practice in preaching.

2. Sermons Should, then, Not Be Boring but Applicable—What Some Might Call an “Active Word”

Sermons teach without being boring, inspire, connect biblical and real-life stories, are profound and well thought out, speak to who God is and what God is up to without being dogmatic or heavy handed. We at Lake Nokomis need something to apply to our lives. Something to think about, to talk about, to take and put into action. Sermons need to do something in us: flip a switch, provide a reminder, make us mindful, clear out the ugly, bless us, give us options and empower us to make decisions.

Especially for our younger members who have a different investment in church than older members (following changes in cultural capital), having a sermon that is applicable and not dogmatic seems to be a key factor in inviting their engagement and participation. Also, for preachers and students of preaching this might be a helpful corrective against preaching “safe,” if boring, sermons about doctrine or theology and against a fear of preaching “heretical” sermons.

3. Participation beyond the Call to Worship is a Viable Practice in an Intergenerational Congregation, although it Requires Attention to Framing Participation

We at Lake Nokomis participate, if somewhat haltingly. Sometimes it’s challenging: we like the creative elements, but sometimes we don’t know how to engage. Being asked to participate makes us feel valuable and appreciated: your stories, ideas, and presence matter. At our best we are OK with participation as long it’s not an either/or, when we know that not participating is just as OK a choice.

If we follow the hypothesis that some congregations will experience increased engagement in what is going on in the event of preaching when people are invited and empowered to participate in shaping the proclamation (that is, publicly shaping the way that God, faith, and Christian life get talked about), then what we are doing at Lake Nokomis is significant. It is significant in that we have over two years of experimenting with this invitation and empowerment. There is still more work to be done. What is involved in “pulling [prayers] out of” congregants? What forms have we not tried? How good of a job are we doing not being random, but paying attention to what Siobhán Garrigan wrote about the comparison between Marquand Chapel at Yale Divinity School and a laboratory?

The image of a laboratory as a large white room containing an individual person in a white coat endlessly experimenting by gleefully adding substance a to substance b to create the new substance c in a bubbling test tube is not only false, but is almost antithetical to how real laboratories work. Not unlike what we do in Marquand, real laboratories have very long time frames for accomplishing change, they are under constant scrutiny by the people who sponsor them and to whom they are accountable (what they are producing has to be an accurate match for the need, and has to work when it is produced), they are environments in which risks must be taken but only with an extraordinary number of safety checks in place, and for any progress to be made they have to be constantly sharing their research with numerous other labs engaged in similar projects. They are collectives, and most of the day is spent in various rounds of communication with one’s colleagues. (The Marquand Reader, 24 September 2007).

Opportunities for growth

1. Connecting Preaching and Prayer 

We’re eager to seek more ways to directly connect our prayer with our preaching. Preaching from the prayers themselves, integrating prayers and preaching somehow, using ways to pray that connect with different learning styles, “theological worlds” and faith perspectives, and that lead into, or flow out of, the exploration of the Word in creative ways.

2. Empowering Stories and Prayers

Where, concretely, do we see/hear/notice God in the world and in our lives? It’s one thing to speculate and hypothesize, and another thing to really learn to recognize and speak of those places, and help others do the same.
Experiments undertaken

1. Deepening Prayer Practices

Exploring more methods of corporate prayer using the senses and interactive participation. We’ve begun down this path and are finding it a positive way to help people respond to what they’re hearing and experiencing in worship, and to connect immediately and directly to their own lives, needs and hopes. We see this as the “work of the people,” the center of our worship and would like to continue to broaden our experience.

We’ll share what we try and what we’re learning! (E.g., After parading in with our palms, we later wrote prayers on our palm branches and placed them in a narrow (“coffin-esque”) box at the foot of the cross and sprinkled dirt over them on Palm/Passion Sunday. That box was filled with flowers on Easter).

2. Sharing Stories

Exploring more ways to share stories within worship as a congregation. For three years, the week after Easter we’ve had “Stories of Resurrection,” wherein 3-4 congregants share places in their own life where they’ve seen life out of death, hope out of despair. After each person shares, we pray for them and sing a hymn. This is always a moving worship service, and people are able to connect to others in their faith. It also empowers the “sharers” to recognize God’s activity in their lives and be able to articulate what they notice.

We also did a service where people shared their favorite bible verses and/or favorite hymns, and why. People still talk about what it meant to hear that from others. Then the confirmands’ bibles were highlighted with the verses people shared and an index is being created with whose favorite verses they were. The bibles will be presented to them at confirmation, already “broken in” by their faith community.

We’ve recently sung songs in worship written by a congregant. We’d like to explore more ways like these to empower people to share from their lives around the scriptures and their faith. To give voice -- all of us -- as witnesses of God’s presence and activity in our lives and in the world.

Again, we will work to share the things we try and how they went. We’ve found that hearing about and experiencing a variety of practices in other congregations has stimulated our creativity and pushed us deeper into what we do. We look forward to being part of such a community of shared exploration!

 Video: Telling the Stories of Our Faith around a Campfire in the Center of the Sanctuary