St. Elizabeth Episcopal Church

Dahlonega, Georgia

To initiate a contemplative worship service that uses participatory and sensually rich gestures, silence, and Celtic music in order to cultivate worshipers’ imagination of God. 

 Provide a brief summary of the purpose and goal of your grant.

Because we saw a need in our community and congregation for a contemplative, evening worship service, and because we have a number of local musicians who play Celtic, bluegrass, and old-time Appalachian music, our plan was to begin a monthly Sunday evening Celtic worship service, to provide a deep spiritual experience for community residents, including college students, retirees, our own members, and those who do not currently attend any church.  

 What are two questions that have generated reflection on worship and helped shape your project?

  1. How can we create a meaningful worship experience that attracts people outside of our congregation both as attendees and participants?
  2. In designing a worship service, what is the right balance and flow of components i.e. music, singing, prayers, poems, reflection, meditation, candles, etc., and when and how can these be executed safely during a pandemic?

 What impact has your project had on the worship life and habits of the congregation? 

We finally had our first service on May 23, outside with socially distanced seating. The congregation, having heard about the service and the grant for a year, has been anticipating it and comprised more than half of the attendees. The impact is just beginning, however, after only one service, they see that not only is the service meaningful to them personally, but it is also a wonderful outreach to non-parishioners searching for a worship experience outside of the traditional church service. 

 What have been your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)?

Uncertainty due to the pandemic. Initially, video was our solution. We then realized starting a new service, with its many experiential components and goal of attracting new people, would not be effective via video. In the interim, we had an online Celtic prayer gathering during Lent. As outside gatherings were allowed, we pivoted again, let go of having the service in the sanctuary, found an outdoor area and acquired the components to create a wonderful, reflective place to worship in nature. 

 What would you like to share with other Project Directors?

Having to pivot due to unexpected circumstances beyond your control can bring unexpected benefits. We never planned to have the service outside, but when it was our best option, we found a flat space; brought in plants, candles, small tables, a cross and altar; and transformed it into a lovely worship experience that we will now use going forward, weather permitting. The environment complements the Celtic service beautifully, which we might not have ever known, if it hadn’t been forced upon us.