Community Blog

Creating Context

One of the reasons for the name “Open Space” is to convey how we understand our church and our purpose.

Traditional churches are content-driven. The purpose of the service is convey content: scripture passages, doctrines, specific recommended actions, certain beliefs. All good things, by themselves. But they are all content, and are largely intellectual and head-knowledge-based things. One drives the content home through lyrics in songs, sermons, scripted readings in liturgies.

Again, those are all good things, but they are not particularly experiential. Content is learning about, not experiencing first-hand. It’s getting someone else’s explanation of what they experienced or figured out. Good places to start, but not, for most of us, why we do or do not love and serve God. Most of us start with experience – be it of a loving community, a personal encounter in prayer, a movement of the Spirit in worship, time with the family in devotions, working on a church mission etc. The experience changes us and brings us back again.

But how does one experience?

Well, there are a couple ways. Neither is bad, they are just different, and appeal to and work with different types of people.

One is to create the experience. The pastor/worship leaders carefully orchestrate the worship, thinking through the movement from one piece to another, creating effects and moments, inspiring with carefully crafted words. At it’s worst, this can be a show, but it does not have to be. It could just be a really well-cone liturgy. For example, an Eastern Orthodox liturgy is an incredible experience, but not one that allows much change or input.

The other way to experience is to explore, hands-on (or mind-on, whatever works) the subject of the day. To paint it, draw it, listen to it and interact with it. While doing we experience as well – even if that doing is sitting still for a few moments in silence – it’s still not getting content delivered. This is what we aim for at Open Space.

This is not to say that we do not have doctrine or content. We are a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We have our beliefs and doctrines that we adhere to, but we see them more as guides than as the sum total of faith. And the guides help us to be more creative, and to experience.

Let me give an analogy:

You have to paint something, and you’re given a commission, with all sorts of restrictions. There’s a wall, but it has a tree in the middle that the owner loves, so you have to paint around that. It has bricks that are slightly uneven, but make a beautiful texture on the other side. It goes high in one part, but has a short end on the other. And you have to do it all using only certain kinds of paint colors. You have a task to explore how to make this particularly odd-shaped wall beautiful within these strange limits.

You may not have been good at working around trees before, or seeing how they can enhance a mural. You may not have worked almost exclusively in greens, but now you begin to see so much more beauty to the shades than you used to, when you only used a couple colors for highlights. You never knew how much more interesting you could make a wall of varying heights. Now that you’ve been making beauty in these limits, you appreciate all these things more, and understand them better. Being forced to work within the limits forced a deeper creativity and appreciation.

The structure of the church, with its doctrines and scriptures works that way. Instead of answering every question, or being the sum-total of what one must agree with, they provide the limits within which we can explore, create, and experience.

Open Space Church is about creating a space to learn and explore and grow with God. We provide the space, the context, to explore that in worship that is both interactive and structured, through paint nights and mural projects, through fellowship nights with scripture discussions that follow where the Spirit leads us with a text (instead of having a written lesson plan).

It is a different way to do church, one that take a little more personal engagement, and is harder to do as a spectator. The worship is not very slick, and we sometimes experiment as we do it. Our activities sometimes work and sometimes don’t, but we go through this together, in community. That’s what exploration is: and that’s our idea of learning about God: through experience. We provide the space for you to encounter in community and through art and interaction.

Open Space Church