Huff-Post Religion Uncovers ‘The Surprising Sacred Gathering Spaces That Are Moving Into Your Neighborhoods’
Published with permission from Huff-Post Religion. By: Jaweed Kaleem
Twice a week, every Sunday and Monday night, around a dozen New Yorkers gather in long, candle-lit studio apartment nestled between a hair salon and some warehouses in one of Brooklyn’s latest hip neighborhoods. They’re actors, singers, seminarians and new parents, and they sit in groups of six around tables in one of the simplest and most untraditional Christian worship spaces the city has to offer.
St. Lydia’s Church has no pews, no altar, no vestments, no band or choir, and little formality of any kind. Instead, church means drums and chanting, with frequent references to Jesus; breaking bread and drinking communion grape juice; and a long, three-hour homemade vegetarian dinner punctuated by Bible readings, a sermon and frequent talk of what it means to be a young spiritual seeker in Brooklyn. The pastor is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but the members themselves range from atheist and agnostic to evangelical, Catholic and Episcopalian.
Worship services at St. Lydia’s church in Brooklyn center around a meal prepared by attendees.
“Growing up, I was really sure in my faith in God and in going to Episcopal church — I loved the liturgy — but my sense was that I would never invite a friend of mine to this kind of worship service because it felt like there were so many barriers everywhere, from the look to the feel to the sounds of the place,” says Emily Scott, 34, who founded St. Lydia’s dinner church five years ago at a friend’s apartment (it more recently settled into its new home in Gowanus). “We try to practice the most basic form of Christianity: bread, wine — grape juice in our case — water, a meal, singing and a community relationship and connection. I preach, but so does everyone else. We learn from each other.”
As fewer Americans identify with traditional religion and more people check the “none of the above” box when asked about their faith, a host of creative, nontraditional spiritual spaces are popping up across the country. They include religious communities that worship and mingle in bowling alleys and cocktail bars, or multi-faith worship centers that intentionally group Muslims, Jews and Christians together. Houses of worship are rebranding, too, hiring architects to design new campuses to appeal to the future faithful.
Traditional churches still dominate the American landscape, but what religious space looks like is undergoing a subtle, gradual shift, with some of the most celebrated new religious communities arising in cities and college towns. The church steeple in the American town square hasn’t gone, but it’s got some company.
“The declining participation of young people in formal religion has led to there being a pressure on elders — and young leaders themselves — to try new things,” said Duke University sociologist Mark Chaves, author of the National Congregations Study, which in its latest 2012 survey found that 9.3 percent of American congregations met in a building other than a church, mosque, synagogue or school — a 1.5 percent increase over 14 years. “There has always been some innovation happening in American religion, of course, but people are trying new things these days.”
Here are a few of the ways the future of faith is playing out in religious spaces.
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