If the Pre-Assembly Workshop are like squares on a quilt, worship is the thread holding the fabric in place, connecting square to square and filling the spaces between.
PAW has been a General Assembly tradition since 2005. Organized by the Elders Institute, St. Andrew’s Hall, Vancouver, and held on the Saturday before assembly, it gives an opportunity for elders and lay leaders to develop their ministerial skills and strategies with learning, worship and fellowship.
This year, St. Andrew’s, Scarborough hosted Basics for a Changing World. “We made a point of having PAW in local churches,” said Rev. Dr. Roberta Clare, director of the Elders’ Institute.
“People in the area are much more likely to go to a neighbouring church than they are to a university building that’s a little impersonal.”
In contrast to a more institutional learning approach, PAW’s facilitators create a more relaxed and personal learning environment, drawing on a variety of teaching styles.
In a crowded basement Sunday school room, Rev. Keith Boyer led a workshop entitled, the Missional Church. It was clear from the outset this was a space for skill sharing.
“We are on the growing edge together,” said Boyer.
Relying heavily on Lesslie Newbigin, Boyer framed discussion by contrasting two ideas of how churches can reach their communities: Do we attract community members to our church (for example with new programs, new praise bands, etc.), or do we seek to build relationships with our neighbours in their own spaces? In other words, do we emphasize, “come and see,” or “go and be”?
The consensus of the group seemed to be that while we need both models, a greater emphasis on the missional church fosters healthier communities and spirit-filled congregations.
In Worship: Welcoming, Worthy and Wise, Rev. Dr. Christine O’Reilly challenged participants to view welcoming visitors as part of worship. Small group and large group discussions then prompted the class to re-examine how we frame our Sunday worship.
“We need to … get behind the eyes of the person who has not been to worship in a long time,” said O’Reilly. “We need to recognize it takes great courage to walk into a church, especially if it’s been some time since they’ve worshipped. People decide within the first five minutes if they will return to your church.”
With this in mind, she challenged the class to adopt the maxim, “Greet your friends and visit with new people,” acknowledging we are quite often prone to do the reverse.
While highlighting these and other areas of growth, O’Reilly consistently emphasized the etymology of “worship,” saying, it “comes from the Old English word, ‘worthscipe.’ Whatever we do in worship, it is to express how worth it God is—how worthy God is.”
Such emphasis on worship was not limited to O’Reilly’s workshop.
The day began and ended with lively worship services. Full of dance, song, prayer and preaching, the services gave participants time to anticipate what they hoped to encounter and space to reflect on what they had learned. At the end of the day it was clear that PAW is more than workshops; it is a joyous buzz permeating each of the day’s activities.
“PAW has been a really positive experience for everyone,” said Clare. “We’ve been able to change it every year because General Assembly moves around. Our leadership every year is different. Our themes are different. Our worship is different.”
However, Clare adds, “If General Assembly does adopt a new format in the future, there will be openings and opportunities.
“It’s not about PAW, it’s about what’s best for the church.”