During the summer of1980 we exchanged pastorates with a family in England. Stephen and Ruth Thornton and their two children arrived in Fort Wayne, IN to become the pastoral family of Peace United Church of Christ. My wife, Pat, and our three children joined me as the pastoral family of the United Reformed Church of England and Wales at Upton-by-Chester in NW England. We certainly thought we were blessed with the best of that exchange!
We exchanged parsonages, cars, church responsibilities and salaries. The Fort Wayne church folks adopted the Thornton family for those 10 weeks, and the Upton-by-Chester congregation embraced us as well. I officiated at one wedding and one funeral while also serving as the Protestant non-Anglican chaplain of the Cheshire Maternity Hospital, in addition to my Sunday responsibilities.
This congregation offered two worship services each Sunday. The morning service was well attended, and the evening service averaged around 25. I soon learned that these were basically two different congregations. Only two or three persons attended both services. Because of this rather minor overlap, I suggested they should encourage those two or three people to attend either the morning or evening service, but not both. Then I could repeat the same service and sermon instead of preparing two different services each Sunday. That was my parting suggestion to the Elders as I left!
Robin Hodgkins, one of the pillars of that congregation, explained the origin of the evening service. The house staff were busy on Sunday mornings making preparations for the customary Sunday noon family dinner. This was the premier dining event of the week, with all the usual frills and extras. The staff would be expected to give their best attention to this family gathering. By late in the afternoon their duties would be completed. The evening service would accommodate these hard-working people. By the time I arrived in 1980 none of the church members had paid staff. However, as we know, traditions are often maintained long after the original necessity has passed.
I was reminded of this English experience as I prepared for our Vesper Service last evening. The United Reformed Church hymnal was quite different in many ways, especially in the choice of evening hymns. While our hymnals have only a few selections, they had many.
No, I am not making a case for two worship services each Sunday. I reminisce about this out of an appreciation for learning again what a gift it is to be exposed to the diversity of Christian customs and practices. We have so much to learn from each other and we can be so provincial. There is a wideness to the Church of Jesus Christ, and we are blessed to be a member of this world-wide community.
Peace, John Krueger