The Second Service
By Anne Marie Vines
Trinity United Methodist Church adheres mainly to the basic patterns of worship provided in the United Methodist Book of Worship. The congregation conducts two types of worship services every Sunday morning, one is referred to as “Traditional Worship” and the other called “Contact Worship,” the latter of these is understood to be a contemporary worship service. Prior to Covid-19, the church had 3,310 members on roll. Of those 3,310 members, an average of 370 people a week attended Contact and 550 people attended the traditional service. With the rising popularity of what is considered “modern” worship reflected in these numbers, one must ask, “What is different about the contemporary service at Trinity?”
The following observations were made in February and March of 2021 when Trinity was operating under Covid-19 restrictions.
A United Foundation
The United Methodist Book of Worship outlines a basic pattern of worship that, while not
required of United Methodist congregations, is highly encouraged and often followed. Trinity UMC’s Contact Service roughly follows this pattern, incorporating an entrance, proclamation and response, thanksgiving and communion, and sending forth. These acts, however, are conducted in a different manner than in the Traditional Worship service.
A short video displaying the community that is Trinity plays before the service begins. Videos range from youth mission trips to adult Bible studies, and words scatter the screen intermittently encouraging people to get involved in these communities of faith. An upbeat tune plays underneath the videos. A fairly new media segment called “Trinity News” plays following the promotional video, relaying information such as upcoming events and outcomes of past events. This video serves as the entrance, or gathering, as would the ringing of a church bell or organ prelude in a traditional service. When this video plays, people who are not already seated make their way to their seat, and it provides a minute or so to prepare for worship to truly begin. Even for those worshipping in-person, the announcements are virtual. Following this video welcome, John-Mark McGaha, head worship leader of the Contact Worship service, invites the congregation to stand and worship with him. The song is usually borrowed from a modern praise and worship group such as Hillsong Worship or Elevation Worship. The songs are often ones that the congregation is fairly familiar with; however, the lyrics are projected on a screen above the worship leaders’ heads so that everyone can know the words. This introductory song is meant to praise God and ready the congregants’ hearts for worship.
In the Contact Worship Service, the proclamation includes both the Scripture reading and sermon, while the response is reflected in a brief prayer by the pastor following the sermon and another modern worship song by a similar contemporary musical group as listed above. The scripture that is read is the passage that will be referenced in the sermon. After the Scripture, there is a quick word of welcome, despite the welcome expressed in the video played at the beginning of the service. This is followed by a brief children’s moment. The children are invited to stand while the director of children’s ministry illustrates a brief image that relates to the message about to be presented, usually by sharing a personal story from her personal experience.
Thanksgiving and communion, which involve the reenactment of the Lord’s Supper, customarily takes place on the first Sunday of each month. Under Covid-19 restrictions, congregants are given a pre-packed cup of grape juice and a wafer by a minister to consume and meditate on individually. During this time, the worship team plays another song originally recorded by a contemporary praise and worship band. When McGaha observes that everyone has received communion, he invites the congregation to stand and sing along with the praise team.
The final segment of the service consists of the sending forth, or the benediction. Usually, associate pastor Amy DeWitte reclaims the stage. The praise band still positioned behind her, strumming simple melodies to accompany her words, DeWitte offers a few words of praise, thanksgiving, and blessing before dismissing the service. All services are concluded with the words, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.”
A Place for the People
Trinity United Methodist Church’s history dates back to 1891, when the first church building was built on 6th Avenue and 31st Street as a part of a “southside mission.” In 1926, a group of families gathered to share a unified desire to establish a church in the Edgewood community, leading to the formation of Trinity United Methodist Church in Homewood. The first building was erected in 1928, followed by a new sanctuary in 1950 in response to the over 1500 members that Trinity had suddenly amassed. Continuing on the path of rapid growth, Trinity added an educational wing in the 1950’s, and in 1978, the congregation moved into the sanctuary now used for traditional worship. A new area for youth and children was added in 2003 in accordance with additional renovations, attempting to maximize the space needed to host Trinity’s ever growing congregation. There are multiple worship spaces throughout Trinity UMC Homewood’s building; however, Contact Worship service is currently held in a new section of the church named “The Nave,” located off of Wesley Hall, which served as the previous place of worship before the erection of the present sanctuary that currently holds the traditional worship service.
The Nave is a very modern and simplistic area. Off-white walls tower tall above congregants heads, supported by dark oak beams with rectangular lanterns hanging from their bellies. Individual, cushioned chairs are positioned at angles that direct all attention to the stage at the front of the cavernous room. Large speakers hover over the stage, threatening to steal the attention away from those below. Numerous light fixtures accompany the speakers on the ceiling, adjusting to the mood of the happenings of the service with their colors: blue, purple, pink, green. A large drum set takes back center stage, flanked by pianos and base and electric guitars. Front and center stands head worship leader, John-Mark McGaha, bass guitar in hand.
John-Mark is accompanied by four to six singers to strengthen the chorus and provide harmonies when necessary. All voices are amplified by wired microphones. A big screen hangs behind their heads, displaying lyrics, Scripture, and directions throughout the service.
A table stands at the foot of the stage, home to a chalice, a loaf of bread, and a basket of individual, pre-filled communion cups. A music stand serves as a lectern, and sits off to the side of the stage, carried on and off by the pastor presenting the sermon. Associate pastor Amy DeWitte usually assumes this role in the Contact Worship service, but occasionally senior pastor Brian Erickson appears in her place. When giving the message, the pastor adopts the place of John-Mark, standing center stage, only slightly elevated from the people in the nave, but on equal level with the worship leaders. There is no differentiation between leaders of the service, as the stage is open and level. The only distinct spatial difference acknowledged is the elevated stage in comparison to the nave, seated slightly below the level of the stage. All Scripture readings, announcements, sermons, and songs are led from this center stage spot. Large windows span the length of the left-hand wall; however, the shades remain pulled for the entirety of the service. The only light is artificial, manually controlled throughout the service. In addition to the colorful stage lights, there are overhead lights that remain dimmed for most of the service.
The Second Service: Masked Tradition
This service is a moderately contemporary version of the traditional United Methodist practice outlined in the United Methodist Book of Worship. There was a strict order of worship, and specific action and responses by the congregation were expected throughout various parts of the service. It is clear that, despite its label as a “contemporary” service, the scripted nature of the service is what Edward Phillips calls the “Aesthetic Worship” character type or more clearly understood as “sophisticated worship” (Phillips 2020, 23).
Usually expressed through worship spaces like Trinity sanctuary with gothic architecture and stained glass windows, the Aesthetic Worship character type is presented in the Contact worship service’s use of advanced vocabulary and liturgy; however, some aspects of this worship service vary from this character type. Contact’s worship space, the Nave, accompanied by several practices (namely the worship team and the anthems they sing) point more towards Phillips “Pentecostal Worship” classification. This method of worship focuses on the enthusiasm and individuality of particularly the music aspect of a worship service, emphasizing the oneness and relationship with God found through music. The Contact worship service seems to gain its label as “contemporary” through the aspects of the Pentecostal Worship character type it encompasses. The tradition appears to lie within the aspects of the Aesthetic Worship character type evident throughout the service, which reflect more closely the characteristics of the mother service, or the traditional worship service.
Trinity United Methodist Church’s Contact worship service serves as an outlet for modern worshipers who appreciate the tradition of the denomination. The foundation remains united, the space a place for fellowship, but it allows for a freedom of worship that many crave. Hymns replaced with anthems, dresses replaced with jeans, it might just be that the Contact worship service is a place for certain congregants to feel more comfortable in expression–such as the lifting of hands, enthusiastic music, etc.– and praise. So, whether it is observed that there are more differences or similarities between the contemporary and traditional worship services at Trinity UMC, there is a place for everyone at their table.
Trinity United Methodist Church
Location: 1400 Oxmoor Rd. Homewood, AL 35209
Services Observed: Contact Worship Service, February 7, 14, March 7, 2021
Video Archives: Trinity United Methodist Church. Youtube.
Trinity United Methodist Church. Facebook https://www.facebook.com/trinityumcbirmingham
Cole, Jacob. “Trinity United Methodist Church Sees Construction Progress.” thehomewoodstar.com, October 17, 2019. https://thehomewoodstar.com/businesses/trinity-united-methodist-church-sees-construction-progress
Phillips, L. Edward. 2020. The Purpose, Pattern, & Character of Worship. Abingdon Press.
United Methodist Church. 1992. United Methodist Book of Worship. Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House.
Jesse Henderson ‘21 was a student in Christian Worship: History & Theology in Samford University’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies in spring 2021.
Published May 21, 2021.