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PC(USA) church relies on Dolly Parton and prayer stations to encourage active and vibrant worship


The pastors at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in San Francisco are the most recent guests on A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast

January 19, 2023

The Rev. Dr. Theresa Cho

At St. John’s Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, where the Rev. Dr. Theresa Cho and the Rev. Sam Lundquist serve as pastors, even Dolly Parton — or at least her look-alike — might well show up for worship during a Sunday celebrating Pride Month.

Lundquist and Cho were recent guests on A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast, hosted by the Rev. Lee Catoe and Simon Doong. Listen to their conversation here.

Speaking to the hosts about creative worship and the “Dolly Church” experience specifically, Lundquist, the church’s associate pastor, said he sees the worship space as story-telling space. “For one hour on Sunday or whatever the time might be, that’s the space where we get to tell the story of God,” Lundquist said. “Everything is up for grabs to tell that story in this world, because God is working and moving through all of that.”

Indeed, God’s first act — fashioning the heavens and the Earth — was a creative endeavor, Lundquist noted. “Our God is a creative God, and we have that spirit in us, too, that spark of imagination,” Lundquist said. “That spark of creativity and artistic expression is something we see God do from the beginning of the story of God.”

Dolly Church “wasn’t about Dolly Parton,” Cho said. “It was about it being Pride Month and how do we go about honoring not only being an open and affirming church but creating a service where we can celebrate that.”

“I look at creativity as a tool to make our faith more pliable and flexible,” she said. Especially since the Covid pandemic began, “a lot of us have had to experience change or loss or a transition, a loved one or job security, that can really test our faith. There’s nothing like entering into a creative space that opens up our mind and our curiosity … to open us up to see things maybe in a different way and make us spiritually stronger so we can handle things out there in the world better.”

The Rev. Sam Lundquist

Doong noted St. John’s has also incorporated prayer stations to encourage congregants to move around during worship. That practice not only recognizes the congregation’s diversity, it “honors the fact that some of us are visual learners,” Cho said. “Some of us love the word, and some of us are more lyrical. … There’s the sermon, but there are ways to play with things that the sermon brings up. To do that through prayer stations allows people to engage with each other and for families to engage with each other. It’s more than doing something cool and niche; it’s about providing many different opportunities and honoring all the ways we experience God.”

“We have a good five minutes during worship when people wander around and light candles. Sometimes there’s a different interactive station there. Some people just sit,” Lundquist said. “Structure gives us a framework, but sometimes we can hold too tightly to that.” The fine balance involves “letting people on their own terms engage with the space how they need to,” he said. “We try to do a great job of being invitational, and the structure itself is that invitation.”

Lundquist called his own faith background “deliciously all over the place,” and he has a background in entertainment. “From that work, I do know that human beings love being immersed in a story,” he said. “Rewinding our faith back as far as it can go, this is all storytelling. It’s campfire storytelling” designed to “enliven people and move them in certain directions.” When Jesus told stories, “He used everything around him to connect people with the things of life to tell that story in a new way. That’s what creativity really is: using things people are familiar with and then telling the story of God.”

Listen to other editions of A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast here. A Matter of Faith is offered each week by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice.

 Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Cobbie and Dessa Palm, Mission co-workers serving in the Philippines, World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Josh Park, Manager for Korean-Speaking Councils, Office of the General Assembly

Let us pray

God, may Christ fill us with your love and hope for the world. Help us put your earthly problems into proper perspective and grow closer to you so that we can hear your call to live out our faith in word and deed. Amen.

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