Worship at Winnetka Congregational Church might bring you joy. Here’s why.

Worship at Winnetka Congregational Church might bring you joy. Here’s why.

We’ve been talking a lot about being an “open house” at Winnetka Congregational Church.

I really love this metaphor for our church. The other day, I was thinking about why it seems so right for us, and a sound came to mind.

Yes, a sound.

The sound of a slamming screen door.

Now, I realize for some people, that is an incredibly annoying sound. But for me, it’s a good one.

A sound that brings me joy.

Maybe you grew up in a house with a screened back door in the days before
someone invented those pneumatic closers to replace the spring-closing mechanism. A house where you frequently heard adults, throughout the summer, yelling, “Don’t let the back door slam!” because it was slamming…constantly…as kids and dogs and friends (and their dogs!) and the relatives came and went…and came and went again…and again.

Or maybe if you didn’t grow up in a house like this, you experienced the happy bang of a porch door at your summer camp “mess hall” or the wall-to-wall-bunk-bed-filled cabin you were staying in.

Or maybe you’ve felt the joy of a slamming screen door at one of those Lake Michigan cottages you can still rent for summer getaways.

That’s a sound that gives me a little hit of joy because it says on some deep level this is a place where people can come and go freely. It says you’ll always find someone to give you a hug here or a bandage for your knee if you need one. It sounds out the message that this is a place where you’ll find someone who’ll make you laugh, or someone who will laugh at your jokes, or join you in laughing at life (not that any of us need to do that!).

To me, the sharp report of that door says this is a house where you’ll find someone who’ll sit with you when you need to cry. It says this is the kind of place where you can be yourself and feel at home. It says this is an Open House in every sense of those words.

We don’t actually have a slamming screen door here at Winnetka Congregational. But that kind of open-house-ness is definitely part of who we are and who we are committed to continue becoming.

So, what does that mean and how exactly does that get expressed in a Sunday morning worship service?

Being an open house means we’re open to questions.

Maybe you’re wondering if God exists or spirituality matters, or if faith and doubt can exist together. Maybe you question if going to church is even important.

At Winnetka Congregational, we make space for all the questions. For honesty. For different points of view. For uncertainty. And yes, space for faith and doubt to sit right next to each other and rub elbows.

We not only embrace questions. We also embrace the search for answers. Not just about God and faith. But about ourselves. Which is precisely what led us to work on antiracism, environmental justice, LGBTQ+ inclusion, and multi-faith solidarity.

It means we’re open to everyone’s ability to lead in worship.

Young, old, straight or LGBTQ+, whatever gender, whatever background, we believe all of us bring different gifts and all of them are gifts from God. And everyone has something to teach us, show us, give us.

We know you may have heard churches that say “all are welcome” before. But, then, when you got there, it actually felt like it was their house, and you were a guest… whose guest privileges could get revoked at any moment if you stepped out of line.

Here we believe that God is the host, inviting all of us in. And that God’s invitation is radically inclusive and doesn’t come with any hidden fine print.

It means we’re open to more than one kind of music.

Yes, we have a wonderful Pasi pipe organ. But we’re also very aware that an organ playing Bach isn’t the only way to worship God. So, each week you’ll experience music from a wide range of instruments, genres, arrangements, and vocalists, all woven smoothly together into the narrative arc of the service, as informed by that Sunday’s Bible reading.

You might hear other churches talk about their “great music programs” – and we get that. And, yes, amazing music is happening here, too. Every week! And there are all kinds of opportunities for kids and adults to be involved in making music. But we don’t think of music as a separate “program” or an add-on. We think of music not as something that’s “performed” each Sunday, but rather as a powerful, inseparable part of the service we’re all participating in.

It also means we’re open to doing things differently if it’s the right thing to do.

We believe worship is meant to meet us where we are, not where we were. And that we’re called to worship that’s dynamic, fluid, and faith-inspiring and that empowers us to better love God, ourselves, and all God’s children (or, as Jesus puts it, “our neighbors”).

For us as humans, growth means change. We see things we didn’t see before. We find new ways to express ourselves that fit us better now. So, while we love the traditions and practices handed down through the generations, we also wisely recognize (as Luke 5 reminds us) that you can’t put new wine in old wineskins.

So, no, we’re not into change for change’s sake. We’re not about making it “cool and relevant for the kids.” (We all know how that usually works out right?) But we are about being open to what God is calling us to be…in this time, in this place.

If you’re a regular here at Winnetka Congregational, you have already experienced all this, of course.

But if you’re someone who’s been looking for a church because you’re longing for community and for a place where you feel like you and your whole family can truly belong…

… if you’ve been trying to find a church that’s working to make a difference in our community, our city, our world…

… then, I hope you’ll considering stopping by.

You can see what we mean by “Open House” any Sunday.

We can’t promise it will fill you with that screen-door-slam of joy. But who knows? It just might!

The Rev. Jeff Braun is the Senior Pastor of Winnetka Congregational Church, a progressive, LGBTQ-inclusive, justice-oriented and family-friendly church on the north side of Chicago. His calling is to share God’s word of love as spoken through Jesus, to make sure that everyone knows they have a seat at the table and to help us all recognize our oneness in God and with all God’s children.