Nearly 80% of people do not attend church on Sunday morning; many consider themselves spiritual, but not religious (SBNR). Some simply do not like traditional church worship services; others may have been hurt (in some form) by a church in the past. And, today, there are many things competing for peoples’ time on Sunday mornings.
Studio, a new spiritual community in Huntsville (Northeast District), is striving to be deliberately different. Rather than Sunday morning, they meet Thursday evenings. Traditional elements of worship, like sermons and music, are not utilized by Studio but instead they incorporate conversation and contemplative (or awareness) practices. In doing so, the community hopes that they can offer people a place to explore and grow their spirituality outside the confines of a traditional church atmosphere.In fact, Studio’s motto is:
No sermons – just conversation
No judgment – just acceptance
Awareness – not just information
Studio works hard to ensure everyone feels welcome and accepted, and to create a safe space for all kinds of questions and differing opinions. The group uses dialog rules to ensure that thoughts are heard in an accepting environment and that no one is allowed to enforce their opinions on the group. Conversations are facilitated by Becky Warren, the Spiritual Community Leader.
Northeast District Superintendent Rev. Dale Cohen says, “Studio is an attempt to try something radically new as an experiment for reaching the ‘spiritual but not religious’ crowd that we hear so much about in the news. Although Studio is unapologetically Christian, there is a willingness for people to bring their spiritual questions that a lot of people in a more traditional church setting may not be willing to entertain. Additionally, the experience people have at Studio is based on the contemplative practices that are deeply rooted in the Christian tradition but that have been largely ignored in modern church.”
The result is an atmosphere of true acceptance and non-judgment, as reflected in this comment by a college student who regularly participates in Studio conversations: "I wanted to tell you the impact that tonight had on me. Tonight was the very first night that I felt no judgment in a church environment. Even in bible classes or youth group or anything else, I have always felt judgment, and I felt none today. It felt like I always wanted church to feel. How I always imagined it should be.”
Participation in discussions is voluntary, but generally the group is quite interactive. “Everyone has life experiences and a story to tell,” says Nancy Carter, another Studio participant. “What we do is get together and tell our stories, and in that way, we learn from each other.”
The conversations usually center around how to live a better, more abundant life, which is the primary reason people seek church or a spiritual community. Studio also engages in a variety of contemplative practices, like centering prayer, in which participants open their hearts to God. Other contemplative practices include chanting, lectio divina (praying the scriptures), and letting go practices. Becky says that, “Contemplation is a way to develop a deeper relationship with God and to become more aware of ourselves and the world around us.”
Studio has another mission, to try different things to see what appeals to people interested in spiritual community; this is accomplished through being an experimental and evolutionary organization. “We aren’t afraid to change things and try out new ideas to see what best appeals to Studio participants,” comments Becky. In varying room arrangements, order of activities, and other elements, Studio is building a culture of change resilience and acceptance.