What would President Benjamin Harrison have thought of an accordion and a mandolin playing during worship in his church? The former U.S. president probably wasn’t expecting that when he helped plan a new building for First Presbyterian Church in his hometown of Indianapolis, down the street from the house where he used to give campaign speeches on his front porch.
Harrison, who died before the new church was completed in 1902 (it was later abandoned in 1971, when First merged with its daughter church north of the city), could never have imagined the dynamic worship and outreach that has now emerged at the corner of Delaware and 16th Streets in downtown Indianapolis. Since 2002, the old First Presbyterian building has been given new life by a young startup congregation, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, of the Presbyterian Church of America.
In 2000, when its days of housing worship appeared to be long over, the church was renovated. The plumbing and the holes in the roof were repaired, and the stained glass windows replaced one by one (except for the southern sanctuary wall, whose stained glass window, donated by Harrison’s wife when her husband died, is still held by the Indianapolis Museum of Art). Much of the church complex, which includes a mid-twentieth century addition with classrooms and a battered old gymnasium that evokes the movie Hoosiers, is leased to nonprofit arts organizations, including the Harrison Center for the Arts and fourteen independent artists’ studios.
A Blend of Old and New
Both Redeemer’s building and its worship are an intriguing blend of history and the present, tradition and renewal. At the front of the sanctuary is the communion table from First’s previous location downtown, where Harrison worshiped and was an elder. The carpet and curtain behind the pulpit are a subdued maroon. The wires and amplifiers of the instruments up front are mostly concealed by plants, and instrumentalists use wooden chairs and music stands that contribute to a dignified worship space.
Although much of the platform is recessed up front, all lay leadership and singing takes place at the front edge of the platform, as does the preaching, bridging a potential physical gap between leaders and the congregation. The 24-page (!) order of service includes the text of all responsive readings and Scripture, and the score and words of all music. The booklet facilitates greater participation in worship, making use of constant congregational response and allowing the service to proceed unannounced, although occasionally noses get buried in bulletins during the less familiar music, and the singing suffers.
The music, like the sanctuary throughout which it resounds, is both historic and innovative. Bruce Benedict, the church’s full-time director of music arts, plays guitar and leads an ensemble that includes piano, drums, and bass guitar, as well as accordion and mandolin. The band’s distinct urban sound is neither canned nor too edgy, and the band often ceases mid-song for a cappella singing.
An Effective Liturgy
Most of the songs are hymns with deep roots in the Reformed tradition, but they are sung to the music team’s arrangement; many have a different tempo, meter, and in some cases, tune. A particularly effective liturgical move is to place the series of praise songs after the confession and assurance of pardon, so that the praise arises out of gratitude for God’s grace, with a healthy liturgical buildup—rather than as a warm-up exercise at the beginning of worship.
Another meaningful aspect of worship at Redeemer is the use of introductions or explanations of the various sections of the service. As part of the call to confession, for instance, the lay leader affirms that worship is not an individual experience, but communal expression. “We do this together, because corporately we have sinned against God,” he says, adding that the corporate prayer will be followed by a silent time of individual confession.
Incorporating the Psalms
This past summer, these transitions, and the liturgy as a whole, were given vivid unity by the recurrence of the psalms in each act of worship, reinforcing a summer-long sermon series on the psalms. The call to worship, prayer of confession, song of praise, Scripture reading and response, sermon, sermon response, song of response, words of institution of communion, and song of departure were all taken from the psalms (see order of service, sidebar). The psalms were used beautifully for congregational responses. For example, the prompt for the Scripture reading response was not the standard “The Word of the Lord,” but the poignant “God’s Word is a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path” from Psalm 119 (response: “Thanks be to God!”).
The use of psalmody is a nod to the Reformed tradition of the PCA but also a very helpful embellishment of the sermon. The pastoral prayer was moved to before the Scripture reading, from its usual spot after the sermon, so that the sermon could be followed by a responsive reading of a psalm. The words of institution in communion echoed the theme of the sermon on Psalm 23, with its emphasis on finding security in God: “If you believe this gospel,” senior pastor Jason Dorsey said, “the day will come when you will see this shepherd, and see the wounds by which he purchased your security.” In explaining the distribution of the bread, Dorsey said that the passing of the loaf to fellow worshipers “is a reminder that Jesus shepherds us through one another.”
All Are Welcome
While Redeemer’s weekly worship is not a “seeker service,” these and other cues speak of sensitivity and hospitality to the guest. Benedict says that Redeemer’s outreach functions on the principle that “you can belong before you believe.” The call to confession is prefaced by the leader’s explanation, addressed to nonbelievers, that while “it may seem odd” to begin worship on the somber note of sin, the call to confession directs Christians to their Savior. The offering is preceded by an explanation and an excusal of visitors from giving. The order of service includes written prayers for those not communing. The guest who is new to Redeemer—or new to church, period—is acknowledged and guided through the service.
Redeemer is a young church with a core of young families. Benedict says he found an unexpected way for his musical gifts to meet the needs of a congregation with many children—about eighty, by Benedict’s estimate. Benedict recorded some of his musical arrangements of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which he wrote to help him memorize the Catechism for his graduation from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. When he arrived at Redeemer in 2003, he began teaching the children his musical arrangements during their singing time. He also distributed CDs of his songs that parents used to teach their kids at home, and posted related resources for other churches at his website (www.cardiphonia.com).
“I never thought people would have this kind of interest in the Westminster Catechism,” Benedict said. “It was always more of a devotional exercise for me.” Now worship services begin with a group of children singing one of the sung answers up front.
With Benedict as project director, Redeemer received a grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship to explore other new ways to involve children in worship. In addition to the church’s children’s worship program, Redeemer began exploring ways to include children in the main worship service—“big church,” as the kids call it. One of the first steps is simply keeping children in the sanctuary.
“We decided that since children’s worship is supposed to train children for worship, it would be good if every fifth Sunday we didn’t have children’s worship, so they had a chance to worship with their families, and sing the musical pieces they were learning.” Redeemer also held a conference for the congregation called “Children and Worshiping Families.”
Because of Redeemer’s strong connection with the visual arts, the church also sought to involve children through artistic expression. One project that resulted was the “Cloud of Witnesses” installation for All Saints’ Day. Each child wrote a name or drew a picture on a white piece of paper of a saint or a relative who had died. The papers were strung together and suspended in the center of the sanctuary over the congregation, an evocative cloud hovering over the congregation as it worshiped. For Pentecost, the children made an installation consisting of pieces of yarn that stretched from above the pulpit to each corner of the sanctuary, illustrating the spread of the gospel in different tongues to all corners of the world.
The children are taught the symbolism of their installations, but for the youngest children, Benedict says, “I think the biggest connection we made was they were making something that had some connection to big worship on Sunday morning. The bigger picture is just that they’re valued and able to participate in worship.”
Children also play a special role in baptisms, coming to the front to lead the congregation in “Baptized in Water (Sealed by the Spirit)” after a baby is baptized. They sing the first stanza by themselves and invite the congregation to join them.
Dorsey says that Redeemer sees theological significance, not just the practical benefit, in integrating the participation of children in worship.
“Our perspective is that our children that God has blessed us with are part of our community, and should be involved in the different areas of life of our community, including worship,” Dorsey says. “Our children are a part of this community by God’s promises in baptism, and therefore called to be servant leaders who mature into servants in the different areas in the life of the church. Families in our church see the organic nature of the community, rather than divvying up by ages.”
Redeemer’s vision for worship and ministry is articulated further at its website, www.redeemindy.org. The site offers a vision statement for the church and a worship handbook, which reads, “At Redeemer Presbyterian we see worship as our ultimate and highest calling. And we see our corporate worship each Sunday as the place where we most fully experience the reconciliation of the races, the redemption of Jesus, the communion of the saints, and, most importantly, the glory of God.”
Redeemer by the Numbers
- Founded in 1998.
- 205 members, mostly under the age of 45.
- 44 percent of members live in downtown zip codes.
- Three full-time staff members (senior pastor, associate pastor, director of music and arts), three part-time staff, two staff members shared with the New Deal church plant; non-profit partner Harrison Center for the Arts has full-time director and two part-time staff.
Order of Service
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Prelude: “Singing the Westminster Shorter Catechism” (children’s group)
Welcome and Announcements
Gathering Song: “Salvation Belongs to Our God”
Call to Worship (from Psalm 19, responsively)
Hymn of Adoration: “Come Ye Sinners”
Invocation and Prayer of Adoration
Prayer of Confession (based on Psalm 15, responsively)
Songs of Praise
“Sing to the Lord” (Psalm 96); arr. Bruce Benedict
“Abide in Me” (Tune: Nathan Partain, 2002)
Sermon Scripture: Psalm 23
Scripture Reading Response (based on Psalm 119:105, responsively)
Sermon: Psalm 23: The Psalms on Faith
Praying the Psalms (Psalm 24, responsively)
Song of Response: “Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven” (Psalm 103); arr. Nathan Partain, 2000
The Lord’s Supper
Prayer/Words of Institution
Receiving of the Bread and Wine
“The Apostles’ Creed” by Mindy Deckard, 2000
“Be Thou My Vision”
Sending: (based on Ephesians 4:4-6, responsively)
Song of Departure: “Sing to God, with Joy(Psalm 147)” SNC 29