Hessel Park CRC at Worship

Thirty-five years ago a small congregation, soon to be known as Hessel Park Christian Reformed Church, was organized in Champaign, Illinois. Located next to its twin city, Urbana (well-known in evangelical circles for the large Inter Varsity-sponsored missionary conferences), Champaign is a relatively small midwestern town, dominated by the University of Illinois campus.

Each Sunday about one hundred and twenty people—most of them singles or young parents with small children—gather for worship at Hessel Park. Approximately half of these people have roots in the CRC; the others come from a variety of church backgrounds—from the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Episcopal traditions as well as from other Reformed and evangelical churches. About half of the congregation consists of graduate students who relocate to the University of Illinois and to this one and only Christian Reformed Church in the area; the other half is made up of young professionals, many of them staff members from the university, the largest employer for miles around.


Sunday mornings begin year-round with church school classes for all ages. The worship service that follows is divided into five parts (see bulletin on p. 28), as outlined in the 1968 Liturgical Report of the CRC {Acts of Synod 1968). However, because worship planners at Hessel Park are committed not only to sound Reformed worship but also to making the liturgy meaningful and accessible to this varied congregation and numerous visitors, they use as little jargon as possible. The printed liturgy avoids all technical terms like "illumination," "benediction," "salutation," and "sermon," using instead language that clearly explains what will happen at each point in the worship service.

In Hessel Park the various stages of the liturgy take many different forms during a normal church year. For example, one week the prayer of confession might be a song, the next a unison prayer, the next a prayer led by a member of the congregation or sung by the choir. Members of the congregation serve as readers and prayer leaders, usually by standing in place rather than "coming to the front." As much as possible, the people and their representatives (various leaders and musicians) speak and sing their own "part" in the dialogue between God and his people.

Following (page 28) is a morning liturgy from the second Sunday in Advent 1986. On each of the four Sundays of this season the congregation sang "O Come, O Come, Immanuel" and "Now May Thy Servant, Lord." (The psalm and the other songs changed from week to week.) The four lectionary passages {Common Lectionary, Year 1) were incorporated at various parts of each service—the epistle as a call to confession, the psalm as a sung response to the assurance of forgiveness, and the Old and New Testament lessons as Scripture readings before the sermon. The prayer of confession was taken from the Heidelberg Catechism's questions and answers on the Lord's Prayer. Each week during this season the congregation used the catechism's expanded version of one of the petitions of the Lord's Prayer.

Evening services follow a simpler, more informal structure. The service generally begins with singing; members choose old familiar songs or learn new songs together. After the singing comes a time of prayer. Again members participate; they share concerns and reasons for prayer. The third and final section of the service includes a short sermon followed by questions and discussion— often a very stimulating session for this congregation that includes so many newcomers to the Reformed faith.


One of the most significant events in Hessel Park's recent history is the completion of a new facility—about 5,000 square feet of highly flexible space. The converted dairy barn, which had served as the church's home for over thirty years, was beyond renovation, but the site was a gem— main street, neighborhood base, short distance from the campus.

One of our members, a graduate student in the School of Architecture at the University, had an idea that eventually turned into a major project. An entire class of architectural students were each asked to design and build an architectural model for the Hessel Park Church. Guidelines were carefully specified: each architect was required to  stay within space and budget considerations and encouraged to build something that was true to the theology of the Hessel Park Church. Articulating that theology as it relates to the design of worship space was a growing experience for members of the congregation. Many good ideas came out of that project.

The congregation hired a designer who could use the existing site to maximum advantage within the small budget of a home missions church.

The result of his efforts has been a joy—the talk of the architectural community, a frequent excuse for architectural class field trips, and the winner of several awards. The church has been honored for design of worship space that integrates theology and architecture and, from a community development council, for its use of the site.

Designer Jack Baker (from the School of Architecture at the U of I) used a plain white building with the same small clapboard siding that had marked the dairy church. An oversized lantern on the top is similar to those in the cupolas on many prairie barns in central Illinois—except that this one is functional. (The imagery was not lost on the congregation; during dedication ceremonies we talked of being recipients of the heavenly light and bearers of it to the world.)

The church is basically one large room—a square within a square with a tent-like covering. The street side of the large square is cut out, and a glass front wall reveals the inner square. Consistent use of white and glass makes the division between inside and outside insignificant. What the congregation does, it does in full view, just as the "outside" world is always in view.

On two sides the few necessarily "fixed" rooms—office, rest rooms, kitchen, nursery, and a few children's classrooms—are marked out with permanent walls. But even these have high windows that look out onto the main room, especially the high roof and lantern. On the other side the rooms are flexible and may be used for individual adult classrooms, fellowship space, or overflow worship seating. Worship takes place in the large central square—but so do dinners, parties, and the like. We have hosted concerts and turned the large central square into an art gallery for a weekend art show of works by members of our own congregation as well as other artists. The congregation is experimenting with hanging fabric from the lantern to add color (reflecting the seasons of the church year) and festivity to the space.

Folding chairs and a growing collection of stack chairs encourage a flexible seating arrangement. The group has worshiped in the round for some services, has gathered chairs around tables for communion services, and has hosted up to 220 persons with a very formal arrangement of rank and file chairs. The favorite arrangement so far is a three-sided gathered group around the pulpit. The minister stands in the fourth section. The choir, normally eight to twelve people, sits in the last rows—-singing, therefore, from within the congregation.

Both the organ and the piano are also along the edges of the room, behind and within the congregation. Part of the delightful success of the building has been its acoustics. The space is "live" because of all the hard surfaces, including a poured concrete floor. That, plus the height in the central space has made singing—always an important part of worship at Hessel Park— an enthusiastic treat. Some describe the building as a little cathedral because of the rich reverberation and the mixing of sound in the high space above the worshipers' heads.

The biggest advantage of the building, however, is that it is simple and flexible—-just a single, big square room. As the congregation changes, so can the worship space. The Hessel Park building serves the worship of the congregation.

Morning Worship Advent 1986

Visiting Christians from other churches are welcome to join us at the Lord's Supper. You must come, as we all do, confessing sin and trusting in Jesus. (We serve both wine and white grape juice.)

*If you are able, please stand.

*Advent Song: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"
(A child lights the Advent candle.)
*God's Greeting
Bible Reading: Romans 15:4-13
Prayer of Confession:

Help us to really know you,
to bless, worship, and praise you
for all your works
and for all that shines forth from them:
your almighty power, wisdom, kindness,
justice, mercy, truth.

Help us to direct all our living-—
what we think, say, and do—
so that your name will never be blasphemed because of us
but always honored and praised.

Assurance of Forgiveness
*Response: Psalm 72: "Hail to the Lord's Anointed"
Focus on Friendship

Prayer for Right Hearing
Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10
New Testament Reading: Matthew 3:1-12
Message: May God's Name Be Holy

*Song: "O Come, All Ye Faithful"
*Nicene Creed
Prayer, ending with the Lord's Prayer (sung)
Offering for the General Fund
* Praise Response: "Angels from the Realms of Glory"
(stanzas 4 and 5)

Response: Offerings for the Food Pantry and Care of the Needy

*God's Blessing
*Our Response: "Now May Thy Servant, Lord"

Jack Reiffer is a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church.


Reformed Worship 5 © September 1987, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.