Bible Belt Too Tight?

For my third church visit, I traveled to the midwest, to Springfield, Missouri, where my friend Phil Snider serves as Senior Minister of the Brentwood Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Realtors like to use the phrase, “location, location, location”…but place matters in congregational life, as well.  Brentwood Christian Church is well aware that it is located in a part of the country where, to many people, Christianity is synonymous with an uncritical, judgmental, fundamentalist approach to religion and the Bible.  This congregation calls itself “Springfield’s Bible Belt Alternative.”

When Phil and I were in school together (we were classmates in the Doctor of Ministry program in Chicago the summers of 2006-2008), he told me about the new worship service he and his colleague, the Rev. Emily Bowen, were developing.  “The Awakening” is especially designed for people who have been wounded by previous experiences in churches where they — their lifestyle, their questions — were not welcome.

I worshiped at the 9 AM traditional service and at the 11 AM Awakening service.  In the afternoon, I met with Phil and Emily.  They were very gracious to answer all of my questions.

Brentwood is smaller than the first two churches I visited – there were 109 at the first service and about 130 at the second service.

Here are some photos of the church…ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage



This is the church’s Welcome Statement:

“If you are young or old, you are welcome

If you have brown skin, black skin, white skin, yellow skin or any color of skin, you are welcome

If you are married or single, you are welcome

If you are gay or straight, you are welcome

If you cannot hear or see, you are welcome

If you are sick or well, you are welcome

If you are a man or a woman, you are welcome

If you are happy or sad, you are welcome

If you are rich or poor, powerful or weak, you are welcome

If you believe in God some of the time or none of the time or all of the time, you are welcome…

You are welcome here.

Come with your gifts, your pain, your hope, your fears

Come with the traditions that have helped you and hurt you

Come with your experiences that have made you and broken you

Come with a mind, ready to engage, and a heart, open to discern

Come and listen for the Sacred Spirit that calls you to love your neighbor wholeheartedly, seek justice, create peace and practice compassion.

You are welcome here.”

At the 11 AM service, children brought the communion elements in and placed them on the communion table:


When they were finished, the table looked like this:


a few faces during the children’s time:


At the 11:00 service there was no spoken pastoral prayer.  Instead, there were words and images on the screen.  Many people (and many children) went forward to light candles during the time of prayer.


This is a child’s prayer station, at one corner of the sanctuary:


I am combining this church visit with a visit to my sister-in-law who lives in St. Louis.  We spent Sunday afternoon at the movie theater viewing the phenomenal film, “42”, about Jackie Robinson – I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I fly back to Cleveland late Monday.  First thing Tuesday morning I drive to Toledo for a two-day worship conference.  I will write again after that experience.

2 thoughts on “Bible Belt Too Tight?

  1. CJ and Teri Ann Jasany

    Hi Kelly! CJ and I have been thinking of you. Several months ago you posted a video of your colleague, Phil Snider, which prompted us to visit the Church’s website. We’ve been meaning to tell you how much we love their mission statement. During our Cross Training class your exercise on developing a new ‘welcome statement’ made us think of this and forgot to bring it up in class. Glad you shared it! Looking forward to your next blog. Safe travels.



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