Actually, I think Refuge has potential, even though I question its staging at a suburban church. I almost like Refuge in principle, but I believe that lots of the specifics of its presentation need improvement. Rather than give a general review of the service, I will mostly note the things I think need improving.
Here is my list:
- Recorded music was playing when I entered the church. This was tacky, but the music was pleasant. When it was time to start the service, however, the music was abruptly cut off. This was unacceptably tacky. These things can be timed.
- The church is still too dark. I changed seats in order to be directly under a lantern, but I still had problems reading the service bulletin. This is not welcoming! More thought should go into lighting. Using more light in the side aisles might obviate the need for more light directly in the nave and, psychologically, might make the nave seem darker when it is actually brighter. The floodlights behind the arch at the back of the chancel might be put to good use, if only to dispel some of the spooky shadows above the reredos.
- The fabric draped here and there seemed rather arbitrary. Some of it makes sense; some looks, from a distance, like a mess of spider webs. The narrow vertical hangings were just so much clutter.
- The incense was intense enough to be perceived without being overwhelming or stifling.
- The translucent projection screen works well, and the electronic picture frames are a clever way of displaying text effectively even in low light. (Boldface type would have helped even more.)
- I cannot figure out if Refuge is intended to be a collective, kumbaya sort of experience or whether it is intended as a very personal, solitary experience. Perhaps it is intended to be either, depending on the needs of the worshiper. There are indications that it is intended to have a more corporate, though friendly, character, which would be more in keeping with an Episcopal ethos. In what follows, I will tend to adopt that assumption. (Perhaps more thought should go into our objectives for the service.)
- Why don't we use the pew torches? They provide light and look nice.
- I don’t like the way people spread out. I would rope off the pews from the middle of the nave to the back in order to make people sit in the general vicinity of one another.
- The prayer book, in many cases, breaks up text said together into short lines. This is done for a reason; it telegraphs where pauses should be inserted and helps a congregation read more effectively in unison. The Refuge service booklet does virtually none of this. It should.
- The service booklet says nothing about when people should stand, sit, or kneel. Mabel, who was leading the service, was of little help in suggesting what people should do. I wasn’t sure whether to do what my Episcopal intuition suggested I should do or do what everyone else seemed to be doing. I went with the latter, but I wasn’t comfortable doing so.
- There was no real passing of the peace. Why not?
- I found the musical interludes inserted without warning somewhat distracting. This may not be a fair criticism, but it’s what I felt.
- Candles near fabric made me nervous. I would rather not be distracted by such thoughts. (I tried to remember where all the extinguishers were.)
- Sound continues to be a problem. I could not hear the lessons because of noisy children. (I don't think Refuge is much of a children’s service.) By contrast to the spoken word, the music was generally too loud. Music needs to be toned down—sound reinforcement, not amplification should be the goal, and the spoken word requires microphones. Preaching should be done slowly and with as low and soothing a voice as possible.
- I did not like the fact that I could not see the musicians. They should be in a more conspicuous location. Moreover, the nature of the amplification produced a certain cognitive dissonance; I knew they were in one place, but the sound came from somewhere completely different.
- I heard virtually no one except me and one other person singing. Whatever we’re doing encourages an audience, not a congregation.
- I continue to dislike the fact that all music is offered in unison. I was jealous of the musicians singing in harmony. I felt left out. (It sounded like fun.)
- The music at the end of the service seemed to go on interminably. This was not endearing. If it was meant to accompany the departure of the congregation, no one seemed to know it, as everyone stayed until the music was over. I had a strong desire to get on with life.