Innovative Worship and the Land of Make Believe at St. John’s, Georgetown

by | Jul 6, 2023

In our next article on how the Parish Vital Signs are showing up in the diocese, the Rev. Gini Gerbasi, rector of St. John’s, Georgetown, describes the parish’s innovative Theme Sundays, a wonderful example of Uplifting and Inviting Worship that inspires and engages people, teaching the stories of God using the stories that people already know.

In 2015, my first winter as rector, I thought we needed to liven things up during the long, cold stretch after Christmas. Leaning hard into the “frozen chosen” cliché, I thought it would be fun to use the movie Frozen to teach kids about the power of love. So we put out a banner, posted on our website, and hung snowflakes from the balcony. Then one frigid February morning, Elsas, Annas, Olafs, and Kristoffs arrived by the dozen in tiaras, pajamas, and snowman slippers. Kids and parents sang Let it Go, and I wore a fur headband as I preached about the power of love to warm a frozen heart. A year later, Jedi knights gathered at St. John’s for Star Wars Sunday, and we were all in. After Star Wars, we added a second Theme Sunday in the summer, and now our Theme Sunday Guild, started by a teenage parishioner, helps plan and bring our Theme Sundays to life.

St. John's Georgetown Theme Sundays - Star Wars group photo
St. John's Georgetown Theme Sundays - Star Wars credit roll
St. John's Georgetown Theme Sundays - Star Wars - the Revs. Gini Gerbasi and Sarah Duggin

Star Wars Theme Sunday – photos courtesy of St. John’s, Georgetown

For Mister Rogers Sunday this past February, we created a Mister Rogers episode for the first part of the service. We built it around the story of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus tells in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Entire families arrived that morning to a living room, trolley tunnel, and puppet castle set up in church. After the familiar opening notes on the piano, the Cardigan Choir sang “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” and everyone joined in. It was magical. But when Mr. McFeeley biked up the aisle with a “speedy delivery,” (it was the Gospel book) people gasped. We really were in the Land of Make Believe.

Importantly, a Theme Sunday is not a performance, but a playful invitation. If we do it right, a themed Service of the Word invites people into the story, transporting them to another space and time, like good liturgy does. Not all our themes are created just for children, though I think worship that periodically puts kids first is a good thing. Star Wars and Harry Potter had broad reach. And both Beauty and the Beast and Lion King appealed to one generation that grew up with an animated tale, and another with a live-action version. But Sound of Music was our first intergenerational smash, with 150 people singing These are a Few of My Favorite Things as the Song of Praise. Sesame Street was another, and there wasn’t a dry eye as families sang, “Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?”

For sure, decorations, costumes, and kids with wands and lightsabers caused a little discomfort initially. But we use the tools of imagination and play for Christmas pageants – why not use them on an occasional Sunday? Through Theme Sundays, we teach the stories of God using the stories that kids already know. The point is not to only have fun but to hear the gospel message in the stories of today. Joyful, creative worship, done thoughtfully is not a gimmick, but a fabulous way to proclaim the Good News! Too often, people equate solemnity with holiness. But joy and fun are holy too! We’re off to see the Wizard (our 15th theme Sunday) on August 27th. Join us!

The Rev. Gini Gerbasi
Rector, St. John’s, Georgetown

St. John's Georgetown Theme Sundays - Harry Potter group photo
St. John's Georgetown Theme Sundays - The Rev. Gini Gerbase against a backdrop from the movie Encanto
St. John's Georgetown Theme Sundays - Super heroes

Theme Sundays have include Harry Potter, Encanto, and Superheroes – photos courtesy of St. John’s, Georgetown

This is one in a series of articles in which parishes in the Diocese share a story about their ministry that exemplifies one the Parish Vital Signs.