On August 29, 2010, in a conference room in the Hotel Allandale in Austin, TX, thirty-seven men, women and children participated in the very first New Way Church worship gathering.
Music was led by Ethan Daum, who both sang and played guitar. Church planter and pastor, Mac Frazier, read from Psalm 139, the John 14, and from True Christian Religion 43, which begins, “The essence of love is loving others who are outside oneself, wanting to be one with them, and blessing them from oneself.” The subject was “Happiness”, and was the first of a four part series titled, “Life: What Does That Mean?”
So began the “pre-launch” phase of the founding of New Way Church, the first New Church congregation in the capital of Texas. During this gestation period, participants have been meeting for formal worship once every four weeks. This will continue until their public launch of weekly worship on February 13 – Valentine’s Day weekend.
Like the Children of Israel in the Book of Exodus, New Way is a nomadic congregation, trying out different rental facilities in different neighborhoods in the city. Even when they do eventually settle on a long-term (meaning a year or more) location, they will still not be building or buying a permanent building of their own for some time. This is so that they can remain flexible as they grow, and also so that they can be constantly reminded of their intent to be a church that is actively engaged in the world around it. Additionally, they are shooting to be financially self-supporting as soon as possible, and want to avoid taking on both the financial burden and the energy drain of obtaining and maintaining a building.
Also during this pre-launch time, New Way has been meeting during off weeks outside of formal worship. These additional events are opportunities for people to build new personal connections, spend time with friends, and build up a community beyond the setting of Sunday worship.
For instance, their September gathering was a barbecue at the pastor’s house, followed by watching the University of Texas Longhorns home opener football game on TV.
On October 16, New Way partnered with a group called Friends of Pease Park to help provide much-needed maintenance to the well-known Pease Park not far from the UT Austin campus. This was following the week they heard about useful service to the neighbor during the Sunday worship they held at Austin Uptown Dance studio.
At that second worship gathering (on September 26), the band had grown from one guitarist to two guitars plus an additional vocalist. For the next worship gathering, on October 24, the band had grown to five: accoustic guitar, electric guitar, drums, keyboard, and vocals. With the exception of the music leader (and for one song, the pastor, who sat in on keyboard), all of the musicians are volunteers. Mac hopes to keep it that way, and has tasked Ethan with making recruiting great musicians (and also with writing new music) as his primary responsibility outside of actually leading music on Sundays. Austin is rightfully called “The Live Music Capital of the World”, and high-quality music is both expected and achievable, given the disproportionately large population of musicians-of all genres-living in the city.
Each of the worship gatherings so far has included several people for whom it was their very first New Church worship experience. But beyond that, in some sense, every single participant is a “newcomer”. Some are long-time independent readers of Swedenborg, and many others have been baptized into the New Church already, but some of them had no idea until recently that there were other Swedenborgians living nearby. So while only a few each week, so far, are totally new to the New Church and the Writings of Swedenborg, many more of them are still new to one another.
So far, very little advertising has been done beyond some experimental forays into Facebook ads. Mostly, things are growing purely by word-of-mouth, and through free email subscriptions to “News from New Way Church”.
Once the basic pieces of the church fall into place and are working smoothly, that will change, though. A significant portion of the budget at New Way Church is dedicated to traditional advertising. Most of the dollars will go to a series of direct mail postcard campaigns, with the rest going into online advertising. This will especially be the case during the six weeks leading up to the big public launch of weekly gatherings on February 13.
Even after that point, though, personal invitations and email subscriptions will continue to be the most important tools they use to let the people in Austin know that there’s a new kind of Christian community-a New Church-now available for them to participate in.
If you are interested in receiving their free emails, which contain readings from the Word, inspirational quotations, articles on applying doctrine to real life situations, and news about when (and where!) New Way will be meeting next, send an email to Mac@NewWayAustin.org.
[This article was originally written for the denomination's newsletter, Around the New Church.]