New movement, old worship at Seeker Community Church
Submitted by Daniel Crofts on April 22, 2010 - 1:06pm
They are private, and they are public.
They are contemplative, and they are active.
Their ways are ancient, and modern.
They are Presbyterian, but with a Celtic flavor, and with a bit of Franciscan spirituality and the Desert Fathers thrown in.
They are local -- and they are nationally significant.
They are the Seekers of East Bethany's Seeker Community Church, and they have just been named a "New Church Development" in the Presbyterian Church USA.
This group of Seekers was founded in 2007 by Rev. Bill Hockey, a pastor for 30 years and currently a half-time pastor at North Bergen Presbyterian Church.
It started as a spontaneous project between friends (Hockey included) who wanted a new worship experience, one that would let them live differently from the fast-paced and goal-driven culture around them and be present to the people in their lives and communities who needed them.
They modeled their commitment on the New Monastic movement, which is built on the premise that people become more aware of and available to serve the needs of their neighbors by fostering a deep connection with God and His presence in their lives.
As a recovering alcoholic, Hockey appreciates that angle on spirituality.
"I made a lot of connections in the 12-step recovery program," he said. "I found there were a number of people who longed for a place to worship but didn't feel connected to the churches they had been to."
Right now, the Seeker Community Church -- which currently has about 15-20 members -- meets every Sunday at East Bethany Presbyterian Church. But the Seekers will soon have a space to call their own, thanks to an anonymous donor who gave them 22 acres of woodland in East Bethany. There they hope to build a "refuge of prayer" to which the people of the Genesee Valley can come to get away from their hectic lives and "seek the Lord."
While Hockey's congregation is Presbyterian in terms of organization and accountability, their spirituality is in line with the Northumbria Community, which embraces sixth- and seventh-century Celtic Christianity.
"(Celtic Christianity) has a very simple way about it," Hockey said. "It's Trinitarian, very orthodox, and very much connected to the Earth."
While it may be simple, the spiritual life of these Seekers is appreciably disciplined. They have a regular rhythm of daily prayer, starting with morning prayer and then progressing through mid-day prayer, the prayer of silence and evening prayer.
The prayer of silence is an especially interesting aspect of their worship, and is part of each Sunday service. Meeting at 6 p.m., the congregation spends 20 minutes in total silence. This is not a mandatory part of the service, which officially starts at 7 p.m., but Seekers like to use it as a way to "deepen [their] sense of God's wonder, help to understand [their] own humanity, and make [themselves] aware of Christ's presence within [them]."
This type of prayer is not found very often in Protestant religious life, and some who are of a more conservative Reformed and/or Evangelical persuasion tend to question its value. One of the most common objections to this sort of thing is, "Where is that in the Bible?"
To these individuals, Hockey offers the following response: "Read your Bible.
"We know very little about Jesus's private life, but one thing that's noted for us over and over again is that He goes off by Himself to be alone. And then in the Old Testament you have Elijah, who sits at the front of the cave for days while earthquakes and storms are going on outside -- and he finds God in the silence. You find it in the Psalms, too: 'Be still, and know that I am the Lord.'"
Hockey recognizes that the contemplative stance is not only strange to much of the Protestant community, but also counter-cultural.
"I think there's a kind of fear of silence here in the U.S.," Hockey said. "People don't like it, because they're used to having lives that are very busy and noisy."
As far as their Protestant identity goes, the Seekers are also unique in their use of the Sign of the Cross during worship services. Hockey, who was raised in a conservative Protestant family, admits that he "belittled" this practice for a long time.
"In the end," he said, "it seemed right to draw the image of Christ's Cross on my body, after seeing how He had worked in my life. It's a very ancient Christian practice. It's not supernatural or anything like that, it's just a simple reminder of who we are."
The Seekers Community Church welcomes anyone who is interested in seeing what they are all about. Hockey says that they are a nonjudgmental community that seeks to serve the poor -- which refers not only to the economically poor, but also to the "poor in spirit" -- to be there for, and listen to, those who are hurting, and to offer people a place for prayer.
Anyone interested in learning more can contact Hockey at 591-2657, or visit the Seeker Community Church's Facebook page.
Pictures of the Seekers' new woodland site:
(all photos taken by Rev. Bill Hockey)
Cross on Indian village
Cemetery prayer garden -- old stone wall
Site of Indian village