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Side Door opens to creative worship space

By Paul Titus

A dining table is set in a shipping container complete with candles. A bottle lies on its side, water pouring out of it in a continuous stream. On each plate is a different menu. Look closely and you realise they are the last meals order by men executed in US prisons.

Around the corner, in another shipping container, a figure made from a white mask and fishing poles is suspended in front of a net and a large mirror. One the walls are a giant pair of lips and Ernest Rutherford looks up from the floor, which is made of images of $100 bills.

These are two of the Stations of the Cross – the last supper and Judas’ betrayal by a kiss – the Side Door congregation has created for Easter at Opawa Baptist Church in Christchurch.

Now in its fourth year, Side Door is the brain child of Peter and Joyce Majendie. Each month Peter and Joyce prepare an alternative worship service at Opawa Baptist that resembles an art installation with poetry, popular music, bits of drama, or sculpture.

For their first meeting this year they reflected on hopes and dreams, both realised and broken. Worshippers wrote prayers or wishes on balloons they later released into the evening sky, and at one point Peter poured a bottle of wine onto a small alter table beneath a large crucifix wrapped in barbed wire.

Peter says in some sense Side Door is a journey he and Joyce are on and they have simply invited people to join them once a month. They perform each one on a Wednesday evening and again on Sunday evening. Usually 15 to 20 people attend each session.

Mostly they are people who left the church and have reconnected through Side Door. For others, Side Door is their only worship experience.

“We felt traditional church services were more concerned with perfection than with participation. Church happens to most people. They have no say in the structure of it or whether they are involved in the service or not.

Side Door is always low-key. Sometimes there are stations people flow around to and we generally have contemporary music, music Joyce and I like.

“Often the music is not explicitly Christian but people easily recontextualise it. It’s not that big a leap to apply it to faith. If someone is singing about love maybe its more about God than the girl next door.

“Side Door tells a story that is real for me, for where I am. The reason people leave church is they can’t be real there, they can’t be who they are. We want to make a place where it is safe to say anything, a place where people are free to question what they believe, rediscover why they believe, deal with their shortcomings, evaluate traditions, be real, and relate to others.”

Some of the funding for Side Door comes from Opawa Baptist Church, other comes from grants from council and creative community grants.