The Chapel & Transluminate: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Note: This piece follows up on Friday’s reformation21 post, A Trans Memorial in an Evangelical Chapel.

In the wake of last week’s news about the Transluminate short-play festival having been held (two years in a row) on premises owned and maintained by Memorial Presbyterian Church (PCA) in St. Louis, Missouri, two items of interest were brought to my attention. They are worth sharing on this platform, as they relate directly to the questions I posed on Friday.

On Saturday, Missouri Presbytery of the PCA published A Statement on the “Transluminate” Series of Plays at the Chapel. If you are wondering about how presbytery-level PCA church polity is already engaged to investigate Memorial Church’s decision, Missouri Presbytery’s Statement sheds a lot of light on the process.

Note that (a) Missouri Presbytery first discussed Transluminate with Memorial Church’s session “several weeks ago,” and that (b) since that time “the Presbytery’s Administrative Committee has taken additional steps” (outlined in the Statement). The Presbytery has escalated and expedited the deliberative process. This should encourage those of us who are observing developments from more remote vantage points.

Thanks to Missouri Presbytery’s Statement, we now know that there have been intense and ongoing discussions between Presbytery and Memorial Church’s Session. While the Presbytery delegation did not prevail upon Memorial Church’s leaders to veto the The Chapel’s booking of Transluminate 2020, the Statement gives an idea of what to expect (procedurally speaking), moving forward.

The other item of note is a prospectus booklet for The Chapel, dating back to sometime before its formal launch as a ministry of Memorial Church. Whereas the recent press release from Memorial Church described The Chapel as a separate entity, “a secular arts venue,” and located in a decommissioned gathering space owned by Memorial Church, the prospectus shows that the Session of Memorial Church initially launched The Chapel as “a ministry of the church.”

In the Q&A section of the booklet, the question is presented, “Is The Chapel a ministry of the church or is it a separate institution?” The answer reads, “It is a ministry of the church. In May 2007, the elders voted “to endorse the chapel ministry under the oversight of the Session and authorize the appropriate teams to prepare for a launch” (Session Motion 2007.05.A.05, passed unanimously). At the same time, our goal is to develop a distinct identity for the arts center. We do not want people to think of this as an arts center “in a church,” but as an arts center behind a church, supported by a church of Christians who love artists and musicians. We want to challenge peoples’ assumptions about church and about Christians. We want them to view this as a “safe” place, even though it is run by Christians.” Additional sections on that page and throughout the booklet express Memorial Church’s desire to overcome local artists’ suspicion of Christians through “pre-evangelism” activities in The Chapel.

As of the publication of the prospectus, the relationship between Memorial Church and The Chapel had not yet matured into the arrangement that exists today. On page 19, for example, the text reads, “The Chapel staff will work closely with each other under the oversight of the elders. Associate Pastor Greg Johnson will help provide biblical and theological direction. We are considering developing a Chapel Board to provide support and direction, which would be a subsidiary board to the Session of Memorial PCA.” Flash forward to 2020 and that board now exists as a subsidiary of the Session.

As we look back on the development of The Chapel ministry and the relationship of accountability that may or may not exist between it and the Session of Memorial PCA, we might wonder about what the relationship will look like moving forward. Of greater interest to presbyters, looking towards the 48th General Assembly of the PCA, is how the relationships between Memorial Church, The Chapel, and Transluminate might affect Memorial Church’s relationships to other ministry partners listed on their website... such as the PCA itself.

Zack Groff is Director of Advancement & Admissions and Lecturer in Old Testament Hebrew at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

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