The 9:00 Gathering: A New Opportunity in Faith and Connection

By Barb Ceruti

Thirteen years ago, Grace Director of Children’s Choir Ministries Lynn Leitzen asked me what I thought of former Senior Pastor Bob Atkins’ idea to create a contemporary worship service at 11 a.m. with a “plugged in” band and vocalists. As Lynn’s enthusiasm is contagious, I told her that if she was game, so was I.

So were some other dedicated singers and players, many of whom were involved in music for Wednesday night “Grace Grill” in earlier days at the Church. Together, we formed the Grace Praise Team, co-led by Lynn and Grace Music Minister Dan Wagner. For me, it was both thrilling and scary to sing into a microphone, my voice projected across the Sanctuary. It was several months before my knees stopped knocking and my hands didn’t tremble and sweat. 

Over the years, several instrumentalists and vocalists (some of whom were also members of other Grace choirs, including the beloved late Rev. Carol Madalin) joined us in our offering of praise music – arguably less “out there” than one might think! – every Sunday all year long. We’ve grown close to one another as a team and to the Grace family at large. Our pastors and music ministry continue to offer us their steadfast support. 

In the spirit of that support, the decision to evolve the 11 a.m. service was made, along with other worship changes at Grace. Named “The 9:00 Gathering,” this new worship experience will begin Sunday, July 21, in the Activity Center at 9 a.m. 

Once again, our team, staff, and congregation are charting new waters. But, as we were 13 years ago, we’re excited about this new opportunity and what it can mean for Grace and the greater community.

The 9:00 Gathering has much to offer. The round table setup of the Activity Center will provide a space for small group connections in a casual, personal setting. We’ll have coffee and refreshments, conversation, communion, worship with pastors, and praise music on a smaller scale. It will be an atmosphere of intimacy that will foster friendships, fellowship, and faith. 

Plus, the time of 9 a.m. will allow children, teens, and adults participating in faith formation to join us for a sip, a bite and a bit of fellowship and worship before their 9:15 classes. It’s totally okay to stop in and step out when necessary. That’s how we’ll roll!

For my part, I’m looking forward to growing closer to the people of Grace in a setting that invites dialogue not only about daily life but the deeper quest to know God. I’m also eager to share these thoughts from others who are either directly involved in the 9:00 Gathering or anticipating good things to come by attending:

Pastor Cindy Marino

Sometimes traditional worship has a “prescribed” feel to it.  As much as I love and learn through our traditional liturgy, I am excited to use the beauty of the ancient words in new ways — as they speak to us in the moment, rather than where they fit within the service. Studies tell us our attention spans are 10 minutes or less these days. I see this service as one that integrates the message with other elements of worship — music, prayer, questions, laughter, play, reflection, storytelling — rather than focusing on a lengthy sermon or long song set. The point is for us to take in what the Holy Spirit is offering rather than simply hear the words and go through the motions. 

I am also excited because we have incredibly gifted musicians who can set the tone for a very natural and organic time of worship and who believe in this service as it will welcome in all who come.  

We promise this will never feel awkward or coerced. A person can come and sit, be anonymous, enjoy refreshments, great music and time to reflect. Or a person can come and pour themselves into the opportunity to get to know themselves and be known by others in Christ. And both are fully acceptable. 


Khris Kahle, vocalist and guitarist

What an exciting time to be a part of Grace!  There are so many wonderful changes starting to emerge in our building and in our worship opportunities. And while I LOVE the beauty of our Sanctuary, there’s just something special about having a more intimate space to gather in.  For example, instead of having the Praise Team up on stage, I’m actually excited to be on the floor - physically closer to all that’s going on - and to have a greater connection to everyone in the room.  I really look forward to being able to see new faces – and celebrate  the Good News in such a warm, friendly, casual environment. 

If you’ve never been to one of our contemporary services before, I would encourage you to check out the “9:00 Gathering.” At 9 a.m. is a great time for many families faced with a jam-packed weekend. I believe the casual atmosphere will make it much easier to enjoy the service with your whole family.  Have a snack along with some great music and ministry.  Catch up with those around you, or keep more to yourself.  Totally your choice.


Wayne and Jayne McCallister, 
11 a.m. worship attendees


We love the Praise Team; in fact, it was one of the reasons we were drawn to attend and join Grace. 
We were honored to have the team sing joyful songs at our wedding. We look forward to and cherish our worship time with the team. We will definitely be worshiping in the Activity Center on Sundays at 9 a.m.


Jennifer Hoover, mother of a busy child

I am excited for the earlier, more contemporary service because I am looking forward to the table talk aspect of the service and weekly communion. Can we come in our suits on our way to the pool? LOL!

Lynn Leitzen, Worship Leader

I'm excited about the opportunity to create something "new." Something totally different than anything we offered at Grace before. A service where the formality is removed, and we gather and grow together in our love for Christ and each other. A service that is warm and welcoming, casual and caring, informal and informative. A service where great music and a great message uplift and send us out into a world that desperately needs to hear the good news of the gospel!

Our team is committed to making you feel welcomed wherever you are in your faith journey. Give it a try!

Join us in The 9:00 Gathering in the Activity Center on Sundays beginning July 21.