Getting outside the four walls of the church
"So what do you say, Rory, do we cancel it?"
Adam Barney shouted to me from the covered stage through a heavy drizzle at Pioneer Park this past Father's Day. Adam and 15 other jacket-clad helpers were setting up the sounds system, instruments, canopies, benches and food tables while eying the darkly clouded sky that had finally revealed its intention to gift us with some much needed, though very untimely, moisture.
It was the first of our monthly outdoor services at Pioneer Park throughout the summer, and in typical June fashion, the possibility of cooler weather caused us to question if it was a good idea that particular day.
"It's too late, everything is set up! The rain will probably stop in time for service. Plus, when we've scrapped it in the past, the day has always cleared up and been beautiful. Let's keep going!"
The rain did stop, but folks had to remain bundled up snuggly though the worship and special Father's Day message, a lesson from the test of Abraham's offering up his dearly beloved son Isaac. By the time we ate the delicious pulled-pork sandwiches after service, the sun had come out, and everyone was enjoying fellowship in the early summer day.
This is the seventh year Calvary Chapel of Crook County has gathered in the park on Sunday mornings.
I come from a movement with a special place in our hearts for preaching and ministry outdoors and in public places. The Calvary Chapel began in the 1970s in Orange County California with founder Chuck Smith preaching open air and baptizing surfer and hippie youth out at Newport Beach outside of Costa Mesa.
My home church in Corvallis regularly met in parks and lawns until acquiring property of their own, where the natural bend of the land offered a perfect amphitheater for the special services.
Go back even further, and you see that our Lord Jesus strategically used the outdoors and natural landscapes as places for proclamation of the Gospel. Whether it be the Sermon on the Mount, the platform of the boat in Sower's Cove on the Sea of Galilee, or the message of apocalyptic importance with the visual aid of Jerusalem while standing on the Mount of Olives.
Charles Spurgeon, known as "The Prince of Preachers" in the late 19th Century, wrote of Jesus' outdoor location at the Mount of Beatitudes.
"It was, doubtless, a mountain all carpeted with grass and dainty with fair flowers — upon whose side the olive and fig flourished in abundance except where the rocks pushed upward through the sod and eagerly invited their Lord to honor them by making them His pulpit and throne! May I not add that Jesus was in deep sympathy with Nature and, therefore, delighted in an audience chamber whose floor was grass and whose roof was the blue sky? The open space was in keeping with His large heart! The breezes were akin to His free spirit and the world around was full of symbols and parables in accord with the Truths of God He taught. Better than long-drawn aisle, or tier on tier of crowded gallery, was that grassed hillside meeting place! Would God we more often heard sermons amid soul-inspiring scenery! Surely preacher and hearer would be equally benefited by the change from the house made with hands to the God-made temple of Nature!"
The vision I have had in meeting outdoors in Prineville goes beyond just a fair view but is also evangelistic in scope. I hope that people driving by on our busy highway will be attracted by the people of God worshipping and hearing from Him, making public declarations of faith and repentance of sin through baptism and communion and loving one another with service and joy.
Every time we gather, many who had been passer-byers stop in to hear a message of hope and life in Jesus our Savior. Our last outing reached more than a dozen people with the Gospel and provided them with a great meal in an effort to ornament the love of Jesus.
I am reminded of one such man we affectionately called "Easy," an intriguing character tattooed, pierced and donned with leather vest and welder's cap. Easy informed me while standing under the rain-drenched canopy last week, "You know Pastor Rory, it was six years ago today that I found this church here at the park, and I've never been the same since."
The day Easy met us at the park was the day he called Calvary his home church. He pulled his truck up to the stage after the service and began helping us disassemble and haul all the gear back to storage. Since that day, he has been a key part of our service team.
If you do not have a home church, we'd love to invite you to our outdoor park service July 15, Aug. 12 and Sept. 9 at 9:30 a.m. to be loved by our church family and be pointed to the hope, life and mission God has for you.
Rory Rodgers is the pastor of Calvary Chapel of Crook County. He can be reached at 541-416-9009.