FAITH: Enjoying the parks for summer services
Outdoor services seem to be a part of the DNA of Calvary Chapels -- since the '60's when Chuck Smith was preaching to and baptizing the hippies and the surfers in the sand at Huntington Beach. When I began to walk with the Lord in the mid '90s, the Calvary Chapel in Corvallis regularly met at a senior center but would utilize the large lawn in the summertime.
I still remember folks responding to the good news as my pastor preached the gospel under those large oaks. We would soon relocate to Crescent Valley High School for our regular gatherings and would have the summer services out in the large concrete bridge open area we called the "quad," which formed a perfect amphitheater. Umbrellas provided the shade for listeners as Jackson Creek flowed peacefully underneath the quad.
I also attended CVHS during my freshman year. The quad would be a place we would open-air preach to the students during the break times. As a high school pastor, I would use back yards and parks for discipleship and youth groups all throughout the spring and summer months. We had two Trager grills we could pull behind a truck. We would take the grills down to the park, have the kids make their own pizzas, and while they cooked, we'd play a game of Ultimate Frisbee, then devour the pies while we worshipped and did Bible study while the sun went down.
They say old habits die hard. As I began pastoring in Prineville, I recall having a conversation with our leadership and pitching the idea for outdoor Sunday services. Knowing the manpower it takes to pull them off, we decided once a month would be a good pace for such a program. We started at Stryker Park, and in following years, would move to Pioneer Park, which was a great location to draw folks passing through town for fellowship or to hear the Good Word.
During the COVID lockdowns, many churches moved to outdoor venues. This fit right into our comfort zone, and we enjoyed the more frequent weekly outdoor gatherings. Actually, the forced move outdoors was just at the right time as we were adjusting to our new church home, which did not have air conditioning. Outdoor services helped our flock stay cooler through the summer months!
For the past two summers, we have enjoyed regular services at the Crooked River Park Amphitheatre. This location is such a wonderful venue for our people. We bring our own shade canopies and enjoy being with one another, as the large theatre perfectly projects praise. Our building is not equipped with a baptismal, so the park is a great place for a horse trough and the splashing waves of baptism for those who proclaim faith in Jesus
Our midweek services found us in the park this summer, too! We have enjoyed "Proverbs in the Park" at Ochoco Creek Park on Wednesdays. There is plenty of room for the kids to play while the parents and youth hear wisdom from the Good Book! We seize these special evenings to grill up burgers, chip in for a potluck and worship under the towering trees.
I think outdoor services is keeping with some of Jesus' favorite ministry locations! Charles Spurgeon put it best in a sermon on the Mount message back in 1873:
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!
Rory Rodgers is the pastor of Calvary Chapel of Crook County. He can be reached at 541-362-1125.
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