Monday, July 21, 2014

Why I Love "Picnic Church"

another version of this article will appear in my congregation's newsletter.

This summer our congregation has introduced a new program, which we call “Picnic Church.”  After our week of Vacation Bible School was over, we decided to continue to offer, once a week on Wednesday, a full day of programs and activities for children, including Bible activities, crafts, stories and field trips.  At the end of each Wednesday we have a pot luck picnic, with salads and desserts provided.   A different volunteer grills hamburgers and hot dogs every week.  Afterwards, we get out lawn chairs and blankets, and enjoy a simple worship service on the lawn.  That’s “Picnic Church”, in a nutshell.

Even though I missed the first two weeks of “Picnic Church”, I already love Picnic Church, and it’s not just because they gave me a cake for the 20th Anniversary of my ordination last week.  I have been hoping that our church would start a summer mid-week service for a few years now, and am glad that a group of people took the vision from theory to reality.  And it doesn’t hurt that we have gotten consistently wonderful weather so far.

Aside from that here are some of the other reasons that I love picnic church.

1.  We practice the priesthood of all believers.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that “Picnic Church” invites participation.  From the opening prayer to the benediction, the songs and the scripture reading and even the “sermonette”, the people gathered participate.  One week a teenager demonstrated his gift of the Spirit – dancing – as part of the sermon.  Another week, we heard the Scripture reading in Spanish.  One of my favorite things every week is the time of prayer.  Everyone is invited to share a prayer request, and people of all ages raise their hands and their voices.  I am not sure, but this simple act of prayer may be my favorite part of picnic church.

2.  The children lead.  Our song leader always asks children to come up to help teach and lead the songs that we sing each week.  I will always remember the look on one little girl’s face as she held the microphone last week and led one of the closing songs.  Her eyes were wide with sheer delight, wonder and empowerment as she heard her own voice coming through the microphone.  Children read scripture, help lead the call to worship and help us learn the actions to the songs we sing.  If we want to teach children to worship, and to love worship, this is how to do it.

3.  Our community is invited.  The families of those children who are involved in our Wednesday program stay for dinner and worship, so we have the opportunity to get to know each other.   We have also been walking over to a nearby apartment complex, inviting children and families to come for the Wednesday program and also for Picnic Church in the evening.  We are practicing really living out what we say we believe:  "Come as you are.  Everyone is welcome here."  

4.  We have Freedom to Experiment.  Worship is simple, but there are always surprises.  We are not done trying new things!  This Wednesday, or the next,  we will be trying a thing or two that we haven’t done before, always wanting to illuminate something true about God, or grace, or the nature of worship. 

5.  Anyone can bring a dish to pass. In fact, one thing I have noticed is that people have just started to come bearing gifts every week.  There are yummy bars and delicious pasta salads, fruit from the garden and perhaps other surprises to come.  Who knows?  So maybe you don’t want to help lead the singing or say a prayer?  There is room for all of our gifts and there is room for all of our ages.

I can't help thinking that these five practices are forming the heart of our congregation's redevelopment.  To learn to be worshipful and flexible, to welcome one another with true hospitality, to pray truly from the heart and to trust the Holy Spirit's presence:  this is how we will be renewed; this is how we will be the church -- right now, and in the future.


Bruce B. Roberts said...

This was a thoughtful blog. Glad the Living Lutheran chose to post it. You must have a person or a set of people in your church who are creatively thoughtful about your congregation.
Good idea.

Diane M. Roth said...

thank you, Bruce!

It is a great way for us to worship this summer, and since we have been doing a Sunday morning outdoor service for several years, it does feel like a natural move -- but at a time when it is easier to invite our neighbors.