A Note from Pastor Stephanie
This week I have the privilege of offering two workshops at the UMCMA 2019 Summer Institute. Geared toward college campus ministers, I titled my workshop, “Re-Wilding Your College Ministry: Meeting Young Adults Where It Matters Most.” During my 60-minute session, I shared about the development of The Land, the vision for our faith community and the greater movement of the Wild Church all over the globe.
During the Q&A this morning a man raised his hand and asked how I was able to get a congregation to show up in spite of so many uncomfortable conditions. The weather is often unpredictable, the dogs can lack proper worship etiquette and the avoidance of disposable bulletins, cups and dinnerware can feel annoying and inconvenient. Even the walk to the outdoor sanctuary from the parking lot can feel like a burden when the sun is at its peak or our hands are full of stuff.
Though I still don’t have an answer, his question has made me realize that underneath a year of questions about worshiping outdoors, this has been the ultimate underlining assumption: that no one would show up to worship in such inconvenient, uncomfortable conditions. His follow up question, however, articulated an even deeper struggle that is rarely discussed. How much am I willing to compromise care of creation to increase comfort for congregants?
It’s a question that hurts my heart and follows me wherever I go. The impossible balance of keeping people happy, so they will participate, while maintaining practices that hold the sacred task of caring for creation as central. At The Land, we are not simply asking people to come to Church. At The Land, we are asking people to show up and be the Church. At The Land, being the Church looks like letting go and giving up personal comforts provided at the cost creation.
Worship at The Land is an expansion of belonging to include ALL of Creation as equal and worthy. It is with great intention that our circle of welcome in worship includes dogs who, yes, act like dogs. They jump and bark and, sometimes, lay at our feet. Dogs are reminders that we are blessed to be a part of God’s creation, even when we feel bothered.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how it should matter more who we are with, than what we are doing when we are with them. Until today, in my mind, this statement had been limited to human friendships. In the context of today’s questions, I wonder if this has been God trying to communicate a whole different vision of congregational life. One that values gathering where all of Creation can be present, over gathering where we might be most comfortable.
After a full year of worshiping outdoors, my heart breaks to imagine all I would loose and leave behind if we were to go back indoors. If I had to choose between worshiping in air conditioning or worshiping with Blaze, Tracey and Doug, I would slap on some sunscreen and load up on ice. If I had to choose between warmth in the winter or being present to the beauty of the falling snow and the flying geese, I would bundle up and grab my thermos. What I have found is that the gifts that come to me from creation far outweigh the comforts that separate me from creation. In worship I am reminded, we belong together.