Have you ever been to an “outdoor chapel?” A rustic one like the ones at summer camp or traditionally associated with a beautiful spot in the mountains? And when I say “rustic,” I’m not talking about “old and decrepit,” but simply with nothing but the bare necessities; with benches made of smooth wooden planks reaching across short stumps or posts, lined up facing or gathered around a simple, yet beautiful wooden altar. And probably behind the altar is a cross. Again, not an ornate cross, but two fairly straight sticks or two simple two-by-fours crossed in appropriate proportion so as to state simply, yet profoundly the meaning which that symbol has had for all Christendom for over two thousand years.
And all this understated and no-frills beauty is under a tall canopy of dense-leafed trees that give you, the worshipper, the spiritual experience of a beautiful and majestic stone-walled stained-glass-windowed gothic cathedral.
On a warm summer’s Sunday morning, while there is still the touch of a cool breeze in the air, it is so inspiring to walk down a cleared-out path with timbers lining both sides and flower baskets hanging at eye level and see this chapel appear almost out of nowhere. As other worshippers gather with you, there is a heart-felt fellowship with those who also have made special effort to come to this place at this time to worship God in this special way.
When the friendly chatter draws to its natural conclusion and all are seated and a reverent silence declares the intent of the day, the pastor, dressed in khaki pants and polo shirt and dock shoes, welcomes all “in the Name of The Prince of Peace” and proclaims, “How good it is to be here!” And, of course, there is the ancient call upon God to be present in His full and holy and perfect name, “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.” And in that instant you experience the reality that He truly is right there.
The guitar strums and the outdoor worshippers sing, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going … that’s how it is with God’s Love, once you’ve experienced it; you want to sing; it’s fresh like spring; you want to pass it on.” And concluding, “…I want my world to know the Lord of Love has come to me; I want to pass it on.”
As your backside settles gently onto the smooth planks and the sun streams in through the dancing holes in the leaves creating a comforting pattern of shade and light, you see the pastor at the altar with the Bible in his hands, declaring that what is about to be read is not just “some words,” but “The Word,” “The Word of God,” having been passed down through sacred scripture for thousands of years. And it’s not just words about “back-then-and-there,” but words that crash through time to be present and relevant and real to all who hear them today. Encountering God’s Word is always a signal event, but somehow in this chapel, in this setting, with “His World” so evident in sight and sound right around you, you get the feeling that This Word on This Day in This Place is uniquely and profoundly “The Word of The Lord.” Then to the words spoken, “This is the Word of The Lord,” you reply in concert with the birds and the squirrels and the ants and the bees, “Thanks be to God!”
Even the pastor’s sermon seems a bit more “real” out here, doesn’t it? The informality of the setting makes it seem much more like a conversation among the Scripture and the pastor and you. And the intimacy of the worship space affords the words to come across with a truly discernable impact on your life today.
Some things never change whether in “open” or “closed” air, because the offering plate still comes around just as it does in every other service. But maybe out here it just seems a little more natural to return to God “in proportion” to what He has first given us, starting with His big beautiful world of bountiful earth and far-reaching sky.
We all know that no ceiling or walls can stop or impede our prayers to God, but, again, “out here” they seem to ascend right to “the throne of God.”
“Our Father, who art in heaven …” Powerful!
Following the benediction, the ancient cry of delivered people everywhere rings out again, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!” It’s just “icing on the cake” for a perfect 45 minutes with The Lord.
As the author of this “story,” I want to tell you that it is non-fiction. In fact, it’s a report of our outdoor service just this past Sunday in “Peace Chapel” back in the woods right on the property of Prince of Peace on Hwy. 314 in Fayetteville. Does this sound like something you would like to experience? Join us on the first and third Sundays of August, 8 a.m. You’ll be glad you did!
Kollmeyer is Pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, located between Lowe’s and The Pavilion on Hwy. 314 in Fayetteville. Summer worship is at 9:30 (contemporary) and 11 a.m. (traditional), with an 8 a.m. outdoor service each first and third Sunday of the month through the summer. More info www.princeofpeacefayette.com