Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Bridge, Church at the Park, Santa Rosa

I'm all for these words being used in every sermon: "When I finish up we'll be serving root beer floats," along with these kind words, "Sorry, Ken, but you'll have to wait for the kids to go first." (I suppose the 'Ken' is optional.)  There had been food served before the service this week, hot dogs and chips and potato salad and brownies. Not surprisingly, some people left after getting their lunches -- no floats for them.

The Bridge, a Christian Missionary Alliance Church in Santa Rosa, holds an outreach service for the homeless the last Sunday of every month at Bicentennial Park. Even the day before, we didn't expect to be there (we didn't even know about it). Please excuse a digression about how God brought us there.

Every month we have a theme for the places we'll worship. For Urban Churches Month, there was no shortage of churches to choose from, any more than there was a shortage of places to go to Rural Church Month. This month, we decided to have Outdoor Worship Month, but we found there were not as many churches to choose from, which kind of surprised us. For the last Sunday of the month we were looking at two Southern California possibilities. Then Mindy had a vehicular mishap involving a curb last Wednesday. It wasn't serious, but we weren't going to be driving on a long trip until the car was fixed right. So we invited people to join us in the park to worship. We didn't know if anyone would come.

Since we thought perhaps no one would show, on Sunday morning, we decided to go online and look for a later Sunday service, maybe something Sunday night. In a listing of area worship services, Mindy noticed that The Bridge held Church at the Park the last Sunday of the month; an outreach to the homeless, from noon until 3:00 pm. We decided to catch it after out little service at Shiloh Ranch Regional Park.
Only one person met us at Shiloh Ranch, our friend Jeff, who is looking for a church; a church that has a ministry to the homeless. God can be funny.

Folks from The Bridge were still serving hot dogs off the grill when we got to Bicentennial Park. We noticed a couple of large boxes of clothes that people were sorting through. I talked to Jennifer, who had just scored a pair of tennis shoes. They were a little big but she said they were much better than wearing her Sunday shoes every day, which she'd been doing for the past few days.

Darby (who started the ministry), realized they'd run out of food before everyone was served. So she ran off to buy dollar burgers at a nearby Carl's Jr. Four years ago, Darby started making food in her kitchen and delivering it to homeless people on the street and in the park. When the Bridge began a couple of years ago, Jim McKee, the outreach pastor of the church, was looking for ways to involve people in minister. He adopted Darby's ministry, leaving her in charge but bringing more people aboard.

Apparently most Sundays they also offer haircuts, but the gentleman with the shears was on vacation. They usually offer "survival packs" with granola bars, tooth brushes, tooth paste, deodorant, and other hygiene products. The most important thing they offer, though, is relationship.

It was a short -- very short -- worship service. The guy leading the singing apologized for forgetting his guitar. We sang "Amazing Grace" a cappella and without song sheets. The church's Celebrate Recovery pastor, David, spoke. (Celebrate Recovery is ministry to those dealing with addiction.) David talked about how everyone is important to Jesus. There were a few children present, and David talked about how important children were to Jesus (and that kids would be first in line for the floats; orange soda floats were also an option). He closed with Romans 5:8, saying that God loves us sinners.

I enjoyed the chance to talk to some of the folks who came to the service. Ken isn't technically homeless; he rents a cabin. But he said he has a hard time sleeping there with cats on the roof and animals making noise. He is struggling and appreciates the hot food.

I talked to Linda who admitted she was homeless partly by choice. She has grown daughters and could live with them but doesn't want to be a burden. My brother does work preserving big cats (lions and tigers, not bears) and we talked about that for a bit. Linda said that she believed God had given people instincts to live outdoors like He'd given instincts to animals.

I'm not sure about that. I am sure that God has provided good folks from The Bridge to care for the homeless. One of the best things I heard from David was that he said their ministry isn't once a month. They meet people once a month in the park, rain or shine, but when they see them at other times, they stop to talk with them. Jim said the homeless folks have his cell phone number and he's received calls at 2:00 am.

David said they didn't believe the church should be confined within four walls. We agree, and were happy to find that Outdoor Worship isn't a rare a thing.

Service Length: 10 minutes
Sermon Length: 8 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Everybody was greeted. We were  asked to fill out a visitors' card, if we wanted to (we did)
Our Rough Count: 30 adults, 4 children, 2 dogs
Probable Ushers' Count: 50
Snacks: Hot dogs, soda, lots of water, chips, potato salad, root beer and orange floats, brownies
Musicians: one singer (male)
Songs: Amazing Grace
Miles to place: 8
Total California Miles: 10,709
-- Dean

Monday, July 27, 2015

Five Things I Didn't Know about Parks

 1.  Bicentennial Park is part of the City of Santa Rosa park system. It's just over 5 acres and has play structures, picnic tables, and a horseshoe pit which can be adopted through the city's Adopt-A-Green-Space program.

2. Shiloh Ranch Regional Park is part of the Sonoma County park system. It consists of about 860 acres of former ranch land with trails throughout and a pond and a creek. Near the entrance, restrooms, picnic tables, a shade structure and parking lots make day use easier. I haven't yet hiked any of the trails.

3. Humans have been enacting laws to set apart areas as wilderness or nature preserves since the third century BC, when the Maurya Empire in ancient India made laws to protect flora and fauna. By the nineteenth century, western artists were portraying wilderness and park areas in ways that highlighted their value, and "Scientific Conservation" in Germany advocated using technology to help manage these areas.

4. The preservation and enjoyment of "natural" spaces like parks continues to add value to people's lives even as people's presence in and around these places changes the features and elements of the parks.

5. The United States was the first country to define legal concept of "wilderness" through the Wilderness Act of 1964, which also founded the National Wilderness Preservation System. "Wilderness" is defined in a variety of ways by different organizations, but personally, I'd call Shiloh Ranch Regional Park a relatively wild place. Bicentennial Park, though it's restful, green and a useful recreation area, isn't wild at all.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

An Invitation

Gravensteins to be crisped
Want to worship outdoors with us this Sunday, July 26?

We'll be at Shiloh Ranch Regional Park at 11:00 am for songs, prayers, and discussion. Apple crisp will be served no later than 11:45 am and picnicking afterward is encouraged.

(contact us so we know how much Gravenstein apple crisp to make! deanandmindygotochurch at gmail dot com)
-- mindy

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center

I became a Christian at camp.  Serving in youth ministry I've seen quite a number of students make a decision to follow Christ at camp. There is something about the opportunity to be at a different place, surrounded by God's beauty, being able to concentrate on God's ways rather than just the ways of other people. One of my favorite camps, one I've attended as a student and adult camper and brought students to, is Mount Hermon.

Mount Hermon holds worship services every summer Sunday, and often the sermon is given by the camp speaker from the previous week. It seems a number of people who live or vacation in the community attend the services regularly, and I'm sure the numbers go up when a Stuart Briscoe or Chuck Swindoll is the speaker. Looking around this past Sunday, the service appeared to be attended largely by seniors, some with (presumably) grandchildren.

This month our theme is worshiping outside, and one might complain that we're cheating a bit with this worship service. Those leading the worship and about two thirds of the worshipers were inside the conference center auditorium. But the glass doors at the back of the building were open, and there are a number of benches outside. That's where we sat, in spite of weather reports predicting the possibility of rain and a few threatening clouds. Mindy and I had agreed we would sit outside even if it meant a soaking. No need for our umbrella, though, as the sky kept its moisture to itself.

Upon arrival we were given a bulletin and a hymnal by a quite friendly volunteer. We saw a number of people greeting one another. The worship team was practicing. People were walking back and forth from the patio area where coffee, water and snacks were available. Kids were waving sticks and playing among the redwood trees.

One of Mindy's weekly tasks is to keep track of the songs sung in the service. She looked at the bulletin and said, "Well, at least this week all the songs are written down so I don't have to keep track." Then a gentleman, Buddy Greene, played the prelude, a medley of hymns on guitar and harmonica. The bulletin said that Dave Talbott was supposed to provide the prelude and he plays the piano. As the service began with the welcome, we were told, "Dave Talbott couldn't make it down the hill this morning, so we'll be following the bulletin loosely." So Mindy still had to keep a musical inventory.

One could use the hymnal for the songs, but there are also screens inside and out with the lyrics. The Scripture readings weren't listed in the bulletin, and Mindy noted that looking them up quickly on her Kindle wasn't easy. I've noticed the percentage of those using their phones for reading the Scripture is rapidly increasing. (I sincerely hope all those folks are using their phones during worship for that purpose.)

Before the offering, there were announcements about the variety of ministries and places the funds would be used. Mount Hermon had just sent a team to conduct the first ever Christian camp in Mainland China. Mount Hermon was teaming with another organization to minister to abused children. Another ministry was to the Vietnamese students in the Bay Area. Finally, they showed a video of their traditional camping ministry to students. High school students in the video shared the things they valued about the Mount Hermon camping experience, "They're not just teaching us, but it's super fun," "You can be crazy while getting to know God," and many mentioned that "Everyone's accepted."  A good case was made for the value of Mt. Hermon's ministry.

The speaker that morning was Mike Romberger, the new President and CEO of the Mount Hermon Association. Every year the Mount Hermon board chooses a theme verse, and every year the President preaches on that verse. This year's verse is Psalm 145:18a (on a banner in the front of the sanctuary), "The Lord is near to all who call on Him."

Romberger started by discussing his family's transition to this new place from their former home in Colorado. He thanked everyone for their prayers and support. He said almost all has been positive (excepting an encounter with the California DMV, of course).

The most moving portion of the message was when he talked about being in that same building a year ago when the former President and CEO, Roger Williams, gave his sermon on that year's theme verse. Williams needed to sit rather than stand because he was in the last stages of his struggle with cancer. That was the last sermon he gave.

Mindy and I were acquaintances of Roger and his wife, Rachel, and greatly respected their ministry. We trust that the good work of Mount Hermon, including their Sunday morning services, will continue for a good time to come. For eternity, really.

Service Length: 1 hour 13 minutes
Sermon Length: 28 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Though there seemed to be regular attenders (like last week), technically everybody attending is a visitor. No special attention paid, and no record kept of visitors' information
Our Rough Count: 112 inside, 49 outside 
Probable Ushers' Count: 175
Snacks: coffee, tea, hot chocolate, ice water, pastries and fake fruit
Musicians: guitar/harmonica (male)
                  piano (male)
                  singer (female)
Songs:  "Come Thou Almighty King"
             "The Lord's Prayer"
             "Lord, I Need You"
             "Like a River Glorious"
             "He is Exalted"
Miles to place:  133
Total California Miles: 10,696
-- Dean

Monday, July 20, 2015

ONE HUNDREDTH POST: Five things I didn't know about Mount Hermon

1.  It was the site of California's first water-powered sawmill (in 1841). One of the owners was Isaac Graham, who also ran a distillery and later owned land which is now Ano Nuevo State Park; another was Peter Lassen, a Danish immigrant and promoter for whom Lassen Volcanic National Par (among many other sites) is named.

2.  In 1906, the group which became the Mount Hermon Association purchased land and buildings to use as a Christian retreat and conference center at a stop on the South Coast Pacific Railroad. After the original buildings were destroyed by a fire in 1921, the Association rebuilt on the same property.

3.  Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center operates on much of the original property. The community also has several hundred privately owned homes, a post office, a bookstore and an ice cream fountain. The census designated place covers an area of just under a square mile, with a population of just over a thousand people living in about 400 households.

4.  Each of the three Mount Hermon facilities of the Association can handle groups up to 500 people, and each has at least one ropes course or climbing wall.
5.  The Mount Hermon June beetle (Polyphylla barbata) is an endangered insect found only in areas with Zayante sand hills ecosystem, which includes Mount Hermon (but not nearby Felton). I have never seen one, for which I am grateful, because I'm scared of June beetles.
-- Mindy

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

ACMNP, Kings Canyon National Park

As we studied the day's activities listed in front of the visitors' center, we weren't surprised to see that our next activity wasn't listed. The Christian worship services conducted by volunteers with ACMNP (A Christian Ministry in the National Parks) are not sponsored or endorsed by the National Parks Service, but the ministry is allowed to exist amiably within the system. 

We did see a flyer the service on a bulletin board near our camping spot in Azalea Campground. We got to the park on Saturday afternoon and found a first come, first served space. The flyer on the bulletin board informed us about what we'd learned from the internet - 10:00 am service at the Sunset Campground Amphitheater near the Grant Grove Visitor Center.

We came to the amphitheater early and saw the worship team placing worship books on the benches. The books are a publication of the A.C.M.N.P, an interdenominational organization, so the songs, prayers, Scripture and responsive readings are intended to minister to Catholics and all varieties of Protestants. Every Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day about 150 worship services are held at 75 sites in 25 National Parks.

The worship team began practicing their songs for the morning. A woman played a Casio keyboard, a man played a banjo and another man played a guitar (a really beautiful guitar with fancy decorative carvings). Shortly before the service, a few folks began to gather and everyone shook hands and introduced themselves.

The team knew some of the people who arrived.  At Kings Canyon there is a community of  about 300 privately owned homes and cabins called Wilsonia. Some people live there all year around, some just in the summer and some hardly at all. Some of those people regularly attend the worship services in the park.

We met the team: Rachelle, Daniel and Garrett. They all were college students from Tennessee. ACMNP recruits students from 100 colleges and 30 seminaries in 30 different states and yet 5 of the 7 students that are working at Sequoia and Kings Canyon this year come from Tennessee. (Sequoia and Kings Canyon are neighboring parks administered together), and the team has services in both parks.

Rachelle opened the service, welcoming us and saying, "We'll start with a song... or a prayer." We did get both. A prayer from Garrett, "Though not from common places, your love for us and our love for you brings us together." We then read Psalm 24, an appropriate passage in the park, "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it."

We sang songs from the worship book and one from a photocopied sheet, "I'll Fly Away". Just before we sang that song, a couple of kids (perhaps an 8 and a 10 year old) came over to absorb the service from the edges, sitting by a fire pit. I brought one of the sheets over to the kids. After the song, they flew away.

Garrett gave the message for the morning. Like all the other volunteers with the program, he works in the park during the week. He works as a cashier (both Rachelle and Daniel work in souvenir shops). He said he's noticed that in the shop where he works, they sell shirts and bumper stickers that say things like "I Hiked the Killer Trail" (or something like that). He said he sells a lot of shirts to people that quite evidently haven't hiked anywhere recently, and probably just rode the shuttle around the park (not that there's anything wrong with that).

He said that in a similar way, many people claim to be Christians but don't really have a relationship with Christ. And God very much wants to have a relationship with us. It was a short, clear and meaningful message.

After the message, Daniel read a statement about the ministry of A.C.M.N.P (printed in the worship book) and took an offering, saying that this, too, was part of our worship (apparently it's a part of every National Park worship service). In the statement, it's stressed that the ministry receives no government funds and is dependent on the work of volunteers and gifts from the public.

After the service, we had some time to talk with the team. Garrett is a political science major at Samford University in Birmingham, AL. Students there are encouraged to participate in a ministry during the summer. Though most other ministries offered through the school required raising money in support, ACMNP, through its relationships with the various concessionaires, is designed so that all volunteers take on some kind of National Park job.
I asked Garrett if there are other opportunities for ministry besides the weekly service. He said there are ample opportunities for relational ministry, since they live in dorms with other National Park workers, many of whom are not Christians. (During the school year, Garrett volunteers with Young Life, a youth ministry that places great stock in building relationships.)

Like many National Parks, Kings Canyon offers beauty wherever one turns. It is good also to have a chance to gather with others to thank the Creator of that beauty.
-- Dean
Service Length: 30 minutes
Sermon Length: 9 minutes
Visitor Treatment: handshakes all around at beginning and end of worship, with introductions and "are you camping?" from regulars; a visitors sheet passed around at the end 
Our Rough Count: 21 adults, 3 kids for a few minutes, 2 dogs
Probable Ushers' Count: no ushers, but they'd probably say 23
Snacks: none
Musicians: one acoustic guitar (male), one banjo (male), one keyboard (female)
Songs: "I'll Fly Away"
            "Here I am to Worship"
            "My Jesus, I Love Thee"
            "I Surrender All"
Miles to place:  342
Total California Miles:10,419

Monday, July 13, 2015

Five Things I Didn't Know about Kings Canyon National Park

1. There's no apostrophe in the name. It's "Kings," not "King's" or "Kings'." But I don't know why.
2. Kings Canyon National Park turned 75 years old in 2015, and it incorporates the General Grant National Park (established in 1890 to protect the General Grant Grove of giant sequoias). The park is administered jointly with Sequoia National Park, which is next to it.
3. The part of Kings Canyon we visited is the smaller section, which preserves the General Grant Tree ("the nation's Christmas tree") and the Redwood Mountain Grove, the world's largest remaining natural grove of giant sequoias in the world, with 15,800 sequoia trees over one foot in diameter at the base. However, the rest of the park (about 90%) forms the headwaters of the South and Middle Forks of the Kings River and the South Fork of the San Joaquin River, which have extensive glacial canyons. There are cave systems, too. Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks caves contain Pleistocene era fossils, rare minerals and unique animals. Half of California's caves more than a mile long are in the two parks.

4. In Grant Grove, the "Centennial Stump" was created when a giant tree was cut down for exhibition at the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876. Many people refused to believe the portion on exhibit came from one tree, calling it the "California Hoax." The stump remaining in the ground was used for a Sunday School class run by some of the women from a nearby logging camp.

5. California's ongoing drought is evident in the many brown-needled trees, some dead or dying, some coping by dropping needles to conserve available moisture.

-- Mindy