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