This weekend, celebrating Independence Day, I was thankful for the many blessings of being an American. But I was also reminded of the blessings of being a Californian.
I was talking to a coworker, Steven, who's from the East Coast. He asked where we'd be going to church this week, and I said the month was dedicated to worshiping outside. He said, "Huh, you could never do that back east. You could never count on the weather." Which is true.
Calvary Chapel in Healdsburg annually schedules a number of Sundays (this year it's the month of July and the first Sunday of August) for outdoor services on the lawns at Rio Lindo Adventist Academy.
The setting of the school is, to understate, gorgeous; in the hills above Healdsburg, it overlooks vineyards, trees and the Russian River. Throughout the rest of the year, Calvary Chapel meets in the school chapel (Rio Lindo, being a Seventh Day Adventist school, uses the chapel for worship on Saturdays, so it's available on Sundays).
People are encouraged to bring lawn chairs for the outdoor service, but there are extra chairs leaning against trees for the chairless. The large trees doubled in the program, providing shade as well as working as chair stands. People's chairs were spread out, families and friends in some clumps and some individuals off in a choice patch of sunlight. People were encouraged to move even during the service if they became too cool and wanted sun -- or the reverse of that.
The service started about ten minutes after the official starting time, and people continued strolling in after that. Two song leaders (one with guitar) led a half hour of praise choruses with the aid of an outdoor sound system and lyrics printed in the bulletin.
There was a prayer of thanks for the nation, particularly for our liberty to worship. We were encouraged to struggle: as the founders struggled for independence, so we should fight for dependence on God. (There were flag decorations on the tables for the holiday.) During a time of open prayer, two people started to pray at the same time, and it took a few moments until they realized someone else was praying. The wonderful thing was that they were praying for the same thing.
Prior to the dismissal of children to Sunday School, one of the worship leaders took a panoramic photo of the congregation. There was an announcement for upcoming "Beach Chair Sundays:" 7/12 with Mexican food and piñatas (potluck), 7/12 with a pool party (also at Rio Lindo) and sandwiches (potluck), 7/26 with a Western theme and sloppy joes (potluck) and the final week, 8/2, with tri-tip and a bounce house.
In another announcement, Pastor Chris Blaustone encouraged people to set their phone alarms for 3:20 after he read Ephesians 3:20, "Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us." He asked people to pray for the church at that time for the next month. (Completely irrelevant aside, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors asked for "3:20" to be put on his shoe line in honor of that same verse.)
The sermon was a continuation of a sermon series in Genesis, speaking on chapter 33, Jacob's reunion with his estranged brother Esau. Chris used the passage as a chance to speak on the importance of conflict resolution. He pointed out that it is not fun, and it's something we often prefer to avoid, but it's something Christ has called us to do.
Toward the end of the sermon, Chris said that he would have to be wrapping things up as the smell of hamburgers and hot dogs cooking would ruin everyone's power of concentration, then he closed with an illustration about Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, who went to Ecuador to reach the Auca (now known as Huaorani) people. Jim, along with four other missionaries, was ambushed and killed by the people shortly after making contact. Elisabeth sought to finish her husband's work and lived among her husband's killers, showing Christ's love. Such an illustration of forgiveness makes most of our excuses for not forgiving seem more than a little petty.
Over burgers (veggie burgers were available), hot dogs, chips, salad and dessert, Mindy and I had a chance to talk with Pastor Chris and his wife, Mary. (Full journalistic disclosure here: we've been friends for years and are already convinced the Blaustones are genuine, compassionate and cool.)
I asked Chris why they've made Beach Chair Sundays an annual event. Among many reasons, he said that though their church is usually casual, the extra level of casualness the outdoors provides makes it more inviting to many. Many first time visitors have come on these weeks.
He also said there is something good about being somewhere things are out of control. Though they have had generally good weather, it has at times been a little damp or too warm or a little cool, and it's a reminder that God is in control. They've even had to deal with bees.
That morning, the breeze provided one of the worship leaders a chance to refer to John 3:8, "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." Chris mentioned that on a trip to the Holy Land, he was reminded that Jesus' teaching was usually given outdoors and His parables and illustrations probably came from the sights that were there for all to see.
As I mentioned, there are many places where worshiping outdoors is not an option. I'm thankful this Sunday, this month, to be in a place where it is.
Service Length: 1 hour 29 minutes
Sermon Length: 46 minutes
Visitor Treatment: we were greeted by several people (and offered food and chairs), and there was a greeting time during the service, but no organized recognition of visitors
Our Rough Count: 72 including children (who left before the sermon to go to Sunday School)
Probable Ushers' Count: 80
Snacks: donuts, lemonade, coffee, tea and hot chocolate before worship, hot dogs, hamburgers, veggie burgers, chips, several salads, fruit and a lot of cookies for lunch. Also, water bottles were available in a cooler, and somebody made giant popcorn balls with red white and blue sprinkles.
Musicians: Man on acoustic guitar, woman leading singing
"Oh, Our Lord"
"Jesus at the Center"
"I am Yours"
"I Love You, Lord"
Miles to place: 12
Total California Miles: 9781