Campfire Church

Post Author: Catherine Renken

hand holding s'more in front of a fire on a firepit grill


Q: What do you do when life gives you lemons?
A: You make s’mores.

For about a month, we smelled natural gas outside the sanctuary doors. But as it often happens with a group, everyone thought someone else would call. I finally took it upon myself to call Atlanta Gas one Thursday morning. Atlanta Gas responded within 30 minutes and determined that we had a significant leak in one of our pipes buried under ground. To be safe, they shut off our gas.

This was the beginning of February. Our new property chair immediately called the necessary repair companies. By Friday morning, he had discovered:

  1. There was a hole the size of a silver dollar in our pipe. We were blessed to be there.
  2. The leak was buried too deep for most companies to fix.
  3. The only company willing to do the repairs couldn’t get to it until after the weekend.

I got the phone call at 11:00 a.m. on Friday morning that we would not have heat in the church for worship. Temperatures were expected to be near freezing all weekend, so the property chair suggested we cancel worship.

“Give me an hour. I think we can have fun with this,” I told him. I had no idea what I was going to do; but as soon as I hung up the phone, I began to brainstorm. One hour later, I came up with a plan that I loved. I called and told it to the Property chair, who was quickly on board. It was definitely an outside-the-box idea – something we had never done. It was something that would have taken multiple committee meetings and months to plan had we actually planned it. I knew I needed to convince my Session to trust me with the idea. So, I crafted an email where I presented the problem (no heat in the church for Sunday amid freezing temperatures) and I gave them five possible solutions. The first four options were intentionally lame:

  1. Cancel worship.
  2. Tell the church members to dress warm, and we see who is hearty enough to show.
  3. Join a nearby church for worship.
  4. Contact a large church near us to see if they have an open space we could use.

I knew they wouldn’t like any of these, but I figured that they needed to hear my rational for option number five. And so I finished with:

Or 5. *This is my favorite option:* Campfire Sunday! We bring a few fire pits to the church (I have two already), we tell the congregation to dress casually and warm, we bring fixings for s’mores, and we hold worship outside. The children will love it!

I then laid out all the logistics for option number five, including the sound system, the music, the nursery, and how to tell the church.

I sent a text message to the Session telling them to check their emails and get back with me by 4:00 p.m. that day, and I held my breath. One by one, the responses filtered in. My elders liked my idea! And not only that: they, too, saw the opportunity in the chaos. I could sense the Holy Spirit rejoicing when emails started flying back and forth as the elders tweaked the plan.

In the end, they decided to add hot chocolate to the snack list and set up large space heaters in our basement, so we could meet inside, right next to where the firepits would be just outside the door. Elders jumped in to provide what we needed and arrived early to help set up the worship space. After our Facebook and email announcements went out on Saturday morning, it was quickly apparent that our congregation was getting excited, too!

Sunday morning, the basement was packed for worship. Elders had to keep setting up more and more chairs. The children were giddy with as they sipped hot chocolates during worship. We made jokes about thawing the Frozen Chosen, and everyone laughed. An elder who was an Eagle Scout managed the fire pits, so that by the time worship ended, the s’mores were ready to be made. The whole space was filled with joy! Folks stayed 45 minutes after the service just chatting, warming by the fire, and watching the children run around. We had two first-time visiting families that day who have been back every Sunday since. I’ve had multiple people ask me to make Campfire Sunday an annual tradition – even if I have to shut off the heat myself.

Catherine Renken has been an ordained PC(USA) minister since 2007. She currently serves as the Pastor of Kirkwood PC in Kennesaw, GA.  She has previously served as the Associate Pastor of East Brentwood PC in Brentwood, TN. Catherine is married with two small children. She enjoys spending time with her family, eating, napping, and then working out at the YMCA.

Image by: David Mulder
Used with permission
2 replies
  1. RevReilly
    RevReilly says:

    Hi! Great piece, I really appreciate you sharing this creative solution. I would however ask you to think about the use of the word “lame”. It’s very ableist language and there are so many better word choices that can express exactly what you mean without equating persons with disabilities as ridiculous/bad/uninteresting.

    • Catherine Renken
      Catherine Renken says:

      RevReilly, that is an good point–one of which I had not considered. I certainly meant no disrespect. I will be more careful about that word in the future. -Catherine


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