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

Campfire Church

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

S’mores

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. Read more

In the Absence of Creativity

Alright, so it probably wasn’t as terrifying as that whole having your lips burned with a hot coal thing, or as overwhelming as actually seeing God, but I had gone out of my way to evoke a sense of wonder, mystery, and yes, a little nervousness. Instead of a sermon, we walked through Isaiah’s call story. I had carefully woven music and prayers into the narrative, incorporating movement, smell, and sight where we are so often bound to sound alone. If I had been able to give people a taste of burnt charcoal, I would have, but that seemed extreme even for me.

This is not how I have generally experienced worship services, with scent and darkness and the shouting of angel voices. But this is how I planned worship when it was my turn to lead our chapel worship in seminary. I can’t say it was normal even there, but I had the freedom in that environment to experiment with crafting a service around a text, using every tool at my disposal to help people not just hear but encounter the Word. I graduated with great confidence in my ability to plan provocative, engaging, multi-sensory worship. I was assured that I would always do it that way.

Fast forward eight years; let’s just say that those skills are not quite as active these days as they once were. Instead of open rooms with mobile seating, my current church has the standard fixed pews. The congregation has 331 years of history to tell them that their order of worship stands the test of time. I don’t get to be a maverick now; I have to consult with people. Read more

Discernment

Part of the interview process for my new congregation involved leading a worship service for the search committee. I was spinning my wheels about what to do until three ideas arrived to save the day.

The first was from a friend who encouraged me to use the daily lectionary instead of picking a scripture on my own. That was insanely good advice, as the daily lectionary text ended up being perfect – though one I would have never selected of my own volition.

The second idea was to write an original hymn, which I did, to the tune of Come, Thou Fount.

Hymn of Discernment

Congregations are the vessels where Christ’s presence can be known.
Here the gift of incarnation perseveres in flesh and bone.
We together are his body, head and shoulders, knees and toes.
Laughing, loving, always serving, praising God, forgiving foes.

In the church, you call forth servants to be preachers of the Word.
Ordinary souls responding to the still small voice they heard,
Saying, Go, and serve my people. Tend their wounds and help them see
that the love of God is endless as the vast and salty sea.

Holy Spirit, we have gathered in this place to find our way.
Telling stories, casting visions, seeking guidance as we pray.
Calm our nerves, dispel our worries, send us forth in clarity.
Let our practice of discernment be imbued with charity. Read more