Simplifying worship outdoors

by Rev. Rick King

Late last summer, we dipped our toes into worship in our parking lot. In spite of summer services being recorded in a variety of outdoor settings, online worship limited us to watching and kept us from bringing our physical bodies into worship. And the evolving COVID-19 safety guidelines indicated that worship outdoors was a safer in-person option than indoors.

But we only had a few opportunities to worship outdoors because we got a late start.

This spring and summer, we capitalized on the warmer weather to start worshiping in our parking lot on Easter Sunday, April 4, followed by services there on May 16 and 23. We can maintain a six-foot distance, which permits us to sing and pray prayers out loud—more like worship we’re accustomed to.

The Worship Ministry Team and I are continually looking for ways to make outdoor worship more interactive, physical, and engaging our five senses. So we developed a much simpler order of worship that we’ll begin using on June 6 with a Communion service.

It has the four basic elements involved in all our worship services, stripped down to the bare essentials in much the same way as early Reformation worship simplified the Catholic Mass, which had become more of a barrier to God than a doorway into the Holy. The basic format is below:

  • SING – Gathering music, welcome, a song
  • PRAY – Joys and Concerns, Gifts and Gratitude (offering), Praying Together (including Jesus’ Prayer)
  • REFLECT – Readings; For Children; Reflection by the minister, followed by quiet meditation to take in sights, sounds, smells, and other sensory elements around us outdoors, and including paper and pen for writing or drawing, and sidewalk chalk for the young at heart
  • SHARE – Responses out of the silent reflection, as the Spirit moves people to show or tell; a song to close the Reflection period, followed by Communion the first Sunday of the month or a closing prayer; announcements, a benediction and a song to send us forth.

The weekly prerecorded service format will remain the same as it’s been. But the outdoor format is the response of our agile church to respond to the gifts and needs of an outdoor setting. It’s our hope that this provides you with the chance to rest and reflect on how God is showing up in our daily lives—the entire reason we worship!