Grandville United Methodist Church offers "Church in the Park" each Sunday, an informal worship service in the outdoor beauty of nearby Wedgwood Park on Wilson Ave. SW.
"I've been to church in the park since it started," said church member Nancy Kitchen, who often serves as a liturgist at the 8:30am service. "I like being outdoors in the summer, and I like the early start, too."
The gathering consistently draws between 40 and 70 worshipers, most of whom bring their own lawn chairs or blankets for the 45-minute service. That number has held true this summer, even through a series of guest leaders in place of the church's on-sabbatical pastor Ryan Weiland. He has now returned.
"The park (worship) seems to be a decent mix of visitors from other churches or those who might not normally attend here the rest of the year. And there are those who prefer the outdoor setting, too," said church assistant administrator Jamie Dunn. The atmosphere is enhanced by the waters of Buck Creek which snake their way through the park's southern edge.
The early morning service has not detracted from attendance at the church's usual 10am in-sanctuary worship. Dunn reports summer numbers there remain steady (the scripture and message and some of the music are similar to the park service).
Among attendees are some residents from Brookcrest Rehab and Life Center, a long-term care and nursing rehab facility located right across the street from Wedgwood Park.
"There have been a few new folks (this season)," added Kitchen. "Apparently they like it – how can you not like it being in God's great outdoors?"
CHURCH AND PARK HISTORY
Dunn says it was around 1990 when Grandville UMC and another local congregation began "Church in the Park." Likely it was an outreach to make worship more accessible to those uncomfortable in a traditional sanctuary, and to take advantage of the outdoor setting. When volunteer numbers from the other church dwindled, the Methodist church took the reins and kept it going.
The "simplified" worship order is bolstered by a portable sound system and features music usually led by keyboards. Lyric sheets are distributed. There is a children's message time, although the majority of those gathered are baby boomer age or retired persons. The service is followed by refreshments.
"I love the (park) service," said church member Sue Merrell. "Being outside with the ducks waddling by and joggers running past – it's worship in the real world.
"I was looking up last Sunday at those towering trees overhead and thinking it was more majestic than a cathedral."
The worship space is just east of the large pavilion/shelter, which comes in handy should rain threaten. According to Dunn, only once in the last number of years has the service relocated to the church (several blocks north) because of storms and/or lightning.
TOUCHES OF NATURE
A worship welcoming all and held in a wide-open, public space is subject to the unexpected visitor.
"The ducks seem to like it when we have communion," noted Kitchen. "I think they smell the bread because they like to linger around in hopes for leftovers."
"Church in the Park" at Wedgwood Park, 3391 Wilson Ave. SW Grandville. Conducted by Grandville United Methodist Church.
8:30am Sundays through Labor Day weekend.
For more information https://www.grandvilleumc.com/church_in_the_park or 616-538-3070