2013 5 July

Under the Big Tent – Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United

Last Sunday I was over on Vancouver Island, as the United Churches at the south end of the island gathered together for a “combined worship service.” It started last year, whenShady Creek, a small, rural United Church out in the farmland of Saanich, was celebrating its 150th anniversary, and the congregation wanted everyone in the presbytery to join with them in a big celebration. Out west, 150 years is a LONG time and a BIG deal! So they rented space at the Saanich Fairgrounds, put up a big tent, and sent out the invitations. Well, it turned out to be such a success that everyone wanted to do it again!

Wow1So last June 30, most of the churches in Victoria Presbytery chose not to worship in their separate congregations, but instead, encouraged everyone to gather in the big tent out at the fairgrounds to experience a day of “WOnder and aWe” – or “WOW” for short. They were blessed by perfect weather, not a cloud in the sky (and yes, we do have such days on the west coast). Some 700 people showed up, which meant that the tent was filled to overflowing, and lawn chairs sprouted up all around the edges. Folk were hot, but happy.

Gordon Miller, music minister from Oak Bay United Church, joined by an upbeat Indie band called “West My Friend,” had the crowd rocking, and even managed to get us all clapping on the off-beat. The scripture reading, all about Jesus calming the storm, was dramatized, then followed up with a modern-day storm story, during which, artists painted the action on a huge canvas. And then, caught up in the energy of a tent meeting, I launched into a sermon which ended up with all of us humming together, “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand….” and then the band broke  into “Over my head, I hear music in the air….” It was about as close to a gospel revival service as I’ve shared with a United Church crowd for some time. And then we had lunch.

WOW3It was a great day, so many people, from different congregations, mixing, buzzing, experiencing “church” in a way that was larger than congregational life, engaged in a style of worship that was different from their regular Sunday morning “at home.” How could it not be so, under the big tent?

Such events can be a real shot in the arm, emphasizing our interconnectedness, not just living as separate (and often struggling) congregations, but as part of something bigger, a larger community, with history and an ongoing mission.  I wonder if you’ve had such gatherings in your neck of the woods? Let me know.

(Photos courtesy of United Churches of Southern Vancouver Island.)