“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? …. He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6,8 ESV)
This is an amazing moment, with extraordinary opportunities.
A pause in the rush of modern life to take stock. To evaluate where we are. A chance to examine our ‘burnt offerings’ and think about how to deepen our vision of worship in this season.
It’s also a moment to consider our divisions and separateness. It’s a moment to re-member what has been dis-membered. It’s a moment to think about how we should and could worship and where and with whom. What an invitation. And so we pause, and we create new rhythms.
Not tied to sitting in pews—we can gather on camping chairs and rugs.
Not tied to being in a building—we can worship anywhere: in gardens, in yards, in parks, in the open, visible to our neighbors.
At Incarnation, we are having a lovely time on Zoom. We delight in the interaction, the chats, the breakout rooms, the ways the housebound can join in on an equal footing. But we recognize, if possible, we also need PEOPLE (especially our dear extroverts, though even our introverts are now longing for in-person people time!).
And so our ‘garden churches’ have been born. We still do Zoom, but we encourage small gatherings to Zoom together.
Garden churches are a place where people still watch Zoom, but together. A place where people gather safely in backyards and decks, worshipping Jesus with humming and quiet singing (masked). Where there’s an opportunity for taking pre-consecrated communion together during the service. And, perhaps, a delightful spot where people can linger for a safely prepared meal.
We call these small groups ‘garden churches’ because, well, I’m British, so it seemed obvious! [Editor’s note: ‘garden’ = ‘yard’ in the USA.] But also because we see them as places for growth and flourishing, for beauty and flowering. They are places we can invite our neighbors to join us, to explore what it means to be loved by Jesus. These are small groups: sizes vary from 2-10 people depending on the size of the garden/deck!
So how do we do it?
- Every garden church host and everyone who wants to join a group complete a health form and I allocate names to places.
- We encourage our hosts to revisit our ‘safe garden church guidelines.’
- Parents are reminded they need to supervise their kids.
- Hosts set up their gardens so that not only can their garden see Zoom, but also on Zoom, we can see their garden.
- Hosts check out their wifi, and then set up a screen and projector if they have it, or an old computer monitor and a speaker. Or some even have their people use their own phones and earphones.
- One or another group struggles with setting up the sound. We’ve all learned which phones need to be muted, which speaker can be on….
- Someone’s wifi will shut down, or there will be a power cut.
- Hosts check they have adequate supplies of pre-consecrated bread. Some ask me to consecrate their wine too.
- We Zoom together and then break into breakout rooms for the prayers of the people. At that point, the garden churches each pray in their own space whilst home-Zoomers have an on-line ‘garden prayer time.’
- When we share the peace, we sign in ASL on Zoom, but it’s so fun watching the garden church people sign or wave to each other, too (and families have a hug).
- Most garden churches linger and find ways to eat together and pray together again for the concerns of the upcoming week.
- We watch the weather news carefully! Our hosts have bought fans for the summer and heaters for the Fall. Nobody has needed an umbrella yet, but we have them for our hardware!
- We recognize our church building is still useful though not essential. We record our music and sermon and eucharist there to use on Zoom. SO we have not thrown away all that we have—but we use it as a tool. If we lost it, we would find other ways. It’s no longer essential to our church.
This new world is not perfect, but so many good things are coming from this time. We are learning new dependencies. New ways of worshipping. And we are reminded that God cares more about our hearts then our form of worship. And we haven’t needed our umbrellas yet…except for the computer. :)
Incarnation is a community. Our commitment is to “Worship. Wonder. Welcome.” All of those things are happening now. Week by week. In gardens all over town. And we are so grateful.
The Rev. Dr. Liz Gray is the Rector of Incarnation Anglican Church in the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic. Incarnation is a community that delights to “worship, welcome and wonder” in South Arlington, VA. Liz (ironically?) wrote her doctoral thesis on the positive nature of touch in pastoral ministry, so she is looking forward to some return to normal eventually!