Outdoor Service: Something a Little Bit Different

On Sun., Aug. 14, 2016, the OZ congregations gathered in Oronoco for their annual joint service. For the past 5 years, this service has been held at the Goodhue County Fair in Zumbrota. This year, the decision was made to return to hosting an outdoor service and picnic at one of the churches. 

And because we were outside, I thought, “Let’s do things totally differently.”

Okay … full disclosure: I also realized early in the week that we had no way to project sound. For our members who have trouble hearing, that’s a necessity, so that basically cut out any kind of conventional worship element like a sermon. 

So here’s what we did …


* Welcome: Brothers and sisters, this is the day that the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

* Opening prayer thanking God for the relationship between the two churches, the beautiful day, and the chance to worship together as well as asking God to speak to us in new and different ways as we worshiped.

* Scripture readings:
Psalm 100
Hebrews 10:23-25

* Explanation of Worship
Storybook walk/activities
Prayer Stations

* Re-gathering

* Prayer:
Pastoral Prayer
Lord’s Prayer

* Benediction: Go in peace to love and serve God TOGETHER. Amen!

* Passing the Peace of Christ (this led into our picnic together)

So you may be wondering what the heck a “storybook walk and activities” was or what our prayer stations were. Well … let me tell you! 

Storybook Walk/Activities
My mom is a librarian who does some incredibly fun stuff during her summer reading program including a storybook walk. My dad made 35 sign boards for her – basically a bunch of wooden boards (12″ x 18″) nailed to posts. I pounded the posts into the ground to create the path for our story.

And what story did we use? When God Was a Little Girl by David Weiss.
When God Was a Little Girl
This is an amazing story with beautiful illustrations that tells the story of creation from a totally new and different angle. If you aren’t familiar with this book – if it isn’t already on your bookshelf – trust me … GO BUY IT! It’s fun. It’s creative. It’s the kind of story that will pull in children and adults alike and give you plenty to talk about afterwards. Go buy it … right now!

Okay, so here’s how we used the book. I made color photocopies of all the pages of my copy of the book and mounted them onto the wooden boards with double stick carpet tape (indoor/outdoor is super strong, so that’s what I used). The idea was for people to walk the path, read the story, and enjoying the illustrations as they went along. I actually did this with my 3-yr-old twin boys, and it was incredibly fun, especially since we were reading about beauty and creation out in nature on a gorgeous summer morning!

At most of the pages (not all), there was some sort of activity for people to do as well. Here’s how that went:

  • Pg. 3: Guess the mileage from Madison, WI to Decorah, IA (smartphones not allowed!). The winner got a fancy cupcake purchased from a local bakery. YUM!
  • Pg. 5: I purchased a bunch of 8″ x 10″ foam core boards (because they were a lot cheaper than canvases for 25 people!), and asked everyone to take a board for themselves.
  • Pg. 6: On the boards – Draw a giggle!
  • Pg. 9: On the boards – Draw a song.
  • Pg. 10: On the boards – Draw love.
  • Pg. 13: On the boards – Draw light. *With this board, I included glue and glitter. Since we were outside, clean-up was immediate!*
  • Pg. 14: There was a small pile of river rocks (purchased from local craft store) with hearts on them (using a Sharpie Oil Paint marker). I encouraged everyone to take a rock as a remind of the steadfast and foundational nature of God’s love for them. Also, on the boards – Add water.
  • Pg. 17: We had a card table covered with butcher paper. I asked people to draw flowers on the paper – to create a beautiful garden together as a community of faith.
  • Pg. 18: I put out Play Doh (yes … I borrowed my 3-yr-olds’ Play Doh!) and asked people to use it to create a person.
  • Pg. 25: On the boards – Add a rainbow.
  • Pg. 27: Tip toe to the next sign (because the little girl in the story has almost fallen asleep).
  • Pg. 29: I used Microsoft Publisher (one of the label templates) and basic cardstock to create little cards that said, “GOD LOVES YOU. You are God’s beautiful and unique echo.” Everyone was encouraged to take a card.

Prayer Stations
We also had seven prayer stations set up that people could wander through them and spend as much (or as little) time at each station as they liked. For this, I created small prayer books that were simply 1/2 sheets of printer paper folded into a book with a cardstock cover. On the cover was a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is a daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

Here are the prayer stations:

Labyrinth prayer station
Okay, so this is the one prayer station that I planned but didn’t end up having enough time to put together. I was going to chalk a simple labyrinth in one corner of our parking lot. However, there was just too much to put together before church to get this one done, too. That being said, I still think it’s a really great idea for an outdoor prayer station.

Words prayer station
For this prayer station, I used a website to generate a word search that had 50 different words describing faith in it. I used one of the leftover wooden boards from the storywalk and more of the double stick carpet tape to mount the word search in a place where lots of people could look at it at once. I also enlarged the word find to be kinder to less-than-20/20 eyes. 

Water prayer station
This one was easy. We took a few tables out and put them on the lawn. On one of the tables, I simply placed a large bowl of water.

Tags prayer station
I had a large box of basic luggage tags (the ones that look like they’re made out of tan file folders). I put that box along with some colored flair pens at the base of one of our trees and attached this sign to the tree (again … double stick carpet tape). People wrote their prayers on the tags and used the wire on the tags to hang the prayers in the tree.

Scents prayer station
Okay, this one was really fun! I had seven little bowls (custard bowls, my mom always called them), and each bowl had a different scent item in it: coffee beans, a rose, fresh-cut grass, cinnamon sticks, fresh mint leaves, dirt, and … hmmm … can’t remember the last one. (That’s what happens when you wait a month to post stuff. Sorry.) People had time to smell each of these in turn and reflect on what memories those scents brought up for them.

Nature weaving prayer station
This one took a little prep work beforehand. I took some sticks and created a rectangle-ish frame. (I used electrician’s tape in the corners, but however you can get them to stay together works.) Then I used yarn and colorful ribbon to create a loom within that frame. (This whole process took probably 1-1.5 hrs the night before … just FYI.) Before church, I asked a few different parishioners to walk around the church property and gather all sorts of nature bits – leaves, flowers, feathers, bark … anything. They were all lying on one of the tables with the loom for any and all to use. Here’s a close up of the corner (left) and the finished product (right):

prayer weaving collage

Mirrors prayer station
This one was super easy! I went to one of the local craft stores and bought 5 different mirrors – different sizes, different shapes. Then I laid them on the ground. Done! Two quick things about this, though: 1) I made sure that this station was a little way away from the other stations just to be sure no one stepped on the mirrors, and 2) I laid them out in a place that would reflect some interesting things. They were on the edge of a tree area, so some would reflect the tree, some would reflect sky, and some would even reflect the church building (depending on how you look in them).

Well … that’s it! We had a really wonderful time trying some new things and experiencing God in new ways together.

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