In the Acts of the Apostles, one may read in the sixteenth chapter of the roots of the church that was established in the city of Philippi, of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. Paul and Silas arrived in this place, and on the Sabbath, they went down by the river where, apparently, people were meeting for prayer.
Now, I don’t know if that historical event is the basis for a tradition our church has, or not. What I do know is, that about fifty years ago, the church met at least once or twice down by the edge of the Minnesota River on the Lord’s Day, and they had preaching and music and good fellowship. Then, more recently — I’ll guess it’s been eight to ten years ago — we decided to move the services for the entire day out to the picnic shelter at Riverside Park, along the Minnesota River. One year we had some guitar music, and it seems like we had a keyboard another year as accompaniment. Mostly, though, we’ve sung a cappella, with one of the men leading us. Did we use a pitch-pipe to get us started, too? I can’t remember.
Anyway, we enjoyed a beautiful Riverside Sunday last week on the Lord’s Day. It was none too hot, and not cold enough to need a fire in the hearth, either. People arrived for the first service, our time of prayer, around nine-fifteen-ish, with covered casseroles, salads, and desserts. Concurrently, we set these on a few tables, moved the picnic tables closer together so everyone could hear, and each family or individual took their chosen places.
Though the services were in a different location, the form was much the same. We begin with an hour devoted to prayer. The man guiding this hour last week isn’t a pastor; though he is currently a deacon, the main qualification is his maturity as a man of God. We shared prayers and praises and updated our list of concerns. This was followed by re-gathering in smaller groups of two to five people, including children. Sometimes, couples pray together. Sometimes, older young people pray in a group by themselves. A child generally prays with their mother or father. Usually, a group is multi-generational. Our tradition of small group prayer brings joy to the eyes, peace to the heart, and prepares our hearts to worship the Living God.
It was followed by the worship service. A lone violin called us to quietness. After one of the men brought the call to worship and led in prayers of adoration, praise, and confession, the violin continued to lead the congregational singing. Prayers of Thanksgiving, intercession, and confession were followed by the reading aloud of Holy Writ. We sang more praises and then worshiped with our giving. Then, as a cool breeze tousled the hair, and the occasional motorcycle punctuated the stillness by contrast, we enjoyed a delightful sermon from Psalm 45 given by an esteemed and renowned friend of the assembly.
During the meal, fellowship bubbled over. We had charcoal-grilled chicken, baked chicken, egg salad sandwiches, a variety of salads, and sweetness all around. The adults chatted of doctrine, of business, of farming, and of family. Meanwhile, the younger set shared the latest stitch, a recent book, or a closer view of the flowing water. Some were playing on the playground.
When the meal was finished, the tables reset, and the food and children all secured, we returned to the church building for a jovial, but sober-minded review of God’s working among us. It was a good and restful day for all. I look forward to it every year.
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