Last weekend I enjoyed five "gatherings" outside around open fires; two night-time campfires; two early morning fishermens' warming fires; and one mid-day trout-fry fire. Though the gathered few were somewhat disparate in our faith views and practices, each of these "gatherings" was a worship session of sorts. For example, the first night fire was started by my buddy, Mark, in the campfire ring by his cabin. Five of us gathered around to cook hot dogs on marshmallow forks, sip wine and share a deep conversation that ran from politics to fathers. And through it all we each were held in wonder and awe at the handiwork of God with which we were surrounded.
One of our gathered group, Mark Boster, is a professional photographer. He had come to our gathering from an assignment taking fall pictures in Yosemite. Somehow the subject of the well-known Yosemite Chapel came up. At 130 years of age, the Chapel is allegedly the oldest structure in Yosemite National Park. The Ken Burns television series on the National Parks, which aired recently on PBS, noted that John Muir thought it somewhat asinine to build a church in one of the greatest cathedrals in the world, though, according to a May 2009 article by Lynn Arave, Muir did speak there on at least one occasion. We might even assume that Muir worshipped there occasionally. Galen Clark was another Californian who, like Muir, sought to protect Yosemite. Clark put it this way:
"It seems almost sacrilege to build a church within the portals of this the grandest of all God's temples. It is like building a toy church within the walls of St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome. But it will clearly show the contrast between the frail and puny works of man, as compared with the mighty grandeur and magnificence of the works of God, and I hope it will do good."
I pondered these thoughts this morning while sitting in my home church, North Fresno Mennonite Brethren Church. We were gathered in a group of two hundred or so church brothers and sisters, surrounded by sedate tan walls, listening to Gary Wall, our district minister, preach (among other things) about the importance of gathering as a community.
Do we need the buildings of the local church to discover the mighty hand of God? Not at all. God's own creation will be witness enough. Do we need the gathered body of the local church to worship God? Not at all. We may walk alone in the wilderness -- or be together only with the wild animals in one of God's own grand cathedrals -- and have a most excellent time of worship. But what of being community?
It is for community that We Gather Together. One can sing a most excellent melody alone, but, aside from multi-track recording, one cannot sing alone in four-part harmony. However, it isn't solely for the harmony of music we gather in community; We gather together because we are social beings made whole only by the blessings of being in community. Sue is lifted up and blessed, and healed, by our community of church friends.
Whether we gather with a thousand faithful in the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, or we gather as a group of five around a campfire at Huntington Lake, being together in community is a significant part of what God intended for us. American Public Media has presented a special one hour Thanksgiving program, narrated by Garrison Keillor, titled "We Gather Together." Why don't you gather together with several of your community of friends and listen in? Click the link and then click "listen to the program."