Trinity Sunday, 2008 — For the past seven years, as rector of St. James Episcopal Church, Greenville, South Carolina, one of the annual delights of that ministry was to be a guest preacher for one Sunday each summer at Faith Memorial Chapel in Cedar Mountain, North Carolina. Begun as a chapel of ease in the Western North Carolina Piedmont range for Greenville residents (and other folks from South Carolina) wanting to escape the hot, humid summers at their mountain house, Faith Memorial Chapel has a glorious seventy-year history of summer services. Every Sunday brings a different preacher, usually from a different Christian denomination, to the pulpit there to conduct worship. The chapel is an outdoor, open-sided facility
The founder, the Rev. Dr. Alexander Mitchell, was the founding rector of St. James, and one time rector of Christ Church, Greenville, as well. So the rectors of those parishes have an annual guest preaching “slot” so to speak of preaching at Cedar Mountain. For those seven years I served as rector, it seems our guest preaching time fell on Trinity Sunday, or somewhere near that date. And since so many of our parish went up the mountain to worship on that day, the choir went, as well, with our parish musician, and provided lovely music for the occasion. And afterwards, we went to a nearby park area for a picnic; or we stayed right there at the chapel for our picnic.
It turns out that this year, once again on Trinity Sunday, I was the guest preacher at an outdoor worship location. Only this time, it wasn’t the mountains of North Carolina.
St. John’s, in Williams, Arizona, is one of our diocesan joint Episcopal-Lutheran congregations, and I was invited by their priest, Rev. Ann Johnson, to be the guest preacher for their service this Trinity Sunday at Grand Canyon National Park. The worship space is a stone altar located about ten or twelve feet from the edge of South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and it is just in front of this altar that I stood to preach last Sunday. Incidentally, there is not rail or wall to protect you there; just your own common sense.
Of course, the major advantage of being in a location like the Grand Canyon last Sunday is that I could not think of a more lovely setting in which to hear those lessons: the Genesis reading on creation, and Psalm 8: “O Lord, our Governor; how exalted is our name in all the earth!” And if my words weren’t doing it for the listener, all they had to do was look up behind me!
About twenty people from St. John’s, Williams, made the pilgrimage, including Deacon David Dent. (Beth and Jonathan also came with me—a reminder of our trip here during our Southwestern vacation last summer.) More interestingly, however, was the fact that the canyon trail at that point went right through the worship area. So throughout the service we had a lot of “visitors” who would walk by as the lessons were being read, as I was preaching, or during the celebration of the Eucharist. Several visitors stopped to watch, with one couple even starting to participate—one of whom came forward to receive at communion.
Afterwards, we drove out of the park to the Senior Warden’s home in nearby Valle for a picnic. Reflecting on the day, it seemed like old times at Cedar Mountain, but in a new location: and my what a “Grand” worship experience for all who attended!