The church has left the building!

As much as we love to worship God in the beauty and serenity of our church’s sanctuary, we also know that God can be worshiped anywhere. And what better place to praise the God of creation than in the beauty of our amazing Finger Lakes?

The biblical story tells us that God intended us to be part of the garden. The creation stories in Genesis show the first humans living peacefully with all creation, just as God wanted. The Psalms are full of songs in which all of creation praises God. Psalm 148 calls on “mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds” to praise the Lord. And in the Book of Revelation, the prophet envisions the garden reunited with the city in a vision of a new creation at one with God. Besides being a nice change of pace, it is entirely appropriate that we take worship outside to praise God in creation.

Westminster is worshiping outdoors five Sundays this summer. On the first Sunday of July, August and September, we worship on the church’s front lawn at 9:30 a.m., sharing Communion, hearing a message, singing hymns and enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. And, being a downtown church, the birdsong and rustle of leaves are joined by the sounds of skateboards, motorcycles and sirens all blending together in celebration of the God who makes all things happen. If you’re passing by, stop and join us!

On Sunday, July 14, we will start worship at Westminster at 9:30 a.m., and following the Passing of the Peace at about 9:45 a.m., we will move to the Auburn Permaculture Park (at the Lepak Memorial Park, 53 Garrow St.) to continue worship in the peaceful and inspiring setting of Auburn’s edible food garden of perennial fruit and vegetable trees and bushes, herbs, flowers and plants. Following the close of worship, everyone will share a simple, locally sourced meal, and engage in a hands-on service project at the park.

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Westminster has been exploring a partnership with the Permaculture Park for several years, looking to combine forces toward the goal of creating a public gathering place and welcoming space of beauty, abundance and diversity. Church members worked at the park on Westminster’s Day of Service on May 18, and chose the park to receive loose change offerings in August. The park’s vision includes the possibility of a walking labyrinth for prayer and meditation. Its emphases on celebrating nature, sharing and building community align with the church’s goals as well. If you’d like to join us on July 14, dress for outdoors, bring a lawn chair and come get your hands dirty!

On Sunday, July 21, Westminster will again gather on the church’s front lawn to celebrate its fourth annual Blessing of the Animals service. We will have some fun with a Presbyterian-style “blessing of the pets” during a special outdoor worship service on the church's front lawn. The Blessing of the Animals recognizes the special bond we share with animal friends and companions. All God’s creatures are welcome (on leashes or in carriers, please). In the past few years, we have had dogs, cats, homing pigeons and even a fish! We welcome everyone, human and non-human, to this fun service.

In addition to these Sunday services, Westminster offers monthly contemplative hikes year-round on the fourth Saturday of each month. The Rev. Patrick Heery leads these two-hour hikes at a variety of locations around central New York. The hikes begin with a brief meditation, and are spent partly in silence and partly in conversation. Patrick has been leading these monthly hikes for two years, drawing participants from the community as well as from the church. They give folks the opportunity to connect with God, with nature and with themselves in the beauty and peace of God’s good earth.

On July 27, the group will hike the dramatic forest and gorge landscape of Carpenter Falls and the Bahar Nature Preserve. On Aug. 24, Patrick will lead a hike at the Beaver Lake Nature Center. All are welcome; contact Patrick at (315) 253-3331 or pastor@westminsterauburn.org for more information about when and where to meet and what to bring.

I hope you experience divine presence this summer wherever you encounter God — on the lake, by a waterfall, in your garden, on a hike, or even in your own backyard.

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Jill Fandrich is a ruling elder and clerk of session at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 17 William St., Auburn, where she edits the newsletter, church website (westminsterauburn.org) and Facebook and Twitter pages.