Originally written and published in the June/July 2013 issue of Faith at First, First Church’s former print newsletter, this piece outlines how and why Worship in the Park began. The story is worth revisiting as we begin our 25th year of Worship in the Park.
“In the 1990’s people still really dressed up for worship,” remembers Pastor Dean Francis. “Wearing a suit and tie in the sanctuary in August was not very comfortable.”
Worship in the Park arose, in part, from this discomfort. As the staff explored other summer worship settings, Francis recalled a Traverse City, MI, church that held a large outdoor service on the beach. He decided First Church would try it – on a smaller scale.
The church applied for a park permit with the City of Evanston for Sunday mornings in Lunt Park, just across Sheridan Road from the lake. At that time the parsonage was just a stone’s throw from the site, so Francis visited his neighbors, describing the plans to and asking for their support.
Worship in the Park began in June 1999 without a sound system, but that didn’t last long. By midsummer, longtime member Ariel Schrodt had jerry-rigged a sound system using a car battery. “That did the trick for a while,” chuckles Francis.
“At first we tried for a half hour service,” recalls Francis, “but over time we added pieces.” Now worship is about 45 minutes long. New this summer [of 2015] is a children’s moment and then “WOW” (Worship Our Way), where children of all ages are invited to accompany Children’s Ministry Coordinator Cherie Asante to another area of the park for age-appropriate exploration of the worship theme.
Weather, of course, has been problematic at times. Worshippers have gotten wet more than once. Once a large limb fell on a worshipper who was taken to the hospital. Summer art festivals, athletic events, and motorcycle caravans also have posed challenges to the service. But perhaps the biggest challenge for Francis was his dog.
“Astro wouldn’t sit still through a whole service, so he couldn’t come to Worship in the Park,” recalls Francis. “We had to keep him at home in the parsonage, which at the time was across the street. During the sermon he would hear my voice through the sound system and whine – loudly.”
Worship in the Park entered its twenty-fifth season on Sunday, June 11, 2023 at 9:00 a.m. Dress comfortably for this service and bring your beach blanket or folding chair, your kids and friends and friends’ kids. Worship in the Park typically draws visitors who are new to the area, and the service is a great opportunity to provide hospitality.
During the summer the 10:30 worship service moves to air-conditioned Tittle Chapel.