Church-Hacker #8: Take It Outside

This week’s Church-Hacker is a celebration of summer by BCC perma Aaron R:

I love one of the stories Mark Richards recounts of a time when Eugene England was his Bishop.  Bishop England ‘suggested we take the ward up Provo Canyon and hold our meeting in the Sundance amphitheater.’  Although some ward members were worried that ‘it was improper to hold sacrament meeting in the canyon… Bishop England responded that chapels are merely buildings for us to meet in and that the pioneers and other early Saints worshiped in Heavenly Father’s true chapel, nature.

‘While many worried about coming to the meeting that day, they left with feel­ings they had rarely, if ever, felt before. Our sacrament meeting was a testimony meeting, and member after member shared the conflicting feelings they had prior to our meeting and their change of heart as they truly caught the spirit of what our great bishop was trying to teach: “We don’t live the Gospel only in our chapels. We should live the Gospel in every place and in every aspect of our lives.”’

Ronan has recently reminded us that God can be found in nature and perhaps it is appropriate that periodically we hold our sacrament meetings surrounded by the world God has created for us.

I love this idea, but the logistics for a family ward might be difficult. Has anyone here tried it with their ward? How’d it go?


Got your own Church-Hacker idea? Submit it! (the church-hacking guidelines are here.) See all entries in this series here.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Sounds awesome. Of course in the early Restoration there was no such thing as “chapels.” Some of the Prophet Joseph’s most powerful sermons were preached in a grove, not inside any building.

    We can experience this on a small scale when we take our classes outside on a nice day.

    I wish our chapels had windows in them. Willow Creek, a megachurch in our area, has huge windows on either side of the stage so that you can see the beautiful nature scenes just outside the building. That’s an awesome way to experience a church service.

    When I was young our whole branch would on occasion travel to and camp at Nauvoo State Park and hold a church service there as part of the camping trip.

    Logistics would indeed be a challenge, but I love the idea.

  2. Chris Gordon says:

    Never did it in a family ward but we did in a student ward at BYU. It was done as part of the 24th of July season and we had a sacrament meeting program that, in retrospect and in my opinion only, would have been more appropriate for a fireside setting than for sacrament meeting, but no harm done.

    My question to Aaron is what became of the auxiliaries?

  3. I’d personally love this idea and have often dreamed of sitting outside in the sunshine for sacrament meeting. Our chapel has large grounds and would be ideal.
    However, all it would take is one old dear or young child getting a case of heat stoke or bad sunburn (sacrament meeting is held between 11:50 and 1pm – the hottest, sunniest time of day) to make the complaints start rolling in.
    Best keep our formal meetings indoors where nature can’t get at you while encouraging more outdoor ward and family activities at other times.

  4. Karen H. says:

    When I was growing up, our youth leaders almost always made sure we held church meetings outside if we were on some kind of a conference, or trip. I remember one time, we had donuts and juice for the sacrament, just to make the point that it was a symbol. Very strong and positive lessons from those experiences.

  5. We just got back from a youth trek here in Michigan, where they tried to have a testimony meeting outside. Aside from a portable mic that continually shorted out, the acoustics were not conducive to hearing what anyone was saying (we were there with about 140 youth and 30-50 leaders). I think it could have been really powerful, but that (plus the fact that our backsides and legs were all getting a bit tired from sitting on the ground outside) really detracted a bit. I think an amphitheater would be great, but like Chris said, it almost seems like it would be better for a fireside than a sacrament meeting.

    I’m in, though. I think shaking up the status quo that we’ve done for years “just because” keeps things fresh.

  6. When I was a teenager, I had a Sunday School teacher who would occasionally have class outside. While I love nature, I do not love sitting in the grass in a skirt and pantyhose. So I’d be totally on board, as long as I could wear pants to church.

  7. I’m guessing that the incident in the OP occurred before the instigation of the 3-hour block, so it was just sacrament meeting.
    When I was a child (in the 50s), my dad was scoutmaster and for several years took his troop to a camp in Wyoming where families could also camp. Because of the distance, we traveled there on Saturday and he had permission from our bishop to hold sacrament meeting with the boys and families the following day in an outdoor setting. I was very young, but I remember thinking that I would never have trouble sitting through sacrament meeting if we could always be outside. Our current chapel has a large outdoor gazebo. On any given Sunday in the summer, there is usually a Sunday School or youth class out there–really a much more inspiring environment than the stuffy and sterile interior of a modern chapel.

  8. If it was a shortened sacrament session in the sense that it was 40 minutes long, and was only the sacrament session, I would love to entertain the idea. But sitting for an hour (plus some since things like this will probably go overtime) on the ground, a log, or a bleacher as most areas of the world do not have professional outdoor theater areas does not sound like a psychical environment that would enhance the spirit rather than distract from it. During Youth Conference one year in Nauvoo we had the testimony session outside. I wouldn’t have minded it if it weren’t for the extended sitting and possible butt splinters I got from it.

  9. Colleen says:

    Thanks for this. I’ve allowed myself to become very locked-in to the tradition of holding my Primary classes in my classroom. It’s not quite the same as going outside, but we do have a lot of our lessons while sitting on the floor, which I enjoy because it breaks up the monotony of sitting on chairs/benches for three hours. I’ve always wished I had a cabinet in the room to store floor pillows in so we could be more comfortable. I’m going to bring a blanket next Sunday and get us out under the shade of a big ol’ tree.

  10. Romney / Huntsman 2012 says:

    Call me crazy, but wouldn’t it get a bit hot sitting in the sun while wearing a charcoal-gray wool suit?

  11. Romney / Huntsman 2012 says:

    Also, do we really want to mimic the hippies at Bonnaroo and Coachella? Ever since Woodstock, there’s something about being at an outdoor festival that causes people to be less than reverent.

  12. observer fka eric s says:

    Not as many women would wear high heels.

  13. observer fka eric s says:

    /\ I meant “could” . . . it’s a comment on . . . fashion accomodation.

  14. andrewh says:

    When I was a scout (1980’s) every year we did a 7-10 day back-pack trip thru the Unintah’s that always included a Sunday testimony meeting. It was great.

    About 20 years ago we had a big Family Reunion at Cedar Breaks Nat’l Mon. They had an outdoor theater area that the Church used on Sundays for sacrament mtgs. I believe that a local Stake provided the leadership. All of us had a fantastic spiritual experience except for one very anal aunt who was upset by the idea that people were “at church” in jeans and regular clothes and was sure that the “brethren” would never approve of church being held outside. Otherthan her soggy attitude it was a great experience.

  15. charlene says:

    My family ward in SLC once held sacrament meeting at the bowery in This Is the Place State Park, in July. I don’t remember the meeting being particularly spiritual, but empathy for the pioneers increased greatly.

    It’s nice to shake up our assumptions about how things should be done. Outside meetings have appeal, but they can be a real challenge for older members or those with physical limitations.

  16. Jonathan E. says:

    In our Southern California ward, we’ve frequently met outside as a quorum or Sunday School class. The guys seem to like it more than the gals. The setting is either in the outdoor courtyard within our building or amongst the trees in the grass outside our building. We’ll do it on sunny, mild days, usually in the Spring or Fall. We take our chairs out there. I love the change of pace. At the Teton Ranch in Idaho, Lowell Bennion would hold Sunday testimony meetings at an outdoor amphiteatre in the woods, with cut logs serving as benches. Probably the best church meetings I ever attended took place there.

  17. Benjamin says:

    When my dad was bishop, he led us on annual trips along the Appalachian Trail. To accommodate leader work schedules, it always went over a Sunday. On Sunday morning, we would prepare breakfast, load our packs, and then do a (almost) full sacrament program, complete with speakers from the group. After the service, we picked up our packs and walked to the next campsite. Each year, dad would remind us of what his bishop had told him when he joined the church in the 70’s. “The only good reason to miss sacrament meeting is if you’re dying; and there’s no better place to do that.”

    All of the boys who went on those trips went on to serve missions. Several of them would later tell my dad that they learned the importance of attending sacrament meeting and of the sacrament from going on those trips and taking time out from all the activity to reflect on the Atonement.

    Great memories too!

  18. This is a common occurrence for those attending girls camp in our area and I have fond memories of attending myself. In fact, the camp even has a dedicated outdoor chapel with benches made of logs. I do not believe, though, that they hold all three meetings for the services.

    Otherwise, the first thing that came to my mind was the heat. Maybe it’s just the current time of year and the 110 degree heat wave I am living in, but right now the chapel is a warm enough meeting location let alone heading outdoors. Maybe during other times of the year, though.

  19. In a small town I lived in for several years, it was a tradition to go up into the mountain every year (I’m thinking 4th of July or 24th). Not everyone went, but those who did had a sacrament meeting there. I went one year and, yes, there were jeans and T-shirts there.

    When I was a child, one of my Sunday School teachers (pre-block times) liked to do things a bit nontraditional. One week we went up to the This is the Place monument. I heard they have since moved it (not sure if that’s a rumor or not). At that time, it was across the road from Hogle Zoo.

  20. Bro. Jones says:

    Jamie: reminds me of late spring semesters at my (non-LDS) college. At some point many students would clamor to hold discussion sections outdoors on the lawn, while female students who were wearing skirts were somewhat–reluctant. And I will not indict their choice of dress. It was entirely my pervy choice to pay attention to the view and not to class.

    To return this to topic: if suitable outdoor seating was provided, I think outdoor sacrament meeting could work.

  21. I work at Aspen Grove and we hold sacrament meeting outside. At first I thought it was annoying, but now I’ve grown to love it. If anybody comes up this summer, say hi! I play the organ on Sundays.

  22. Matt Stone, is that you? I *knew* you were Mormon, I just knew it!

  23. Jenny in NC says:

    I like the air conditioning and soft benches inside the chapel. Sorry.
    I thought about taking all 50 of the jr primary kids outside for singing time, but the logistics and possibility of losing a couple kids scared me too much.

  24. Our Utah ward did it last year on the site of a member’s farm that contained a beautiful wooded meadow. I was cynical because we did it to prepare the youth for trek–and I was getting a little sick of hearing about trek for 6 months straight. Particularly because it seemed the adults asked to go to trek were winners of some most-spiritual popularity contest and my kids weren’t old enough to attend.

    However, despite my reservations, the meeting was very positive for many reasons, including: increased bonding and interaction between members or our very large ward (600+ active members); what I would call an “out in nature” spiritual experience, which provided a nice contrast to our more typical sacred-building worship; and a genuine feeling of respect for our church’s history and kinship with our pioneer forebears (as to whether any actual pioneers visiting in spirit laughed at our naivety regarding our feelings, I have no actual knowledge).

    For me specifically, I was asked to do the musical number and I improvised an unaccompanied medley of Come Thou Fount/Nearer My God to Thee on the fiddle (with a few more slides and licks that I would feel comfortable employing in the chapel). I wasn’t trying for anything pioneer-era authentic, just trying to match the atmosphere of the surroundings. Our ward leadership has typically been very conservative regarding musical numbers in church–often vetoing anything but hymns that are in the hymnbook. But the response to my performance was overwhelmingly positive, especially from leaders that would have been upset by the same number on a typical Sunday. So I was grateful for a venue that allowed me to share such an atypical personal expression of religious feeling with appreciative listeners. (The same kind of performance on ward talent night in the “cultural hall” just isn’t the same for some reason.)

    So I vote yes. You need enough chairs, sufficient shade, and–what the pioneers lacked–an adequate sound system. Additionally, to keep it significant and memorable, I would also make it relatively rare. Finally, cows mooing along with any fiddle solos seems to help, but it’s tough to plan for that kind of serendipity.

  25. Kristine says:

    If I ever get to write a Church Music Handbook, I’m including this: “cows mooing along with any fiddle solos seems to help.” Seems like a very important, but neglected truth.

  26. “Cows are recommended but should not be required.”

  27. I seriously wish there were a way to “thumbs up” some of these comments.

    I was an assistant nursery leader in a ward where the children were taken outside fairly regularly. There were several assistants and the kids had to hold onto a rope. It was just a short jaunt, though, not a full meeting.

  28. Attended a little branch one time that was located in a resort area. The branch was small, but Sun. attedance in the summer was huge, so we had RS out under the trees. It was great!

  29. My family got to be in the Hill Cumorah Pageant a few years ago in Palmyra. We had Sacrament every week in what they call the “Study shelter”, a sort of bowery place where we met everday for devotionals, production notes, and cast assignments. It became our meeting place for everything. I loved Sacrament meetings there among the trees on the side of the Hill Cumorah. I gave a talk one of the Sundays and could look at the trees as I looked at the congregation. Not a bad place for worship.

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