Griffin Park in Pierre saw 250-plus attendees at an ecumenical worship service on Sunday, July 28. Ecumenical means unity, a coming together of churches.
Lawn chairs, picnic table benches, car hoods, and even children’s playground swings were filled with people. Many were members of the five coordinating Pierre churches. Many were not.
Because of social distancing, the church buildings have not been, and still are not, open for large-congregation services. Even at the park, individuals, couples, and families gave distance to others. Some wore face masks. After the service, people were in no hurry to leave, and conversations — with a few yards between people — were seemingly a welcome change from self-isolating. The heat of the morning was eased by the shadows of the park trees and a light breeze from the river.
Churches included the First Baptist, United Church of Christ, Oahe Presbyterian, Southeast Pierre Mission UMC, and the First United Methodist. Somewhat appropriately, the first song led by the clergy from under the family picnic building was “Shall We Gather at the River.” Words to the songs were available in handouts. “Do Lord” and “I’ll Fly Away” got even the children in the mood for a church service, a service not too far from a church social.
Unity among different congregations of churches seemed to be the theme of the day.
“The spirit in me acknowledges the spirit in you,” began Rev. Emily Munger — First Congregational UCC in Pierre. She spoke of how churches, congregations, families and individuals are growing stronger despite social distancing and these trying times.
“We are all one family, though all different even within our own families,” began Rev. Greg Kroger — First United Methodist Church. “We are united in our connections. We believe in one baptism whether by sprinkling or submersion. And if some of you want to get dunked … we can get you dunked.” Kroger said the person who Methodism is founded on, John Wesley, is the first to use the phrase ‘We agree to disagree’, thus a start for all congregations to disagree but still be in unity.
“Humility is understanding exactly who you are in Christ Jesus and how much God loves you,” said Rev. Dr. Lizette Hunt — First Baptist Church. “Accept who you and who we are, in love.”
Humor was used on which specific word to use in the Lord’s Prayer — debts or trespasses — but it was still solemnly spoken loud and clear from the spread-out audience. It was pointed out that the younger children seemed attentive, even from moving park swings. “Amazing Grace” and “God Be With You until We Meet Again” ended the service. It was mentioned that more combined services might be held in the park. Until then, each church is holding its own services by Zoom, Facebook, small prayer groups and other methods.