On Sunday mornings, from spring until fall, residents of and visitors to the Whispering Spruce RV Resort, 100 kms south of Edmonton at the Village of Pigeon Lake, are invited to pull up a lawn chair and worship together ecumenically in a sacred space in the woods.
In the shade of spruce trees and shielded from mosquitoes as few as one person and as many as 10 people have stepped onto the deck of a camping trailer and through the zippered doorway of a gazebo to share in the eucharist with the Rev. Maralyn Benay.
On this day, June 2, 2019, observed by Anglicans in the Edmonton diocese and around the world as Jerusalem Sunday, Benay, who also serves as deacon at St. Columba Anglican Church in Beaumont, lights a candle in the center of a small altar dressed with a bright plaid blanket. Explaining that the candle is from her pilgrimage to Jerusalem, she asks the congregation of five people and two dogs (Maralyn’s own dog Penny stays in the trailer) to pray for our companions in the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.
The idea to hold a weekly service at her campsite came from one of Benay’s Anglican and Lutheran friends who spend their summer weekends at the same resort. She has come to know many of her neighbours by joining the women’s Wednesday night golf league and hosting a community party every August.
At first she wondered, ‘Will anybody come?’ Then, at a diocesan workshop in Sherwood Park, she heard Back to Church Sunday founder Michael Harvey say, ‘We invite. God calls.’ “That resonated with me,” she says. “It’s up to us to make the invitation.”
“Sometimes I have a good crowd for Lawnchair Church and sometimes I don’t,” she says. “I compete with tee times. These are weekenders – they’re running in on a Friday night and packing up to leaving Sunday afternoon. Every year I think, ‘Should I continue? Is it of value?’”
Often joining her for church is friend and fellow member of Parents Empowering Parents (PEP), the non-profit society Benay, a retired family support worker, co-founded to help families dealing with substance abuse. Chris’s daughter had been addicted to Crystal Meth and she is grateful for Benay’s friendship and support during a difficult time.
Chris says the opportunity to discuss scripture readings during the informal and interactive service is “much like Bible Study.”
Another friend, Nancy, who belongs to a Lutheran congregation, does not miss an opportunity to lead the Prayers of the People at Lawnchair Church, even when her day is filled with grandchildren’s activities.
Roy says he enjoyed a lot of things about the service, like “the personal invitation to share what I thought about the readings and the outdoor environment. We’re amongst the trees with a guy piling lumber in the background – it’s so cool.”
Lawnchair Church is held every Sunday morning at 10 am, from May long weekend to September long weekend. You will find Maralyn Benay’s sanctuary in Site 23 of the Whispering Spruce Campground, five kms south of the Village at Pigeon Village on Highway 13. Turn south at Pigeon Village (corner of Blackbull Golf Course). Everyone is welcome!