Church Without Walls
On a mountain in Big Sky, Mont., a wooden cross is perched in the midst of a ski slope. On Sunday afternoons during ski season, vacationers and locals alike gather around it, while Chaplain Brad Lartigue, often swooshing in on skis or a snowboard, leads a worship service.
The log-wood cross was erected in 1993, and services have been held there during ski season ever since. Because it's located in the popular vacation destination of Yellowstone country, the congregation is ever changing. But while Lartigue enjoys meeting park visitors and is always ready to share his contact information with one-time guests who want to stay connected, his main focus is elsewhere.
"I not only minister to tourists," Lartigue tells PRISM, "but my main focus is in the lives of hotel and resort employees and residents of Big Sky. I have been given the privilege of being a permanent resident of this community, which is continuing to grow and develop."
Memorial services, weddings, and baby dedications have all taken place at the cross, and a crowd of over 300 gathered there for a recent Easter sunrise service. Locals and park employees also have the opportunity to come together for Bible studies and evening worship services at a nearby hotel. In the more than 20 years that services have been held on the ski slopes in Big Sky, Lartigue and others have had the joy of seeing many people make a decision to follow Jesus and of participating in discipleship of those new believers. (Learn more.)
Across the country in Boston, Mass., another crowd of people also gather each Sunday under the open sky in Boston Common. While tourists do visit the weekly services of Common Cathedral, an outreach of Ecclesia Ministries, the core of this congregation is made up of locals, and many are currently or have been at one point homeless.
Rev. Deborah Little, who founded Common Cathedral, thought of the need for an outdoor church after spending time with the homeless of Boston.
"Folks I was getting to know on the street, many of whom find it impossible or are not welcome to be inside, and others—'us'—who want to help and learn, needed to gather in the midst of the city, in an accessible place."
On Easter Sunday, 1996, Common Cathedral first met near a fountain in Boston Common. As the Easter service came to a close, some people in attendance said, "See you next week!" Rev. Little and others continued to show up at the same place week after week to minister to those more comfortable in a church without walls.
Rev. Steven Maki, associate minister with Ecclesia Ministries, says that Common Cathedral purposefully brings together the housed and the unhoused in order that they might learn from each other. Church members who know homelessness personally say that one of the most important things about this church is that instead of the typical isolating experience of homelessness, it provides community. Common Cathedral's Rev. Kathy McAdams says that not having a door to walk though allows them to be more welcoming to all. (Learn more.)
All churches should strive to be a community without barriers, with arms wide open. However, for these and other similar ministries, the term "church without walls" is anything but figurative. These are places where all, regardless of creed, can experience community in the midst of God's glorious creation and where all feel welcome—places free of hurdles, even those as low as a threshold.