A few days ago, while kayaking in Rookery Bay, I found myself in a golden cove just before sunset. Colors as beautiful as any changing leaves up North could be found there. While just drifting, it became so apparent that to go inside, you go outside.
PBS has been airing a 12-hour series on America’s national parks. I have been amazed at the amount of spiritual language and thought in this series. It is apparent that the first national parks were established because people thought that God had specially created places in nature where you could go to find God, feel God and worship God.
Now, I am not saying that outdoors is the only place to find God. But I do believe it is the best place to find God.
John Muir once said, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
To me, this describes our outdoor church. Could it be that the majority of people who worship go indoors because of necessity and not by choice? Here in Naples we are able to be a part of something very unique — a year-round outdoor church.
Now our church in the park is worth fighting for.
On Nov. 4, the Naples City Council will decide the fate of Celebration Community Beach Church.
In the history of our nation, we have seen time and time again that there is nothing more effective than just showing up! Think about it. How many churches ever have the opportunity to publicly rise up before the world and say, “Here I stand!”
Even if I am the only one there, even if I have to stand alone, I will consider this one of the greatest moments of my life.
This is not a separation of church and state issue. The establishment clause prohibits exclusive use. Our use agreement is nonexclusive, which means we move if any other group wants to use that section of the park on Sunday morning. Also, we put up no signs and use no religious symbols.
But based on the concept of separation of church and state, there is an organized effort to have our church removed from Cambier Park, including a letter of protest filed with the city from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Laurie Gaylor, the Freedom From Religion co-president, states: “We would be that much closer to creating a paradise on Earth if we could get rid of the baggage of superstition and religion. Instead of investing our best energies — misdirecting them — to religion and to an unknown god, a god that does not exist, we could put our energies into this world, and into making this world a better place.”
Foundation members have their right to protest a belief in no God with their billboards proclaiming “Imagine No Religion.” But we also have our right to express our worship to God in proclaiming “Life hurts, but God heals.”
This is not a real-estate issue.
There is a growing group of people who love to meet here because it is an environmentally friendly worship service. This is the greenest church in America. We leave a very small carbon footprint, if any at all, and we see worshipping here among the trees as a much better alternative than covering 10 more acres somewhere in asphalt.
Also, many people enjoy a “lower latitudes” style of worship where Jimmy Buffet meets Jesus. And also, Celebration Community Beach Church is pet-friendly. Our motto is: “It’s people, not a steeple.”
So I ask, if it is not a church and state issue or a real-estate issue, then what is it? For me, it is an equal access issue. Just because we are a church, I don’t want to be treated any differently from any other organization. Do you think there would be this outcry and discussion if we were meeting here each Sunday to play bridge?
We just want to be treated equally, like anyone else. That is all.
My dream for Celebration Church was that everyone could see that this was good for the city of Naples.
In all the years of meeting, not one group has ever been put down or ridiculed. We have pro-choice people sitting beside pro-life people. Young and old, gay and straight. When we did a food-packing event for the hungry children of Haiti and Collier County, you saw President Barack Obama T-shirts and Sarah Palin T-shirts — red state and blue state working, laughing, side by side.
I want the community to say, “We need Celebration for the love they show others. This place is a better place because this group meets in the park.”