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Worshippers at ease outdoors

July 17, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

After a slow start this year because of the unseasonably wet spring, Wednesday evening church services held in the courtyard of St. John's Lutheran Church in Hagerstown are under way.

"We have been holding services outdoors during the warm weather months for the past five years," said Kim Tantillo, co-director of music at the 141 S. Potomac St. church. "It's called the Mid-Week Joy and it runs all year at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays.

Rather than picking a start date and end date, Tantillo said a decision is made to move outside each spring when the weather is right. "And then in the fall, we go back inside when it starts getting dark before the service is over."

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Tantillo said the services have a special atmosphere.

The courtyard of the church is along one of Hagerstown's busiest downtown streets and the service often attracts walkers, nearby apartment dwellers and library patrons who are enticed by the music.

That music is provided by the 10-member New Spirit Praise Band, led by Tantillo. Three instrumentalists and seven vocalists provide music for the hour-long service.

"There is a group of about 50 people who regularly attend the services each week," she said. Drop-ins are welcome.

Another local church that routinely moves outside during the summer months is Haven Lutheran Church at 1035 Haven Road.

Worship on the lawn is at 9:30 a.m. each Sunday and is billed as casual and comfortable. Those who attend are asked to bring lawn chairs.

"One of the reasons my family joined Haven six years ago was because of the outdoor service," said Dan Dopson, now vice president of the Haven church council.

A husband and father of three children, Dopson said the idea of a casual, outdoor service appealed to him for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the less confining atmosphere for youngsters.

"They get to wear comfortable clothes and feel more at ease," Dopson said.

He and other members arrive early each Sunday and set up for the outdoor service.

Many other churches have occasional outdoor services, usually taking the form of a picnic after a regular worship service or in some instances, combining the two at a local park near the church.

St. Matthew's United Methodist Church held its annual picnic at the Martin L. "Marty" Snook Park in Halfway on July 13, combining worship with fun.

Salem Ridge Mennonite Church in Greencastle, Pa., plans to hold an outdoor gospel sing at the Cove Valley Camp in Mercersburg, Pa., Sunday at 10 a.m.

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