Rev. Paul M. Turner

The Church Without Walls: Outdoor Church in Atlanta’s Candler Park

Outdoor church on Sunday

Yes, it’s true, Gentle Spirit Christian Church meets outdoors, rain or shine, every Sunday at 10:30am, 52 weeks a year — except in severe weather conditions, when we worship indoors — in picnic Pavilion 2** in Candler Park. Once you pull into the 1500 McLendon Avenue NE entrance you’ll see us on the right about halfway down the parking lot.

It’s also true that in the winter, our worship service can sometimes be surprisingly short — and in the summer, they can get a little leisurely.

Outdoor church: Family-style worship

But for us, outdoor worship services may not even be the coolest thing about being The Church Without Walls. Because the other thing we do a bit unconventionally is to make the Lord’s Table the centerpiece of the service. Here’s what that means:

  • The worship service and the potluck meal are one and the same — i.e., you don’t have to wait until the end of the service to eat.
  • Just as Jesus did at the Last Supper, we break the bread at the beginning of the meal, and we pass the cup of wine at the end.
  • During the meal, we chat just as a family would, discussing the highs and lows of the previous week. We also discuss the liturgical readings for the day, offering our reflections and insights.

Outdoor church: Things to know

And while we may not have walls in the sanctuary, we do have a roof over our heads and a place to sit. Although we feel compelled to warn you in advance on behalf of the park’s caretakers, the City of Atlanta, that:

  • The picnic pavilion where we worship isn’t wheelchair accessible from the parking lot. We wish that weren’t the case, but we only have so much pull with the city, so we’ve been praying to a higher authority about it.
  • The nearest year-round restroom is at Lazy Betty restaurant on DeKalb Avenue. The nearest public restroom is across the parking lot at the Candler Park Pool, which is open seasonally.

Outdoor church: Benefits and quirks

Having said that, in the four years we’ve been in the park, we’ve observed the following benefits and quirks of outdoor worship:

  • We’re the only church in town (as far as we know) that has a roaring hearth in the sanctuary.
  • You can bring your dog.
  • There’s a playground in the next room, so to speak, so little ones have a great excuse not to sit through the whole service.
  • God does a great job of decorating the sanctuary, so we have one less committee meeting to go do.
  • It’s OK to walk around the church grounds during the service, which is great if you’re one of those people who can’t sit still.
  • In the cold months there are hot beverages available in the sanctuary during the service.
  • You can wear pretty much whatever you want. Remember to wear one more layer than you think you’ll need (unless it’s the middle of summer; the shade of the picnic pavilion has a remarkable cooling effect most of the year), something warm to cover your head in the cold months, and insulated waterproof shoes if it’s wet out.
  • If it’s winter and you’re one of those people who runs a little late, you could miss us altogether on a really cold day**, because we might set a record for how quickly we can get through the service (even Pastor shortens his sermons).
  • If there’s a festival in the park, we get to move to the corner of McLendon Avenue and Candler Park Drive, which has a great expanse of grass, and the dogs love it.

If you’re still wondering what sort of service you’ll encounter when you join us, it’s actually pretty traditional: We celebrate the Lord’s Table (where we offer an open — and we mean truly open — communion), we sing mostly traditional Protestant hymns, we hear readings from the Old and New Testaments, and there’s a Gospel-centered sermon. We always eat, and there’s always enough food for everyone.

We look forward to seeing you in the park. Remember to dress for the weather and arrive on time if it’s cold out. But most importantly, come as you are, because You’re in the Right Place.

** Exceptions being in the event of extreme weather (when we worship exclusively online), or when there is a festival in Candler Park (when we move to the southwest corner of the park). In all of these cases, we post a special notice at the top of our homepage.

In the event that another party has reserved picnic Pavilion 2, we can generally be found down the hill in Pavilion 1.

You may also enjoy:
A Church Without Walls
Easter Sunrise Service in Atlanta’s Candler Park
Metro Atlanta Homeless Ministry

An independent, affirming and progressive church serving metro Atlanta. We are open, positive and inclusive.