FORT GIBSON — About 50 people gather to worship near the Grand River while keyboardist Blanche Reece plays "Shall we Gather at the River."

First United Methodist Church of Fort Gibson has been meeting at the site, Pecan Valley Soccer Complex, for the past five weeks. Concern for COVID-19 has kept the congregation from meeting inside the sanctuary.

"Doing it this way is making everyone feel comfortable with the pandemic," congregation member Krissa Sparks said. "There's plenty of space for everyone to come and still be apart."

Church member Chance Alred owns the soccer complex, which used to be a nine-hole golf course. He said he offered the space because the church parking lot was too hot for outdoor worship services.

Since June, the congregation has met at 9 a.m. Sundays at the property's south end, shaded by tall trees. The church sets up pairs of seats, though most members bring their own lawn chairs. The Grand River flows several hundred feet away.

"This is like an open revival that renews your soul every week," said Carla Hubbert, a member since the mid-2000s. "And it stays with you throughout the week with the thoughts and goodness, and you want to pay it forward and you want to get people back here with you. Being outside, and the pastor's message."

Pastor, the Rev. Don Jones said the congregation feels safe in the outdoor space. 

"Once you breathe out, it's in the atmosphere," he said. "People are enjoying the interaction with each other. "

He said the youth group meets there Wednesday nights.

Jones said he feels at home with the outdoor worship.

"Other than the wind, the wind blows your papers around," he said.

The church has had to make other accomodations.

Before last Sunday's service, Jones handed out papers with six rectangles on each side.

"This represents the Power Point presentation we would have if we were inside," he said. "It's basically the sermon notes that I preach from. They have to have it because we read scripture together. The scriptures are on these slides. Even though we are out in nature, we use a lot more paper."

Zoe DeCamp set up the sound system before Sunday worship.

"We just have a mini-mixboard, one speaker, plug it in and it projects when he uses the microphone," she said.

Still, she said worshipping outside "allowed us all to get together."

"It's just kind of relaxing to be out here instead of inside a building," she said.

The church also offers the worship service through Zoom. 

Jones said the congregation likely will meet at Pecan Valley through September.

"I don't see a big motivation for going inside," he said. "We might go inside if we have a big rain. 

If you go

WHAT: First United Methodist Church of Fort Gibson outdoor worship.

WHEN: 9 a.m. Sundays.

WHERE: Pecan Valley Soccer Complex, formerly Pecan Valley Golf Course, 24821 Oklahoma 80. 

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