High Park (STOCK)

Worshippers headed for South Rock Christian Church’s services on Aug. 25 are going to have to go to a different location. Instead of using the church building at 900 S. Rock Road, the entire congregation and staff will be headed for High Park – and they want the community to join them, too.

The open invitation event is called South Rock ONE Worship Service and kicks off with a free pancake breakfast at 9 a.m. in the Zimmerman shelter next to the amphitheater. There also will be popular outdoor park games such as volleyball, corn hole, nine-square, and more.

At 10:30 a.m, the worship service will get underway in the amphitheater, headed by lead minister Rick Wheeler.

Organizers urge attendees to bring a lawn chair or blanket to sit on, but there’s no need to dress up, as casual will be the byword of the day.

“It’s a relaxed, comfortable come-as-you-are service,” Wheeler said.

The service should last about 80 minutes or so and include a 20-minute sermon by Wheeler.

It’s the first time the church has gone away from the building to have a service like this.

South Rock has two Sunday services at the church, which attracts 1,300 to 1,400 people. Wheeler is hoping for more at this event, especially people looking for a church home. Wheeler and his staff have scouted the site and believe the expansive lawn can hold the type of crowd they’re expecting.

It’s been their goal to have something for the community and while some people may be nervous about going into a new church, “everyone likes the park.”

As for the weather, well, “it’s going to be 72 degrees and not windy and not rainy,” he said with a laugh. Seriously, the long-term prediction is favorable, but if it’s too stormy, including dangerous conditions such as lightning, the event will be moved back to the bricks-and-mortar church.

Timing an important aspect

Wheeler believes there are a lot of people in town who haven’t found a church and would be open to their service. There’s no catch or obligation, just join in, he said.

The service will be a lot like its regular service, but much more relaxed.

The church’s music team will be on site and an LED screen will be set up, too.

Wheeler and his staff have been thinking about this concept for a long time, and originally were going to use the football field at Derby Middle School.

However, they were told they couldn’t put a stage on the field or track, which they “totally understood.”

There’s an amphitheater at Madison Avenue Central Park but it’s too small for their use and parking would be an issue.

“Out here in High Park, we ought to be good,” Wheeler said.

The park is the site of the city’s annual barbecue festival, which attracts thousands, so up to 2,000 people should be fine. Wheeler said there’s enough parking for all and the church will have shuttles, including six-passenger golf carts and a couple of church vans, for those requiring assistance.

The timing of the service was carefully thought out, he said.

The church has always held an end of summer kick-off event, welcoming people back to school and the busy fall season.

It’s the time of the year when people are back from vacations and focused on school, church and community events.

There’s also a lot of new Derby residents, including military personnel, seeking a church, he said.

Wheeler hopes to make the service an annual event, building on it year after year and fine tuning it as needed. But right now the focus is on Sunday morning and the logistics involve a small army of volunteers that includes security and medical teams to handle any situations.

“We’re ready,” he said.