written by Anne Moul
My husband and I recently attended church at the picnic pavilion of the local ballpark, sitting at socially-distanced tables under a bright yellow canopy. The stadium’s independent league team has drawn fans and significant community support in its thirteen-year existence as well as sparked a renaissance in the depressed urban area surrounding it. The president of the organization belongs to our parish and offered the ballpark as a space for outdoor services during this summer of pandemic. Instead of wooden pews worn smooth by generations of worshippers, we sat on heavy mesh chairs in our shorts and sandals, some of us holding go-cups of coffee.
The organist played accompaniment music on an amplified electronic keyboard against a backdrop of traffic noise, shouting neighborhood children, and wailing sirens. There was no singing of hymns or liturgy. We fidgeted with our bulletins instead of baseball programs distributed by smiling stadium ushers. Instead of a vendor with a carrier of cold beer slung around his neck, our mask-wearing rector approached each table to offer bread, the only form of communion deemed safe these days. The thirty or so in attendance occasionally glanced around at who else was brave enough to show up, many of us seeing each other in person for the first time since March.
The field was groomed as neatly as if a game were starting any minute. The semi-circular bowl of green metal seats was empty, as was the concourse lined with shuttered food and souvenir stands. The carousel in the children’s playground in far left field sat silent and still. Advertisements for the plumbing companies, accounting firms, and medical practices who sponsor the team remained on the fence, perhaps from last season. The score boards and jumbotron were blank as blind eyes, creating an overall effect both eerie and dystopian—like waking up and saying, “I just dreamed we were having church at the ballpark. How weird is that?”
I’ve missed having somewhere to go on Sunday mornings and although ballpark church is a far cry from what I long for, at least it is something tangible. I had reached my limit on Morning Prayer via Zoom, so I am fed by this tiny taste of normalcy in the quiet of a deserted stadium. The pandemic has forced me to realize how dependent I am on the physical structure of worship—the glint of the chalice, the properly chanted psalm, the comfort of repeating centuries-old words and melodies in close proximity with others. That which has symbolized God for my sixty-plus years has been swept away by the virus and may never return in the same form. I am down to bare-bones belief.
I always kept my relationship with God in a neat and tidy little box, tucked into a nightstand drawer like my Book of Common Prayer. The absence of institutional parish life has created space for me to nurture my faith unaccompanied by liturgical bells and whistles. It has forced me to listen for God’s voice outside of an hour on Sunday mornings, which, I suppose, I should have been doing all along. But if and when this quarantine ends, I will still need a church, preferably one with glorious music. I am not to be trusted on my own. My faith is a slippery character, easily distracted and occasionally hiding from me when I need it most.
In the meantime, I find solace in worshipping where I am accustomed to hearing the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd. In a space normally filled with the grease-laden smell of French fries and burgers, rather than smoky tendrils of incense wafting from a golden thurible. Where I watch the between-innings antics of children dressed as Fruit of the Loom characters racing around the bases rather than the celebration of the Eucharist by a priest in shimmering vestments. (I suspect both may be equally holy.) For me, ballpark church represents a mustard seed planted to nurture a return to communal worship, a reminder that now, more than ever, I can and must find God in the most unexpected places.
Photo ofWarren Ballpark Bisbee, Arizona USA, Wikimedia commons.
Anne Moul is a retired music educator, writer, and member of St. John’s Episcopal Church, York, Pennsylvania. Her work has been previously published in Episcopal Café along with Hippocampus, Thread, AARP’s The Girlfriend, Kitchen Work, and others. She blogs at www.secondactstories.com.