|The deck at Old Faithful Inn (where the church service was held)|
|Old Faithful Geyser|
I could have engaged Sam in dialogue after the service, but I didn't. Maybe I missed a grand opportunity too!
A Christian Ministry in the National Parks was started in 1951 by a Princeton seminary student, Warren Ost. It was soon sponsored by the National Council of Churches until the NCC had to let it go for lack of funding. It is now an independent non-profit based in Denver. It is still ecumenical in theory at least - I notice that the UCC website has a link to it and an application process for UCC seminarians - but I suspect by looking at the staff that it has become heavily evangelical in its orientation. This means, I suspect, that sermons like Sam's, which dwell on individual sin and salvation, are more the order of the day, and that thoughtful reflections on the creation, on the impact of humans on the creation (e.g., global warming), on the myriad moral, social, ethical and spiritual issues which are raised by the very existence of the National Parks (both positive and negative), are rare, if they exist at all.
There is also a "church and state" issue involved in having a "Christian ministry" in the National Parks and not a Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. ministry also, or, no ministry at all. I was interested to find this paragraph in Wikipedia:
"In 1993, Karl and Rita Girshman, a Jewish couple, were visiting Big Bend National Park and were disturbed by one of the students serving with ACMNP. The couple sued and forced several changes in the way ACMNP, the NPS, and park concessioners operated. Prior to the suit, ACMNP used the distinctive arrow head used by the NPS on most of its correspondence. As a result of the suit, the NPS was forced to crack down on who and under what circumstances the arrow head could be used. Concessioners were barred from using religious affiliation in their hiring practices. Prior to the court case, ACMNP was able to guarantee employment with many of the park concessioners as it had arrangements to place students at various locations. As part of the settlement, the NPS sent a letter stating, that it would be against the law to "reserve or set aside jobs for individuals affiliated with one religious group or another... Employment discrimination by our concessioners will not be tolerated." Many parks made exceptions to ACMNP obtaining permits; after the case, ACMNP activities required obtaining permits just as any other group would."We think we've accomplished a lot more than we initially thought we could because of the intimate ties that the Christian Ministry had developed with the government," Karl Girshman said. "In most parks, they had a monopoly. They had been reserving amphitheaters, campfire circles and other public gathering places long in advance. Now there's a fair opportunity for other groups to participate."
This suit is interesting, but it hardly seems to have gone to the heart of the issue.