People often attend religious services inside buildings with wooden benches, potted plants and colorful stained-glass windows.
But some attend services outdoors, surrounded by a rainbow of blossomed trees, as ducks waddle by and a nearby waterfall churns.
This summer marked the 25th anniversary of the Tuesday in the Garden Salvation Army Summer Garden Ministry in the pavilion at Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Ill. The venue has partnered with the Rockford Temple Corps to present the outdoor ministry at 7:30 a.m. Tuesdays from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
The congregation has grown to about 50 people attending in-person, and an estimated 300 watching online around the globe via livestream on Facebook, said Jodi Beach, who assists her mother, longtime Salvation Army volunteer Sonja Beach, with the services.
“We are truly sitting in God’s house,” Jodi said. “We have every kind of beautiful Japanese tree. Everything is pink when we begin in May, with the azaleas. We are close to the Rock River and will often see a heron fly through.”
Sonja organized the event in 1998 at the request of Anderson Gardens owner John Anderson.
“Mom was the facilitator. She made all of the arrangements, handpicked the pastors and the singers, typed up the program and chose the hymns. She did it all. She even picked up the doughnuts,” Jodi said. “She has been the wind beneath the wings.”
Jodi began assisting her mother with the services several years ago, and the two now work side by side.
More than 50 churches of various Christian denomination have been represented there throughout the years.
“The focus is on inspiration and encouragement,” Jodi said. “Our goal was to unify the body of Christ. It has been beautiful to see the ministry expand.”
Services feature hymns, guest singers and other musicians and an inspirational message. Refreshments are served following the program.
Sonja still oversees many of the details, making sure everything runs smoothly.
“Mom sets a pretty table with flowers and hands out the programs,” Jodi said.
The Summer Garden Ministry is free and open to the public. Those attending are invited to stay and explore the gardens.
Major Angela Wandling, who leads the Rockford Temple Corps, has spoken at the Summer Garden Ministry several times and says the atmosphere is very peaceful.
“You walk [to the pavilion] on a wooded path,” Major Angela said. “You look out over a pond where there are turtles and fish. The trees and flowers are everywhere. It’s so inviting. You are right in the middle of God’s creation and the beauty of it.”