By Bishop Mike Rinehart
As part of an annual continuing education event, ELCA and ELCIC bishops visited New Life Lutheran Church, an outdoor congregation in Dripping Springs, Texas. “A majority of people coming to us said they encountered God in nature,” said Pastor Carmen Retzlaff. “So do we.”
The congregation is located on 12 acres a little bit west of Austin, in the hill country. The folks worship close to the land, to the rabbits, deer and birds. They make their own wine and their own bread for communion. They have a community garden from which they donate fresh vegetables to the local school system.
They worship outdoors most of the year, and in a covered tent during the cold months. “There is a feeling of vulnerability with the wind and weather, that reminds us of the vulnerability of life,” says Pastor Retzlaff. The property has walking trails, picnic tables, stations of the cross, a labyrinth and more. They have developed a strong commitment to environmental stewardship.
Bishops arrived to a group of five harpists from a local Girl Scout Troop. These harpists have played every Epiphany since 2011.
Pastor Carmen and congregational leaders welcomed worshippers and provided leadership for the service. People were dressed casually. Children were free to move around in the space.
New Life is a unique congregation in Texas. They have made a conscious decision to stay close to the earth. “This is a diverse area politically. The ground has helped us find common ground,” said Pastor Carmen.