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3024: Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley National Park, California, USA
Furnace Creek, Death Valley (Date Grove)
Mystery Worshipper: MoboJobo.
The church: Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley National Park, California, USA.
Denomination: A Christian Ministry in the National Parks. Founded in 1951 to minister to the faith-based needs of visitors to US national parks, they put on worship services during the summer tourist season at various sites in 25 national parks around the country. (In Death Valley, however, services are held during the winter months, as Death Valley is uninhabitable during the summer – see below.)
The building: The service was held out in the open air in a date grove near the golf course at Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley National Park.
The church: Quoting from their website: "Our volunteers come from over 100 college campuses and 30 seminaries, in 35 states, representing more than 30 Christian denominations." They say that their vision is to "promote ministry that embodies and extends the Christian faith in the majesty of the national parks." Their website goes on to say that the national parks are the ideal place to experience the glory of God, as "nothing compares to the inspiration that comes from worshipping God the Creator in the beautiful outdoors."
The neighborhood: Death Valley, on the border between California and Nevada, is a geological trough that includes the lowest elevation on the North American continent, 282 feet below sea level, as well as the highest temperatures – around 130° F (54° C) during the summer. A no-man's land of rock, sand and salt, Death Valley nevertheless sports an amazing biodiversity. Thanks to snow melt from the surrounding mountains, wildflowers carpet the desert floor each spring, and wildlife including bighorn sheep, red-tailed hawks and wild burros may be seen. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Death Valley was mined for borax. In 1933, President Herbert Hoover declared Death Valley a National Monument. Some areas sport picturesque names, such as Dante's View, the Devil's Golf Course, and the Racetrack (known for its rocks that move for no apparent reason). Furnace Creek, watered by a shallow aquifer, sits as an oasis, with green grass and palm trees. The Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch is a privately owned luxury resort that provides its guests with golf, tennis, horseback riding and gourmet dining – at least during the winter tourist season, when the temperatures hover more around 70° F (21° C).
The cast: The leaders were identified only as Corrine, Hannah, Josh and Sam – all students.
The date & time: May 1, 2016, 8.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Interdenominational Worship Service.

How full was the building?
Eight people – families with children – plus the worship team.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, all four of the worship team.

Was your pew comfortable?
We sat at concrete picnic tables – judge for yourself.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People introduced themselves and talked about where they came from and what parks they had visited.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to the worship service."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Worship Book: A Christian Ministry in the National Parks.

Furnace Creek, Death Valley (Book)

What musical instruments were played?
Only a guitar, played by Sam, I think.

Did anything distract you?
The scenery: mountains, palms, and warm sunshine.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Low-key devotional style, with each of the worship team taking a part. The songs were "God of wonder", "Be thou my vision" and "Step by step." The readings were Acts 19 ("In him we live and move and have our being"); Proverbs 3:5-6 ("Trust in the Lord with all your heart"); Proverbs 16:3 ("Commit to the Lord whatever you do"); and Proverbs 16:9 ("In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps"), which segued in very nicely to the sermon.

Furnace Creek, Death Valley (Team)

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – I think the preacher was Josh. His style was conversational, alternating between story telling and exposition.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Josh told of a certain pastor who had several professional setbacks, ranging from dismissals to death threats. But God was using him even when he felt like a failure. The message was that we are where we are for a reason, even if we cannot understand God's plan.

Furnace Creek, Death Valley (Preacher)

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The concept of worship in the spectacular visual surroundings.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Energetic children on holiday, who saw no reason they should sit still and listen.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We wandered back to the cabin and packed the car for our departure.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None was provided, but we opened some bottles of juice we had purchased in Las Vegas.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – More a devotional than a church for visitors, but for the staff in the parks a spirit of community probably grows into a real church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, especially the concept that beauty stimulates worship.

Furnace Creek, Death Valley (Scenery)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The palms and mountains.
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