It’s not a stretch to say most people living near the Florida coast love to get out in the sunshine and enjoy the coastal amenities. So, why not do that for worship?
Yvonne Levesque thought just that after attending a Methodist conference last year. She immediately returned to Pine Ridge Fellowship in Deltona and asked her friend and church coworker, Cathy Mitchell, to help her start an outdoor Fresh Expressions they call Adventure Chapel.
“Basically, it’s about indoor versus outdoor,” Levesque said. “I started surfing when I was 40 and started paddle boarding. I wanted to meet people. God has been leaning on me to meet people that are not already Christians.”
|Adventurers set out at New Smyrna Beach. Boards were provided by LayZboards.|
Before the conference, she started a Meet Up site, a web-based way to invite others to any of a number of activities.
“It was a group for women who paddleboard together. I got to know the outfitter, then went to an annual conference and met a guy who was doing a Fresh Expressions in Jacksonville with kayaking. I asked a lot of questions about how to set it up,” she said.
“On the way home from the conference I called this outfitter, and she was very excited about it. She is a Christian and turns out to be my person of peace, Emily Jones. She offered the paddleboards, which are usually $45 for event rentals, for $20 for our first adventure.”
She posted the event on social media through Facebook and Meet Up, and 50 people – including 16 women – quickly signed up. They shared lunch, prayer and the Word. A small Fresh Expressions grant paid for the lunch.
Levesque and Mitchell soon announced a two-day hike and campout, which immediately fell flat. No one signed up for it. They were not to be deterred, however.
Adventure Chapel has three more paddle board meet-ups scheduled and they’ll keep trying new ideas, Mitchell said. Well, why not? It worked well the first time.
“Most who came were non-believers,” Levesque said. “One hundred percent of the people were people we didn’t know, people we had never met before and as far as we could tell, only one of them was a believer. That really spurred us on. Since then the weather has been cold, but we’ve tried a few things. The overnight hiking and camping adventure, we didn’t get anyone signed up, but have more days scheduled in May and June for paddleboarding.
“We know there are people like us that like doing things a little more adventurous but also want friendship and a spiritual element.”
Patience and perseverance is the key.
“I know that we had high hopes for it and it hasn’t taken off quite as quickly as we had hoped, but it’s going, which is the main thing,” Mitchell said. “Everybody wants to jump in and have everything happen quickly. That’s not the way it always happens. We are learning as we go and figuring things out.”
For Jones, the owner of LayZboards, it’s a blessing to be able to help. The relationship began last year when Levesque reached out on social media and a followed with a note of appreciation for the way she had helped a women’s group by making the experience affordable.
“A few months later, she was able to come to one of our events, and we hit it off as friends. When she talked about starting this non-profit, I felt it was right up her alley and something she was motivated and dedicated to, so I offered to help,” she said. “We got together and started planning. We sold out all paddle boards and kayaks. They provided lunch for all customers and had a little prayer, which was great.
“So, now we have three coming up in the next few months. Normally I charge $45 for an event, but I am offering it for $20 or if someone really wants to come and can’t afford it, we’ll work that out.”
For Levesque, holding outdoor activities was natural.
“I was raised in California, and our family did a lot outside,” Levesque said. “My husband, one of the first gifts he gave me was a pair of hiking boots.
That created an even greater love of the outdoors.
“I’m a real listener of podcasts, and two I listen to all the time are “First 40 Miles” (a Christian couple that hikes) and one called “She Explores” about women in the outdoors. I think it’s a lifestyle thing for our family. My dad made it that way for us.”
Meeting adults that have the desire to be outdoors, but maybe didn’t have the time, is what this Fresh Expressions is about, Levesque said.
“We see that as a desire to be in creation, something God put in us. They have the same desire but don’t know how to put it into action, to see the sunset, smell the outdoors and feel the water.
“The only measurement we have is whether people stayed in the Meet Up group, and not only have they stayed, but others have added. Right now, we have 75 members on the Meet Up. These are on the periphery. They are watching to see what we are doing next.”
This is the first Fresh Expressions for Levesque’s church, which has about 200 active members.
“We have had a bit of a hard time helping people to understand what it’s about,” she said.
“We seem to be an outreach-oriented church willing to try all kinds of outreaches, but people are perplexed at the idea of having fun and doing ministry at the same time. We would be on these adventures anyway. We hope others will come along and we can share with them.”