A few weeks ago I had the joyful privilege of driving through Yellowstone National Park in northwestern Wyoming.  It was striking to be a part of American history as we drove beneath the arched stone entrance at Gardiner, the one featured in many photos of President Theodore Roosevelt that mark the birth of the National Park System.  It was moving to be a part of such a beautiful and unique landscape, a place where half (half!) the world’s geysers are located.  We saw a black bear and cub foraging for berries, several sulfur-spewing hot pots, iconic Old Faithful, endless stands of lodgepole pine and douglas fir, and the crystal clear waters of Yellowstone Lake.  
I am shocked to say, however, that what impressed this National Park junkie most on this excursion was not the geology from millions of years ago or the power of “America’s best idea” to inspire hope that good governance and generous-minded politics can create moments of awe and wonder for thousands of co-owners of a stunning landscape.  What impressed me the most was the hospitality of the staff serving the Park’s visitors.  Yep, all that stunning natuarl beauty and I couldn’t help but be distracted by the hospitality of the staff.  We met rangers guiding tours and keeping traffic flowing, souvenir shopkeepers graciously explaining for the umpteenth time the differences between two keepsake shotglasses, and baristas calmly making coffee and selling cookies in the midst of a crush of tour bus thrill-seekers.  While wondering what drew these staffers to spend time serving in Yellowstone I made the assumption that it’s because they love the experience of being there.  And though it may be a leap I became convinced that there was great joy for them in seeing others encounter a beloved place, a sacred space.  I got to wondering if visitors to our congregations are ever struck by similar experiences.  And I hoped they are.
These evangelists of natural wonder model for us what it can be like for we who call ourselves Christian and who regularly participate in worship and faith formation.  They simply found a spot to occupy that served the goal of helping others encounter their beloved Yellowstone.  None of them had to be Yellowstone, or fully comprehend Yellowstone, or master the historical significance of Yellowstone.  None of them did it all on their own (I counted 13 staff members that we had significant interactions with in our 24 hours!).  They simply fell in love with it, lived gratefully in its midst, took pride in being a small part of a much bigger plan, and dedicated many hours to creating the possibility for Yellowstone to grab hold of the minds and hearts of others.  Thank God for these surprising models of a faithful life.  Now if only we can figure out how to make those cool brimmed park ranger hats standard Sunday morning attire.
Pastor Brian Julin-McCleary
American Lutheran Church