Building Community Around a Fire Bowl

Clockwise from top left:
Jerry Dennis uses a drill press to cut holes for the bolts.
Judy Dennis paints the steel legs.
Fred Stephens, Steve Stewart, and Scott Henderson seal the benches.
Jim Shoun and Wally Cordis work on the fire bowl.
Pastor Brandon Kharns uses a creative way to teach Sabbath school during the pandemic.
Lowell Spiva provided the rough-hewn benches.
Fred Stephens (L) and Steve Stewart plane the benches. In the background, Greg Fridley clears brush and weeds.

Building Community Around a Fire Bowl

by Daisy Stephens

Wanting to have a place to gather, sing songs, and enjoy the great outdoors, the Alegria group at the Placerville church decided it was time to create a gathering place. Alegria, meaning "joy" and "happiness," was the name chosen to represent the “over 50” group at Placerville. It was the dream of several of the church's senior members for a long time, and finally the plan for a fire bowl came together. The intention was to create a place for groups of all ages to come together in a comfortable environment and worship God in nature.

A planning team was launched by church member Fred Stephens. With no money or adequate resources, Stephens and the team prayed that God would find a way for this community project to take shape. God answered the team’s prayers by sending all the resources needed at little or no cost. Members Greg Fridley and Lemoin Brewer cleared the land. Lowell Spiva provided the timber for the benches, milled it, and delivered it at no cost. Bo Stewart at El Dorado Truss Company provided the steel for the legs and did the welding. Brandon and Jerry Dennis bore the holes for the rivets and poured the concrete for the walkway. Jim Shoun and Wally Cordis built the fire pit. Many others volunteered to sand and stain the benches, as well as paint bench legs.

The work began in August 2019 with the hope of using the fire bowl for the first time by March 2020. Then life changed. The pandemic was on everyone’s radar, and all activities came to a halt. Many months went by with the hope there would soon be a celebration – including sharing s’mores and good times – but with no end in sight, the newly finished gathering place set dormant.

“A lot of people miss fellowshipping with others,” said Brandon Kharns, Placerville church associate pastor and coordinator of family life. “It’s not been easy finding ways to be together when we’re standing six feet apart and wearing masks, but being able to be outdoors, get fresh air, and build relationships has been essential.”

Eventually small groups began to meet at the fire bowl to worship and spend quality time together. “To me, the fire bowl is about bringing family and church community together,” said Kharns.

“It is a way of creating a beautiful natural area beside the church’s existing pond,” said Stephens. “The plan was to bring members and the community together in a casual and relaxed setting to share the marvelous wonders of nature God has given us. Ministry is about connection, and there’s something powerful about being physically near each other, which 2020 suddenly took away from us. State and safety restrictions took away our tools and had us reevaluating our whole strategy - sometimes up to several times a week. We were scrambling to come up with ideas of what to do that would serve our members while also providing a safe environment. Coming from a camp ministry background, it seemed like all the pieces just fell together. The fire bowl was a perfect place for us to create a ministry that felt natural. To many people, it was a brief moment in a chaotic and scary time that felt normal and relaxed.”

The fire bowl has allowed the youth and church families to make connections during the pandemic. Even though the fire bowl didn’t get to have a proper unveiling, it’s been a blessing to know that many church groups have been able to gather for vespers and outdoor Sabbath School events.