Noblesville First United Methodist Church has taken its services outdoors, providing worshippers with an opportunity to enjoy more than 100 acres at Teter Retreat and Organic Farm every Sunday morning.
“This is my first summer with Noblesville First United Methodist Church,” said Nicole Caldwell-Gross, who serves as lead pastor at the church. “But I could feel the excitement about outdoor church building long before its annual launch on Memorial Day weekend.”
The 120-acre property in Noblesville, at 10980 E. 221st St., sits along the White River north of the city. It was acquired in 1981 from Ruth Teter, an active member of the church who envisioned a family retreat center that became a reality soon after her death, Caldwell-Gross said.
“The property is a special place,” Caldwell-Gross said.
Besides the wooded outdoor worship space, the property has a lodge, a picnic pavilion and a cabin with four private units that each sleep seven people. Each space is available for daily rental year-round.
In 2015, the idea was born to expand the retreat’s purpose to include an organic farm to raise produce for local food pantries and feeding programs. Since 2016, the farm has donated more than 100,000 servings of fresh organic produce to local food pantries and provided on-farm outdoor educational programming to over 1,000 youth, according to the church.
“You would be hard-pressed to find a more holy space on a warm, clear Sunday morning, with the sounds of the birds, gentle breezes blowing, and rays of sunlight filtering through the trees,” Caldwell-Gross said. “It’s an easy space in which to feel grateful and blessed.”
Caldwell-Gross, who came to the church a year ago, was appointed as senior pastor in November 2022 and previously served as pastor of Mission and Mobilization at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis.
On a recent Sunday morning, more than 60 people gathered at Teter Retreat and Organic Farm to hear Caldwell-Gross focus on her sermon with a theme involving rest stops, urging those in attendance to take breaks as necessary when life gets busy with different activities and events.
Noblesville resident Kayla Rudy, who attended the service with her husband, Michael, and their 4-year-old son, Samuel, said she enjoys the opportunity to attend church outdoors.
“We actually love to attend the inside service, but when we get a chance, we love being here,” she said. “It’s a little shorter service and a little more relaxed and people dress a little more casually and you get to hear nature. We have a little guy and it’s nice for him to have a little more freedom and just hearing the birds and the animals, it’s fun for us.”
Noblesville resident Dee Galloway said she finds the experience at Teter Retreat and Organic Farm enjoyable. She described it as a “1-on-1” opportunity with God” and also pointed out that she enjoys the camaraderie of others around her.
It is an amazing place to come and worship because you feel like you’re so in touch with God,” she said. “Whether it be the birds singing or the rustle of the leaves, it’s an amazing place.”
Caldwell-Gross also said she enjoys being able to step into her role in an outdoor setting, which she noted is different in a good way.
“It’s a reminder that God needs us everywhere,” she said.
A brief history
Noblesville First United Methodist Church was founded in 1822 and today serves the spiritual needs of more than 1,600 members in and around Hamilton County, with outreach ministries that are rooted in love, connecting people, and planting seeds of hope.
The church will continue to offer outdoor worship services on Sunday mornings at Teter Retreat and Organic Farm, at 10980 E. 221st St., through Labor Day. Outdoor worship will be held beginning at 8:15 a.m., while traditional worship is also held indoors at the church, 2051 Monument St., at 9:45 a.m.
For more, visit noblesvillefirst.com.