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Boat Church

When the weather is warm, many families like to spend their time close to the water.  But at one popular lake, that doesn’t mean they have to miss church—or leave their boats. Boat Church is  a worship service where flip-flops are welcomed. Reed Galin reports.

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(Locator: Warwick, Ga.)

It’s Sunday morning, and Frank and Mitzi Lott don’t have to choose between going to the lake… and going to church.

Frank Lott, Boat Church Member: “We’re going to Boat Church.”

Mitzi Lott, Boat Church Member: “It’s the prettiest sanctuary in the world.”

The Lotts attend Boat Church, an outdoor service on the shores of Lake Blackshear.  It’s a ministry of Warwick United Methodist Church in nearby Warwick, Georgia.

The Rev. Dorsia Atkinson, Warwick United Methodist Church: “Got a hammer in my tool bag.  I got some pliers.”

The location isn’t the only thing unusual about Boat Church.  The Reverend Dorsia (“dorsie”) Atkinson uses everyday objects to teach lessons--and his messages are known to have a sizzle.

The Rev. Dorsia Atkinson, Warwick United Methodist Church: “I try to create sermons where I interact with the people. I’ve brought bicycles out here.  I’ve brought my golf clubs out.   I have brought a steak out here and grilled it.”

Atkinson says it’s a church without pretenses or dress codes, where all ages can worship and enjoy nature, and even pets are welcome.

Addine Harrell, Boat Church Member: “Jessie would not miss coming to Boat Church on Sunday. When we get the boat key, she’s waiting at the back door.”

Some question the unconventional worship at a church where the collection is taken up in minnow buckets.

The Rev. Dorsia Atkinson, Warwick United Methodist Church: “We’ve had people say ‘You can’t do that.’”

But the Boat Church is now bigger than Atkinson’s traditional church, growing in the last six years from a handful of members to more than 200 at some services.

Amy Carter, Boat Church Member: “It speaks to me.  Because I am an outdoors, I’m a tree hugger, I guess.”

Pam Campbell, Boat Church Member: “Dorsia has been a shot in the arm for us.  He has brought passion to the church.”

And those attending Boat Church say there’s nowhere else they’d rather be.

Carlysle Sullivan, Lake Resident: “We’re out on the water and I use the cliché in the morning, ‘I thank the Lord for sharing Heaven on earth.’”

Warwick United Methodist Church’s Boat Church meets outdoors May through September.  Then the informal services move indoors for the fall and winter. SInce this story posted in 2007, The Rev. Dorsia Atkinson, Jr has moved on to pastor a new church start in Georgia but the boat ministry continues.

For more information on the Boat Church, call 229-535-6558 or visit the Warwick United Methodist Church Website.

Posted September 6, 2007