Last year I attended Northern Ontario Reunion for the first time in 12 years. When I left, I was already committed to attending this year’s reunion. And I remember thinking “I hope I’m not one of those people who goes back once, and then does not come back again”. Well, I went back, and once again, I found myself immersed in a community reflective of Zion.
And we continued, just as we did last year, to love each other. And to laugh. All the time. And sometimes to express frustrations, support each other, and even cry. We were there for each other. We came from near and far (Ontario, Canada West, Australia, mainland USA, and Hawaii), and we formed a sacred community, a Zionic community, during which time, for one short week, we focused on God, and one another. We were in the world, but not of the world.
Last year, one of my friends at reunion described being at Camp Noronto like being in a bubble. It is like that. In fact, as I think about it, I feel like after we arrive, we are temporarily taken away from the world, like the city of Enoch, and empowered to rejuvenate. This year I said to someone that Camp Noronto is a healing place. And later on in the week, I heard someone else say the same thing. And it is. It is a place of spiritual renewal. It is a sacred place, and when you walk there, you walk on holy ground.
I missed the people that were there last year but were not able to be there this year. And I missed the people who were there prior to my own long absence, and who have yet to come back. I regret very much all the years I was away, and I hope other people won’t make that same mistake. If you have not been to Reunion for a long time, its time to come back. And while its great to have people drop in for a day, you’ll get far more out of it if you come for the whole week. Don’t keep putting it off. Reunion 2015 just ended, but its not too early to plan to attend Reunion 2016. Make that a commitment to yourself, because if you don’t, by the time May rolls around, you may not be able to swing it. Book that week off work before someone else beats you to it!
One of the highlights for me was seeing the tremendous leadership provided by young adults. We were very fortunate to have three guest ministers from Community Plus (the Australian offshoot of Community Place) join us, and they were very busy providing ministry to young adults and senior highs, through classes and evening activities, as well as providing ministry to everyone through preaching and the never-to-be underestimated ministry of presence. We were blessed to have them share with us throughout the week. And they challenged us. They pushed us. And it was refreshing to experience that, especially from the young adults.
Our Australian friends were not the only young adults who greatly impressed me. We are so incredibly fortunate to have so many active young adults willing to give up a week (or, in many cases, two weeks, as most stayed on for senior high camp) to attend a church camp. And their energy and enthusiasm and fresh ideas are so vital to sustaining our church now and for years to come. They are a resource that we simply cannot squander.
As always we had our classes and worship services. I was privileged to do two “Under the Pine Tree” sessions (this is a 3pm gathering for anyone who wants to, to talk about a particular topic, different each day, in a group sitting outside – though both of mine were indoors, as I forgot to print my notes and had to use my iPad which does not display very well outside. Sorry).
My first session was called “Divine Changes” and outlined various changes that God has made to His church or the priesthood, as noted in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Inspired Version, the existence of which is something most people are not aware of (the changes, not the books). The second session was an overview on our Latter Day Seekers ministry. We also had a session on MEADS, and a great overview on the incredible work being done by World Accord.
Our week included lots of fun activities such as our annual Family Day (complete with lots of field games, team room, face painting, toonie table and the option to sample some delicious and, er, dubious Australian treats), sports, swimming, fishing, campfires, a talent show, movies-that-matter (Jesus Christ Super Star, Angels in the Outfield and The Game Stands Tall).
We were also given the opportunity to give deliberate consideration to future reunions, focusing on what we would like to see, how to get more people to attend, and what we can do to ensure that maintenance is taken care of. This resulted in a tremendous amount of ides being shared, and the creation of a Noronto Reunion Facebook group that we can use to keep this critical dialogue going all year long.
I tried to spend my week interacting with all ages. I was very interested in observing and listening to young adults and seniors; and noting the contrasting different views that each has on various topics.
I also tried to spend my time sharing and talking with people with diverse and often oppositional stances on our theological matrix. All of this really helped me see the reunion experience through the filter of our many different demographics, and I’m still pondering some of the insights that I think I gained from my conversations with them.
It is often during these spontaneous encounters, in just a small group of people sitting around campfire, or a one-on-one conversation in the gazebo, that Reunion really comes alive for me, as you really get to know different people and where they are coming from, what has shaped them, and, if possible, how you can support them, and in turn, be supported by them. Those late night walks with a close friend can often result in redemption.
And that word, redemption, followed me around all week at Reunion. We love each other, we support each other, we glimpse, with each other, the Kingdom of Zion. And through these experiences, we are rejuvenated, we are healed, and we experience a measure of personal redemption. Not redemption in the sense of salvation, but a kind of redemption from our own burdens, from the things that often threaten to overwhelm us, or even drown us. And we experience this personal redemption as we let go of our own guilt, and learn to not only forgive each other, but to make progress with self-forgiveness.
Will you be there in 2016? Who has ministered to you over the years? Will you be that person to someone else? Will you help foster personal redemption in the lives of other people? What does reunion mean to you? Leave me a comment here or on Facebook to share what your week meant to you.
And commit to being there in 2016.
Some Specific Things About the 2015 Reunion That I Am Grateful For
Having a wife that supported me going to Reunion
Having a wife that understands the ordeal of leaving Reunion
The director, doctor, nurses, and cook (thank you!)
Our young adult guest ministers (Alicia, Brodey, Rachelle & Sam)
Everyone who made Reunion what it was
Seeing so many old friends
Making new friends
Late night walks
Taking one or two pictures and videos
Three blessings of children
The tremendous leadership provided by Community Place & Community Plus
Sharing in memories
Conversing about the Book of Mormon
Lying in the field with a bunch of people watching the meteor shower
Facilitating Divine Changes
Talking about Latter Day Seekers
Learning what matters to Young Adults and Older Adults
Celebrating church heritage
Doug’s Wed. night session
Seeing people’s willingness to consider the future of Camp Noronto
All the people who support and take care of the grounds
Late night talks
Not being judged
Trusting & Being Trusted