After much well deserved anticipation, the 2016 Community of Christ Northern Ontario Reunion at Camp Noronto has come and gone, but as always, the memories, and the people, live in my heart. This was my third Noronto Reunion in a row, after an absence of 12 years, and it still feels so rejuvenating and awesome to return to North Monevtille each summer for some fun in the sun.
And did we ever have sun! I’m not sure that we have ever had better weather at any prior reunion that I’ve attended. It was sunny, and it was hot. Very, very hot. Unfortunately, the weather changed on the last full day, as it rained most of that day, and all of the next day, as we were packing up and heading home. After so much sun and heat, this seemed a bit of a letdown, especially for those who had to pack up tents and trailers in the rain. But at least it helped cool things off a bit.
Reunion 2016 was another great reunion. We had a new director, who did an awesome job, and everyone contributed in one way or another to the success of the week. For myself, the following are some of the highlights:
1) Having among our guest ministers not one, but two, World Church leaders: Apostle Art Smith (of the Council of Twelve Apostles) and President of Seventy Adam Wade (of the Ninth Quorum of Seventy). The ministry that they brought was spectacular, and I’m grateful to both of them for their willingness to share, worship, minister, and simply be present with us. We also had author and historian John Hamer, who ran a very poplar church history elective, and some of the Revitalization Ministers of the Canada East Mission center were on hand supporting the camp in various ways.
2) Watching and witnessing, and being transformed by the enthusiasm and passion of our 2016 (and first time) director. Thank you Cathy!
3) Having the opportunity to support World Accord via our annual pancake breakfast fundraiser. To learn more about this awesome organization, and how they help improve the lives of people all around the world, please click this link. This organization is among those in the forefront of groups affiliated with the church that are actively seeking to further the church’s mission initiative of “abolish poverty/end suffering” – which they have been doing long before the church had mission initiatives.
4) Being the host of the “Inside the Chapel Studio” portion of Noronto Wants to Know! (a morning gathering/celebration of the upcoming day). My piece involved interviewing a different person each day, and I really enjoyed doing this. My thanks to Cathy for asking me to take this own, and to Shaun for providing the music. And of course, to the people I got to interview: Art Smith, Dar Shepherdson (Bishop of Canada), John Hamer, Clair Shepherdson (one of the people who helped build the campgrounds over 50 year ago), and Adam Wade. Sadly, we did not think to video these interviews, but they were a lot of fun. Questions ranged from “what is your favorite favor of Jell-O” to “what are you most known for” to current church issues.
5) Digging up a time capsule. So, 27 years ago, the campers and staff who attended Senior High Camp 1989 buried a time capsule. For 25 years. But, none of us could remember when we buried it, so we were late by two years. But it was a lot of fun (and hard work) to dig it up (for atmosphere, we waited well after sunset), and a large crowd of people gathered around as we opened and revealed each item that has been sealed within, including a copy of the camp log book. Much of the stuff had disintegrated, but a few things survived, and it was a thrill to step back in time to that other camp now so long ago, and we fondly remembered some people at that camp who are no longer with us today (though I’m sure they were looking on).
6) Being reunited with friends I have not seen in years. Two people very important to my senior high camp years came to reunion this year, one of whom I had not seen in 18 years, and other it had been 24 years. It was so awesome seeing them again, and also getting to meet their families. There were a couple of moments when I was watching them each getting reacquainted with the campgrounds and old friends, that my throat got a little tight (just a little) as I remembered all the good times, and long talks, we had together over the course of several senior high camps, reunions, retreats, and fast-a-thons when we were campers and young staff members. We all have moments when we think fondly of someone form the past, and ask “will I ever see that person again?” Some we don’t expect to. Its very moving when, on occasion, we are proven wrong.
7) Sharing with close friends that I see each year at Reunion. When I returned to Reunion in 2014 someone said to me “welcome home”. That is what it feels like each year. There are so many people that I see at Reunion who live forever in my heart. I can’t really describe the bond between us all. What is truly amazing is that most of these people are individuals I only see once a year, at Noronto, and its often always been that way. In a few cases, I might have seen some at Junior high in July, as well as back-to-back at reunion and senior high camps in August, so, at most, tree weeks out of the year, and often just 1, and, since returning to Noronto three years ago, just once a year.
How do you form such amazing friendships with people you only see once, twice, or at the most, three a year? There are many people who attend Reunion who are very special to me, and who I truly count on seeing there every year. The long talks, the support, the trust, the comfort, can never be adequately acknowledged but I need each of you in my life, and although I may only see you once a year, you live forever in my heart.
8) Being tormented all week long by a pack of miniature humans, three of whom grabbed my ipad and decided one night to help me write this blog (I always begin this blog while still at Reunion).
Here are some pictures of me (that they took, with my camera, that they stole) as I reviewed their handiwork:
They insisted that that I include what they wrote on my behalf in this blog. Sadly, what they wrote was in my rough draft, so I have to go from memory, but this is, I believe, a perfect transcript of what they said:
“David is forever entitled to buy anything he wants from the canteen using any of our tabs, at any Norotno camp, until the end of time”
They also told me that I had to post a picture of them in this blog:
The never ending persecution that I endured from these mini-humans was a small price to pay for the glee I constantly received by refusing to tell them a ghost story that they desperately wanted me to tell them. Maybe next year. If your parents tell me that you behaved all year long.
9) Observing the love that everyone had for everyone at camp. It was so apparent to me that people truly love one another, and the laughter, tears, compassion, charity, support, hugs, smiles, and constant good-hearted teasing proves it.
10) Most importantly, sharing the entire week with my wife, who I first met at Camp Noronto in 1985. This was the first year, since I’ve been going back, that she was able to attend the whole week with me, and that made Reunion that much more meaningful for me.
So, those are just some of the highlights. But what makes Reunion special each year? Each year, I try to put into words what it is that makes Reunion awesome.
I was talking to someone during Reunion about this very question, about what makes Reunion such a great experience. She said two things that perhaps help explain it:
“its the people” and “camp friends are forever friends”.
I’ve been hesitant in the past to say its the people, because there are great people everywhere. But, I guess that is the heart of it, or perhaps, the people are the foundation. Everything else is built on the people who attend. The people really are special. Most are united by the church, and are shaped by the cause of Zion. And that becomes contagious, regardless of what a person’s background is. The whole experience just seems to bring out the best in each of us.
Reunion (as well as our other camps) is a safe environment. I’m not foolish enough to believe that we have a perfect track record. But, in my own experience, the camps I’ve attended at Noronto, and elsewhere in Community of Christ, are the safest experiences I’ve ever participated in: no masks are needed. People can be truly honest. They can be fully real. They can be vulnerable and they can risk.
Everyone can be open. There is laughter (the constant, free flowing, unashamed, uninhibited, laughter). There is support (the unconditional, sincere spiritual and emotional support). There is compassion (not feigned, not begrudged, but sincere, and I hope without judgment). There is charity (of time and willingness to help out). And, of course, there is love. Unconditional. Freely given.
But I still feel that there is more to it than just “we’re all just really amazing and awesome people”
The camp itself is special. I had the honor, during our first gathering this year, to share some of the history of the camp. I talked about the faith, hard work and willingness of so many people, to come together, well over 50 years ago, to build Camp Noronto. Out of a forest and swamp. I compared their story to the story of those who built Kirtland Temple. Because it is a similar story. A story of deep conviction and sense of God’s guiding hand.
And, like Kirtland Temple, when you walk the grounds of Camp Noronto, you feel like you are walking on holy ground. And I believe that to be the case. The grounds have been set apart. They have been dedicated to God, and they have been blessed by the presence of God, in the midst of well over a hundred camps since it was first established. God dwells there, and, God’s spirit permeates everything there. The camp has been consecrated. It is hallowed. It is blessed. It is holy. And the communities that form there are sacred communities.
The people, and, the grounds, help make Reunion awesome. What else?
What else makes Reunion so awesome? What makes some people come back here every year? What compels some people to come back after being away for a very long time? Why do some people agonize when they cannot come?
The entire Reunion or camp experience has power. It has the power of rejuvenation. It has the power of spiritual healing. It has the power of making someone feel loved and accepted. It has the power of nostalgia.
And as much as I find this to be true for Camp Noronto, I know that many people feel the same way about Ziontario, and Erie Beach, and McGowan’s Lake, and various other camps around the world.
Each of these camps brings us, whether we recognize it or not, a bit closer into the presence of God. And we dwell in God’s spirit together.
Its all a joint effort. The people, the forever friendships, the holy grounds, the presence of God, the nostalgia, the fun, the memories, the emotional and spiritual support, the joy, the hope, the love, the peace, etc. Each helps foster the rest, and the result is the Reunion experience, that we often describe as reflective of Zion. And for that one week each year, that is exactly what Reunion is: Zion, a sacred community. And I leave each year craving to go back, and excited by the potential that we have to make the next Reunion even better.
Some Specific Things About the 2016 Reunion That I Am Grateful For
Having a wife that “gets it”
Having a wife that was willing to attend Reunion with me
The director, admin. team, and cooks! Thank you!
Our guest minsters: John Hamer, Art Smith, Adam Wade, the CEM Revitalization ministers, and, for one day only, extra special guest minister Dar Shepherdson
Interviewing John, Art, Adam and Dar
A very special interview with Clair
All those who helped build Camp Noronto. There are no words to express our gratitude
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
The support provided by Community Place
Sharing in memories
Sharing some of my favorite scriptures
Celebrating church heritage
Renewing friendships with people after 18 and 24 years.
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
Having an extra sleeping bag to loan to someone who really needed it
The Legend of Bobby Jones
Digging up the time capsule
Canteen manager willing to re-stock with my favorite treats ( I love you Pat!)
Willingness of many people who could not attend the entire week still making the drive for part of it
The chipmunk who attended my class
Camp friends are forever friends
All the people I need to see each year