Return to Zion: Reunion 2017

Photo credit: Adeliade M.

Hey check out my blogs on Reunion 2014, Reunion 2015 and Reunion 2016

I honestly wasn’t planning on writing a blog about this year’s Reunion. Since I started going back to Reunion in 2014, I’ve written a blog about each one, and three reunion-related blogs seemed sufficient. But I always leave Reunion with a desire to share something about it.

This year I noticed a couple of recurring themes. First, there was an increased interest, partially driven by my myself, in learning more about the history of the campgrounds, and preserving the stories about them. This was in fact something that began last year. During the 2016 opening service, our camp director asked me to read an excerpt from a long overview of how the camp was built. And, later that week, I interviewed one of the people who was there on the first work day, Oct. 10th, 1959.

This year, I interviewed someone else about the history of the camp, and when we reached the end of our time, I heard the audience collectively groan over the fact that the interview had to come to an end – they were so interested in the stories being told, that they wanted to keep listening.

Later in the week, I was talking to the person I interviewed last year (Clair), and came up with the idea of doing a more in-depth interview, and having it video-recorded. And we did that. One down, and several more to record next year. We really want to get as many of these first-hand accounts of how the camp was located, and cleared, and built, recorded so that future generations can understand what was involved, and have a greater appreciation for the campgrounds.

Part of this exploration of our history also included some references to our reunion experience being like a glimpse of Zion. One person, in his testimony during the closing service, used the term “City of Enoch”. We have something truly awesome and miraculous, and it really does generate within our hearts a sense of being caught up in Zion for one week each year.

After the closing service, I felt moved to talk to one of the kids who attended this year’s reunion, and I asked her “what did you learn during the closing service today?” I don’t think she quite knew what response I was looking for, so I told her “You learned that this camp is extremely important to a lot of people” and I continued by saying that while I don’t know if she can yet understand why that is the case, it was my hope that she will always remember just how deeply important this camp is to people – and not just a few, but a great number of individuals. I hope that she, and the other kids, are already, even if they don’t really get why, are coming to realize that there is something very special about the campgrounds, and the camps that take place there.

The second recurring theme I noticed was the tendency for so many people to talk about how special Reunion is to them, and how the week is rejuvenating. Reunion is a time for spiritual healing and renewal, and people perceive that, and keep coming back for more. Some of these people are not members of the church, but they come back every year, and now bring others with them.

But it is the core values of Community of Christ, and our way of approaching doctrine, theology, along with our culture, calling, outlook, gentleness, compassion, etc., that empower Reunion to be the experience that it is. I honestly don’t know if any other organization could have such an experience, and sustain it year-after-year.

I believe the total number of people attending reunion this year was higher than last year, and it always amazing to see that happen. And I saw some new faces, and some familiar faces that I had not seen there for many years. This is of course what we want to see. It is so awesome to have new people join us, and to see people who have been away for so many years, as I was before 2014 (which was my first in 12 years).

I had the privilege of being the camp photographer, and the pictures I most enjoyed taking were of people visiting with each other. It is such a joy to see hugs, laugher, deep conversations, and fellowship in all of it’s various forms.

I was troubled by a couple of things this past week. As I wandered about the camp on my continual quest to snap pictures of the campers and the grounds, I noticed that, although attendance was up for the camp itself, the number of people showing up for the various events seemed down. I totally understand and appreciate that not every event throughout the day will be appealing to every person.

And I’m no exception. There were some things that I was only mildly interested in. But as I was driving home, I felt that I want to challenge myself to be more involved next year. It can be a bit too easy to hide behind my camera, and use it as an excuse to stay behind the scenes. Sometimes, I’ll have to do that in order to get all the pictures I want to take, but I need to find the right balance between taking pictures, and being directly involved in the daily activities.

And I’m hoping other people will do so the same, and join me in my challenge, applying it to themselves. The various programs throughout the day, the evening worship services, the electives, recreation, etc., all of these events become more powerful as the number of people attending them increase.

Maybe a particular class or event or activity is not something you would normally be inclined to attend, but I want to ask that you do so anyhow – as many as possible. For two reasons. First, even though the event might not be something that excites you, your own presence might be significant to someone else. For example, a lot of our events involve group discussions. What you say in such a discussion might be a message that someone else desperately needs to hear. If you don’t attend, that opportunity is lost.

Even things like campfire are important to attend. Maybe campfires are not really your thing, but your willingness to be there, to be seen by kids, to participate in a song or skit, might have a great impact on them, or the youth, or even the other adults.

This all might seem far-fetched to you, but I’m very serious. You don’t know the amazing impact you might have on someone by being present in the right place, at the right moment. Do not diminish such opportunities by dismissing them before they occur.

The other reason why I think it is important that we attend as many of the events as we can each day is that if, over time, participation continues to drop, events will start being cancelled. And the infrastructure of the reunion week will begin to fall apart. People will feel like they have nothing to do, and will leave feeling less fulfilled. Once this starts to happen, if left unchecked, Reunion will become a thing of the past. We cannot allow that to happen. So, it is imperative that we strive to attend as much as we can. And who knows…maybe some of the things that we might not expect to get much out of will turn out be great.

I noticed something else this week that is somewhat related to the above. A lot of people did not arrive on the first day, and left before the last day. This is often unavoidable, and I fully understand that many people have to make choices with how they use their time, and this is not at all a rebuke or criticism on anyone for arriving late or leaving early.

But I do want to put out another challenge. I would like to encourage people to attempt to attend 2018 (and beyond) for the entire week. Saturday to Saturday. Reunion is such a positive and powerful experience that it is worth it. Whether you live close or far from Camp Noronto, try to be fully present at each future Reunion, from start to finish. It realty is worth it. The dates for 2018 are already set: August 11th to the 18th. Book that week now. Plan now to be there for the whole week.

The reason I feel so strongly about this is similar to what I said before: you don’t know how your presence could be profoundly important to someone else. Its not just the events, or the campfires, but the conversations at meals, the walks with old and new friends, the late-night chats, the trailer visits, the joining together on some project, etc.

You can’t be part of these things when you are not on the grounds. And of course, the more days you are on the grounds, the more people we will have each day to support the various planned activities throughout the day.

Again, related to what I said earlier, if a trend develops where people are just not showing up and always leaving early, etc., an undesirable impact on the viability of Reunion itself will be unavoidable. I’ve seen it happen before with Toronto Reunion. That reunion became extinct. It once was a major reunion, with 500 people attending each year at Camp Noronto. It shrank, and eventually shifted to Campbellville, continued to shrink and was eventually cancelled, never to be resumed again. I’m not being dramatic. This is simply what transpired. We cannot let that happen with Northern Ontario Reunion. But Reunion will not “always be there” if people do not support it as much as possible. There will not “always be next year” if “this year” becomes, every year, smaller and smaller.

So, my second challenge to everyone is to really strive to commit to attending as much of Reunion as you can, ideally from Saturday to Saturday. We have a great kickoff each year on the first Saturday, and a beautiful closing worship service on the second Saturday. And these can only improve with more people, as will all the days in-between. And each day that you are there, please support, as much as you can, the various activates and events scheduled throughout the day and night.

And if you can’t make it for the whole week, if you have to arrive late, or leave early, or both; if you can only be there for half a week, or even a day or a few hours, whatever you can manage, please come anyhow! Everyone is welcome, regardless of when you arrive, need to leave, etc. If you think that everything I wrote above means that you won’t be welcome or shouldn’t come if you can’t attend for the whole week, nice try! You’re wrong! You can’t get out of attending that easily! Life happens. We all know that. So, if you can’t be there for the whole week, please know that you are still very welcome, and your presence is greatly desired. And everyone who is not able to attend for the whole week, or at all, please know that you are missed when you are not there.

And please know that I miss you throughout the year. And I miss the people who attend Reunion because they dwell in my heart forever. My friends from camp are among my closest, most cherished, deepest, and oldest friends in my life. As one of my friends said at Reunion last year, camp friends are forever friends. And my camp friends are part of who I am, and I love you all so much. I can talk to you, I can trust you. You make me laugh. You listen to me, and you challenge me. There is so much that I get from you that I don’t get from anyone else. That is probably why I married one of you. And while I love my wife most of all, I love you as well, and want to have as much time with you at each camp as possible. Our friendships to me are sacred.

Some highlights this year for me included: the morning interviews that I had the privilege of doing (thank you to everyone who agreed to participate), a longer, hour+ long interview I got to do with Clair Thursday night on the history of Camp Noronto (which was video recorded – more details on that will be shared as soon as the video is posted on YouTube), the campfire on the rock, catching up with my closet friends, getting better acquainted with some of the kids of some of my longtime friends, late night chats, Pat’s awesome snacks at her nightly trailer parties, the salads (I actually enjoyed them this year), the surprise engagement (congratulations!), the pig roast (wait, that is something I hope to see next year), the support for World Accord, the way everyone extended unconditional love and welcome to three teenage Syrian refugees that joined us for the entire week, and everything else that made Reunion 2017 awesome (including all the people who volunteered to what had to be done); and finally, learning (once again) that it is ok to tell people “I love you”, and realizing that some people need to hear that.

Some Specific Things About the 2017 Reunion That I Am Grateful For
Having a wife that “gets it”
Having a wife that was willing to attend Reunion with me (even though she couldn’t make it this year)
The director, admin. team, and cooks! Thank you!
Our guest minsters: David Lloyd & John Hamer and, for one day only, extra special guest minister Dar Shepherdson
Interviewing David, Nadine, Mark, Lou and Alfredo
Video 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
Great food
Taking one or two pictures and videos
The support provided by Community Place 
Sharing in memories
Exploring the Book of Mormon
All the people who support and take care of the grounds
Late night talks
Not being judged
Trusting & Being Trusted
Cherished friends
Higher attendance
Willingness of many people who could not attend the entire week still making the drive for part of it
Hearing Clair talk about the City of Enoch
Seeing the potential of Zion
All the people I need to see each year

Artist: Natasha B.