What is Communion?

Communion Service, World Conference, 2013*

Adapted from a talk I did for CommumityPlace, October 7th, 2015

Communion  (also known as the Lord’s Supper, and in other denominations as the Eucharist or the sacrament**), is one of those things that is multi-dimensional. We celebrate it for a lot of reasons.

When we think about Communion we often think of it only in the context of remembering that Christ died for the sins of the world. That’s part of it, and I like to acknowledge that part, but its only one dimension of the greater purpose of communion.

I prefer to think of communion as an opportunity. It’s a chance for me to renew my covenant with Jesus Christ. 

That is something I take very seriously, and I think it warrants being very deliberate with my own personal preparation to take communion. And its up to each of us to decide how we want to do that.

When we participate in communion, we renew our covenants with Jesus Christ. But, what does that mean?  Those are not just fancy words; they have a practical meaning in our spiritual lives.  When we renew our covenants with Jesus Christ, we are reaffirming our willingness to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

We are, in essence, re-committing to follow the teachings of Christ, and to make a promise to respond. This is what it means to be a disciple. Anyone can be a follower, but a disciple is someone who responds. 

A disciple is someone who wants to be invitational, who wants to nurture holistic, Christ-like relationships, and who wants to build Zionic, or sacred communities.

A disciple is someone who wants to help the church resonate with people, and to help it be relevant and redemptive.

A disciple is someone who helps other people recognize the blessings they have received, and who understand the blessings they themselves have received, and who expresses gratitude to God for those blessings.

So when we participate in communion, we renew our commitment to doing, or being all of those things.

I also look at communion as an additional form of baptism.  When we are baptized, we are forgiven for our sins.  I look at each communion meal that I participate in as an additional opportunity to be forgiven for my sins, to be spiritually cleansed.  It’s a reset.   I know that each time I participate in communion, God is making peace with me, even if I don’t make peace with God, or with myself.

Communions is therefore a redemptive experience, and I think that it’s important that we remember that. When we go through those periods where we experience personal guilt, when we’re disappointed in ourselves, when we feel unworthy, we can come to the communion table, and we can count on God forgiving us. We can count on being redeemed once more in the eyes of God.

And we know that this is true, because we know that God views all people as having immeasurable and equal worth.

And when we approach communion this way, we need to be willing to give up our burdens. We need to freely give up whatever it is that wears us down.  That is also part of the process of achieving some measure of personal redemption.

But communion is also a chance for us to make new covenants with God. When we renew our baptismal covenant, we can also make additional covenants, challenging ourselves to increase our response to God.  That is what I said to my congregation just this past Sunday, I asked them to make additional covenants with Jesus Christ, “to more fully respond to the ever increasing need to heal the world”

And we can increase our response to God in any number of ways. That might include living our lives in harmony with our church’s Nine Enduring Principles, especially Unity in Diversity, and the Worth of All Persons.

Or, we might increase our response by embracing our mission initiatives, such as abolish poverty & end suffering.

When all is said and done, communion is an opportunity for rejuvenation, personal redemption, spiritually cleansing, gratitude and reaffirming our covenants with Jesus Christ. Its about redemption, renewal, and response.

*Presided over by the general officers of the church. President Veazey and President Savage served communion to each other, and then they served the other leaders, who then served an army of volunteers (and the choir) who served everyone else. Its a very impressive thing to watch.

**In Community of Christ the term “sacrament” does not refer exclusively to the Lord’s Supper, but is used in reference to eight sacred rites (what some faiths call ordinances) that require priesthood authority.  The others are: Administration to the Sick, Baptism, Blessing of Children, Confirmation, Evangelist’s Blessing, Marriage, and Ordination.

Thanksgiving Gratitude

It occurred to me this morning that I’ve never written a Thanksgiving blog, but as it’s the Thanksgiving Long Weekend, I thought why not (for those of you reading this who are confused, Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October).

As we all know, the real point of Thanksgiving is of course to give thanks.  Its not just a reminder of pilgrims celebrating the harvest or of Frobisher making a safe sea voyage.  It’s not just an opportunity to spend time with family and eat a set list of dishes that we dare not ever deviate from (tangent: I’ve still not recovered from that time, about 25 years ago that the cook at a Thanksgiving Youth Retreat I attended decided to serve pumpkin cake instead of pumpkin pie – you don’t mess with the Thanksgiving menu people!)

Thanksgiving is about taking time, in a very deliberate way, to express gratitude.

Yet I think the purpose or point of Thanksgiving is to go a little deeper.  I think it’s meant to help encourage us to be thankful all the time, not just once a year.  If we only give thanks once a year, it becomes simply a shallow routine, something we do out of some sense of obligation, or perhaps even a fear of bad karma if we don’t do it.  And if that is the only reason we have to give thanks, we’ve learned nothing, and we are not truly appreciating all that we have, all the blessings that we benefit from every day.

The concept of giving thanks, or of expressing gratitude, is something I run into from time to time at church.  My father has told me on more than one occasion that we don’t do a very good job of thanking people for all that they do, which is rather sad, since the vast majority of people who do things for the church are volunteers.

As pastor of my congregation, I have often failed to do a good job of expressing appreciation and gratitude for what people do.  So I’ve been trying to be more deliberate with expressing gratitude, and for just appreciating what everyone does, *and* who everyone is.  Not just at church, but in general.

Being thankful also helps to counter taking people for granted.  This behavior is something we all do, and its been on my mind a lot for about two years or so now.  I’ve been very slowly working on a blog on that topic, but it’s been a bit tricky to figure out what I want to say about it.

But it does really concern me that it seems to the normal, default conduct of humans to take people for granted – ironically, the people they care about the most might be the people they take for granted the most.

However, I like to hope that if we can make being thankful, or expressing gratitude, showing appreciation, etc., second nature, we might be able to minimize how often we take people for granted.  And we need to ensure that it’s not just people that we avoid taking for granted.  Every aspect of our lives is something that we potentially take for granted, and therefore, we need to be deliberate in our appreciation for everything that we have that we benefit from.  Like heat in the winter time.  When the freezing rain storm hit in 2013, a lot of things that we took for granted were gone: refrigeration, light, heat, entertainment, etc.  Then it call came back.  But did we learn anything from that experience? Did we learn anything from the grid failure in 2003?

Expressing gratitude can also be done in a variety of ways. It does not have to be about always saying “thanks”, though that is important, and I believe that people really appreciate being thanked. But showing appreciation can include treating someone to lunch, being available for others, giving recognition for countless hours of volunteer work, or any number of other ways of showing people that you love and care about them.

We can also express gratitude by being compassionate and by being charitable.   If we support worthy causes, we acknowledge that we are fortunate, and want to do something to help others.

Being thankful, or expressing gratitude, or showing appreciation, or whatever you want to call it, is probably something that needs to become a spiritual discipline that we each practice, daily.  If we can do this, I think it will help us to simply be more aware of what matters most.   And perhaps the best way we can get in the habit of doing this daily, or weekly, or whatever works best, is to list the things we are thankful for.  And perhaps to ensure that we keep that list in the forefront of our minds, we need to have the courage to share that list with other people.

So what I am I thankful for?  There is so much.  To begin with…

I’m thankful for the gift of life itself.   I’m grateful that I exist.
I’m thankful for the life of my wife, for her willingness to share her life with mine.  I love you.
I’m grateful for my parents, my in-laws, my sisters, my brothers-in-law, and my nieces & nephews.  I love you all.
I’m thankful for all my friends from camp, reunions, and all the formative experiences of my youth.  The years do not dim what you mean to me.  You’re always in my heart, and I will love you always.
I’m grateful for having been born and raised in my church, and for all the friends I’ve made in the church throughout Ontario, Canada, the United States, and around the world.
I’m thankful for the technology that exists that has enabled me to make friends with some of the people who live in Africa, Europe, and elsewhere, as I would not know them otherwise.
I’m grateful for the friends I grew up with, the “gang”, the friends I still keep in touch with.  Hate to say, it but I love you guys.  Distance and time do not diminish these foundational friendships.
I’m thankful for visionaries, who are trying to push the church forward.
I’m grateful for unity in diversity.
I’m thankful for Community Place+ which is making a real difference, and I’m grateful that it’s foundational members have persevered through turmoil after turmoil, never losing their passion or sense of assurance that what they are building is right.  Things will get better. This is your time.
I’m grateful for Community Plus+ which had the willingness and courage to create it’s own interpretation of the model built by Community Place+
I’m thankful for my job, which though it frustrates me from time to time, provides me with my income.
I’m grateful for all my friends at work, many of whom I’ve truly come to love and value, as they help me get through those hard days that we all have.
I’m thankful for my vacations.
I’m grateful for relaxing days because in my own weakness, I still hate the hard days.
I’m thankful to be Canadian because we see the world diferently.
I’m grateful for different ideas, opinions, viewpoints, convictions, as they help push me to be more honest with myself.
I’m thankful for all the people in the church Facebook groups who put up with my never-ending meandering back-and-forth debates.
I’m grateful for my childhood, for Rockfern & Robert’s Island
I’m thankful for Noronto, Ziontario, Erie Beach.
I’m grateful for the leaders of my church.  I can’t imagine the pressure, stress, and crap they have to deal with.
I’m thankful for my health & for free healthcare.
I’m grateful for all that I own, for having a warm house to live in, a car to drive (when my wife lets me) and even for all the frivolous things that we all purchase (do I really need video games at my age?  Yes).
I’m thankful for my favorite band and for having multiple opportunities to see Rush in concert.
I’m grateful for the courage and sacrifice of all those who fought in wars to defend freedom.
I’m thankful I’ve never had to fight in a war.
I’m grateful for my dog and for all my other pets.
I’m thankful for my LDS friends who are willing to explore in perpetuity, just as I do.
I’m grateful for the Seekers community, for their courage to explore something new.
I’m thankful for everyone who has been a mentor to me, or who I’ve learned something from. You’d be surprised who this would include.
I’m grateful for my wife’s love and for supporting me in all that I do.
I’m thankful for everything I’ve overlooked but should acknowledge.

What are you thankful for?  This is not meant to be some sort of lets-all-just-shower-each-other-with-mutual-appreciation.  Go deeper. What do you need to be thankful for?

Remembering Reunion 2015

norontosunsetRead my thoughts on Reunion 2014 here.

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).
visitingMy 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
Great food
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
Canteen
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
Cherished friends

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Community Place: Hope of Zion?

cpbannerThis summer I had the very good fortune to be able to attend the 2014 Northern Ontario Reunion, and I was deeply impressed throughout the week by the leadership and ministry provided by Community Place.

What is Community Place?  It is an initiative in Ontario that is striving to be a new expression of the Community of Christ church experience.  As I understand it, it emerged out of our Senior High Camp program, from a desire to keep the camp experience ongoing, beyond the confines of camp itself.

What I really admire about Community Place is that it is a young adult initiative.  Most of it’s key people are young adults, and the events that they plan & host are structured with young adults in mind.  However, the events are not “young adult events” but are open to everyone.  All are welcome, and being an inclusive group is part of Community Place’s mandate.

Community Place describes itself as follows: “Building a Universal Community of Action, Founded in Love, Acceptance, and Equality – Community Place offers unique and exciting programs by drawing from the successful camping model that has affected our lives for generations. We invite you to experience community building in action as we provide opportunities for all ages to participate in purposeful programming all year long.”

Watching Community Place personnel during Northern Ontario Reunion only confirmed what I have known for quite some time.  They are leaders.  And they are ministers.  And that leadership and ministry, during Reunion, manifested in a variety of ways, including overseeing the A/V system, facilitating classes, and organizing special events for junior high and senior high participants.

More importantly, they provided leadership and ministry by being ideal role models that other young adults, as well as younger people, look up to.  This is, in my opinion, one of the most important things that Community Place is accomplishing.

Community Place has done something that is extremely difficult to do.  They have found a way to retain and engage young adults.  In one of my other blogs, I talked about how important it is for Community of Christ to become a 21st century church, and I’ve stated that to become so, we need to be a church that is relevant, which resonates with people, and which is redemptive.

Community of Place has done that.  It is doing that now.  It is providing spiritual experiences for young adults (and others) which are redemptive, and which are relevant, and which, very clearly, do resonate with people.

I’ve also blogged (here & here) about the importance of expanding our ministries of invitation, relationships, and community building.  Again, Community Place is doing all of this.  A lot.  And the results are impressive.  More than that, the results are just downright exciting!

Community Place excels at being deliberate with invitation.  It excels at nurturing holistic relationships, and it excels at building sacred community.  How could one not be excited by this?

But is success with young adults important?  Some people might not be so sure.  So let me be clear.  It is extremely important.  It is imperative.  We need to get this right.  And we need to do so right now.

In fact, the importance of involving our young adults has been recognized by President Veazey, prophet of the church, who said in his 2009 “A Defining Moment” address:

“I am aware of the frustrations of some youth and young adults with the seemingly slow pace of congregational life in response to mission. I also am aware of your disappointment with not having opportunities to serve and lead as you feel called. In response, let me say the church needs the insights and gifts of all ages to be healthy. Congregations that ignore this principle do so at their own peril.”

Read that last sentence again: “Congregations that ignore this principle do so at their own peril.”

President Veazey continued by saying:

“I also know words are not enough. We need to do something now. I and other church leaders personally commit to meet with young adults in various locations to listen to concerns, perspectives, and hopes. We want to envision the future of the church with you. We want to explore models of ministry, mission, and leadership to open more doors for your participation…

…Young adults, the church needs you. We need you now. We need you to help us become who we are all yearning to become.”

The above words are a testimony of how vital active participation of young adults is to the church.  We need young adults to drive our present and our future.  Its not one or the other, its both.  We need them to drive our mission forward, and we need them to position us to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

As part of the church, which is called to be a “prophetic people”, our young adult members who have established Community Place have prophetically envisioned an alternate and dynamic expression of “church”.

However, its new, its different, and while it is now a reality (as it has truly become an actual community), it is also still simultaneously (and in a sense always will be) a concept.   A concept that hopefully will be replicated elsewhere, in various mission centers throughout the world.

Yet, as a concept, it is sometimes hard to fully grasp just what Community Place is all about.  As excited as I am about what Community Place (the community) is doing (and has already accomplished), I sometimes have a hard time wrapping my head around Community Place (the concept).  There are some things that I don’t fully get.

Still, I know it would be foolish and rather short sighted to just dismiss it, resist it, or oppose it because of my own failings to fully wrap my head around the concept.  But as a church people, we are somewhat notorious for doing just that with new ideas, especially when those new ides involve new expressions of church.  We can be very stubborn at times and inflexible with our attitudes & policies regarding things that are new, and/or which perhaps threaten our own comfort zones.

And that is when we should all be reminded of the fact that it was a church that Christ established.  It was a church that Christ restored.  It was *not* a worship service outline.

There are three dimensions of church: doctrine, mission, and fellowship.  Everything else is infrastructure.

Knowing this, I recognize that I don’t need to fully understand every nuance of Community Place in order to support it.  I don’t need to fully grasp it to be excited about it.  I don’t need to have been a part of it its genesis to be a passionate advocate for what it is doing, and accomplishing.

And I don’t have to give up other expressions or experiences of church to enjoy and appreciate what Community Place is doing.

And what it is doing seems almost miraculous.  Its not just that Community of Place has found a way of engaging young adults.  It goes beyond that.  They are transforming lives.  Not just of their own personnel, but of a much larger demographic, drawn from all ages.

But what I see as one of the most awesome benefits of Community Place is that they are empowering other young adults to also move into positions of leadership in our greater church community, and therefore, moving into positions of meaningful ministry.

In early June I asked one of the key leaders of Community Place how many young adults could be considered part of their larger community. His answer: 200!  Two hundred!  This is not to say by any means that 200 young adults attend any given event.  Because of busy schedules, and so forth, I don’t know if they have had more than thirty young adults attend any particular function, but the base is extremely impressive.

shcamp2014And that is good news indeed, because the church is facing many challenges.  21st century life in first world nations is not exactly church friendly.  All denominations are coping with serious issues, including plain old competition – I don’t mean with each other, but with various time mongers.

Those who know me know that I am unapologetically extremely passionate and vocal about the heritage and divine calling of the Restored church and the (ever increasing) gospel fullness that we bring to the world.  This is not something I’m prepared to see vanish from the world.

We are called (among other things) to pursue the cause of Zion (to build Zionic communities throughout the world); to proclaim Jesus Christ, and promote communities of joy, hope, love and peace; to abolish poverty and end suffering; to be advocates of peace and justice; to empower people to encounter God and reflect Christ; to declare the worth of all persons and celebrate unity in diversity; and (my personal favorite), to teach and preach the sacred story (which of course, if done properly, drives everything else).

Here is the crucial question.  Who is going to do all of that?  We can’t expect children and youth, while they are children and youth, to drive the church forward (and we can’t expect them to stick around without mentors), and as older adults gradually lose steam (or just burn out), we lose that manpower.  What is the plausible answer?  What do logic, reason and common sense tell us? Clearly, young adults have a vital role to play in the future of Community of Christ.

If we would see Zion, than we need to do ensure that we are supporting young adult initiatives like Community Place.  Such support can take many forms.  Participation, sponsorship, partnership, guidance, mentoring, and just being open minded, and not throwing up road blocks in a misguided attempt to undermine them at every opportunity. I’m calling this out because I consider myself a traditionalist, but sometimes, for the greater good, things need to change.

Community Place is a golden opportunity for Community of Christ.  It is still very much in it’s infancy, and like every new concept, it has growing pains to struggle through.  But it is my hope that the greater church membership will uphold Community Place in their prayers.  It is extremely challenging to drive forward something that is new and different; and burn out & exasperation are very serious potential issues that the rest of us need to do what we can to minimize.

In Kirtland, young adults built a sacred community.  Community Place seeks to do the same.  During Reunion, I saw a glimmer of Zion, and I saw the potential that Community Place has to transform people’s lives for the better, and I was deeply moved by what I saw, and deeply blessed by what I experienced.

“As a prophetic people you are called to discern the divine will for your own time and in the  places where you serve. You live in a world with new challenges, and that world will require new  forms of ministry. The church is admonished to prayerfully consider how calling and giftedness in the Community of Christ can best be expressed in a new time.”
–Doctrine & Covenants Section 162:2c (adapted)

***

I recognize that this blog does not actually get into what Community Place does.  If you are sincerely interested in learning more, please let me know, and I’ll do my best to have a member of their leadership team contact you.
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Reflections on Reunion

signRead my thoughts on Reunion 2015 here.

Reflections on Reunion 2014

On Saturday August 9th, 2014, I set foot on the grounds of Camp Noronto, North Monetville, for the first time in nine years, to attend my church’s Northern Ontario Reunion, which I last attended twelve years ago.

Many years ago, I would attend usually two, sometimes three camps each summer on these sacred grounds: Junior High Camp in mid July, and Northern Ontario Reunion followed immediately by Senior High Camp in August.  I attended Senior High Camp from 1984 to 2002, and in that time, I went to several of the other two camps, the last time for each also being in 2002.  In 2005 I went back to Senior High camp, and that has been it until now.

The church camps, and the people, and the camp itself are part of my life, and my very identity.  I can’t really express what it was like to be back, but I do want to share some of my reflections on Reunion.

Let me begin by saying that I always find it difficult to explain our church camps to someone who has never been, especially non-members.  I think there is a common misconception that all we do is sit around in a circle all day long praying and singing Kumbaya (which we do like to sing, but maybe only once per year).

Our camps are far more dynamic and relevant than that.  A typical day at the 2014 Reunion consisted of do-it-yourself breakfast, followed by a morning worship gathering, than a preaching service, followed by lunch, which is generally followed by quiet time, classes, various electives/swim time, “Under the Pine Tree” (an informational session on some particular topic, different each day), and dinner.  Following dinner were various evening activities such as coffee house, campfires, movie night, trivia challenge, the talent show, etc.  There are different classes and nightly activities for different age groups.

Sunday included a communion service, and was also Community Day which had all kinds of activities, a “toonie table”, pop corn, snow cones, field games, etc.  The week also included a BBQ and corn roast.

Everything is of course optional, and while the above activities are often truly inspirational, what often makes Reunion so enjoyable is all the stuff that happens spontaneously, such as going for a walk with an old friend, visiting with people at the picnic tables around the campfire pit, hanging out with people in the gazebos, playing late night games or having late night chats in the dining hall.

What I often find so enjoyable are the conversations with incredible friends reminiscing about prior mischief  (“Remember the time we put Pat’s bedroom on top of the lower washroom’s roof”; “Remember the time we put Pat’s bedroom on the raft”; “Remember the time we hung Pat’s bedroom in the trees”).  And who can forget the many times in the middle of the night that some of us stole the camp bell, and buried it in the sand at the beach, put it on the raft, sank it in the lake, buried it in the sand in the chapel (pre wooden floors), hid it in the water tower, etc.  Of course, a lot of these pranks occurred at Senior High camp, but the memories are always so fun to revisit when you spend time on the camp grounds.

All of the above is still, in my opinion, inadequate to truly explain to people just what we do at Reunion, or why it is such an amazing experience, because somehow what makes Reunion so awesome is intangible.

It is so hard to relate what really goes on, and why it is such an amazing experience.  However, (and this is true for the other camps), the best way I know how to explain it is simply this: We just love each other.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat is what Reunion is really all about.  You find yourself (literally in our case), on an island, in Northern Ontario, very rural, very scenic, completely cut off from the outside world (if you switch off your smart phone), immersed in what is truly a sacred community, a church fellowship that is the most loving, accepting, compassionate, genuine, sincere, and happy community that I have ever experienced.

I feel closest to God at camp. Through the people there, I feel God’s love more strongly than anywhere else.  We just love each other.

Reunion is also about rejuvenation.  It’s a recharge.  Its an opportunity for spiritual growth/development, and spiritual healing.  For some people, it is a means for emotional healing.

Reunion included a few surprises for me this year.  One began by me emailing a friend of mine, who I had for some reason presumed no longer attended, saying “I’m going this year, try to drop by”.  She thought that was cute, given that she has in fact attended every year, and I have not been in twelve.  I was the super active church member, and she was the non-member that I thought only came in from time to time, and probably not for several years.

Then I said to her “so when are you going to get baptized” and she then told me that she already was, a few years ago.  Ahem.  That was all a little embarrassing.  I guess I need to accept that I’ve really been gone for a very long time and that camp life has continued just fine without me.

Another friend was so surprised to see me that she did a double-take and said to me “I never thought you were ever coming back”.  And again, I had no idea she was still involved in any way.

I can’t help feel sad about all the memories that took place in the last twelve years that I’ve missed out on.  A lot has happened.  During that time, many of my friends have had kids, some of whom are now teenagers.   I was gone for over a decade.  It did not hit me until now, as I write this, that so much has occurred at Reunion that I was not there for, and that I’ll never be able to experience.  I spoke above about all the memories we share and no doubt there will be stories told at future Reunions that I’ll think to myself “I was not there for that one.”

I guess that is one message I want to drive home for all the people who are reading this, and who do have a history at Camp Noronto, but have not been for a long time.  Its time to come home.  Don’t just reminisce about all the fond memories.  Come back to reunion.  Come back to camp.  Come back to Noronto, and be rejuvenated.  Make plans for it now.  Don’t keep making the mistake that I did.

And for those of you who have never been, but want to be rejuvenated, or feel the love of God as you never have before, make plans now to join us at the next Reunion.

I also feel a little guilty.  Those words “I thought you were never coming back” were not said accusingly, but with joy, as in “but I’m so glad you did”.  Yet, those words have been echoing in my mind ever since, and I can’t help feel that I’ve let some people down over the years by being away (but I’ve had many other wonderful experiences with my wife that I cherish greatly and have no regrets about).

And of course, now I have come back.  And I hope to keep coming back.

Another surprise was how appreciative people seemed to be that I had returned.  All week long I had people telling me how glad they were that I had come back.  Two people said to me one day as I was walking to my dorm “We were just talking about you, and saying not only is it good for you to be back, but its good for all us to have you back”.  Wow.  I can’t help feel moved when I think of stuff like that.

I also had various people tell me that they read and enjoy my blogs, which is always greatly appreciated. I had others tell me how much they appreciated my help and ministry with various issues that some people are working through.  I also kept being reminded how much I am missed at senior high camp, and was given something that I will always cherish, to encourage me to return (it worked).  It was all very heart warming, and there were many times that I was moved to tears.

Reunion is a busy week with lots going on and often people coming and going.  Several people dropped in for just a day or so, but it was still awesome to see them.  I hope in future years they can spend more time on the grounds. However, each visit, no matter  how brief, was greatly enjoyed.

Reunion is also a week for personal reflection and opportunities.  There were two people that, when I was in my twenties, I tended to be somewhat judgmental of.  I made sure that I took the time to apologize to each of them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe week was also full of some truly awesome experiences.  One was nothing more grandiose than having  a grilled cheese & onion sandwich, something I had been waiting for, quite literally, for twelve years.

Another involved a late night chat with someone who is thinking about being baptized.  She seemed to appreciate my perspectives, but her approach and concerns were so spiritually grounded that I felt ministered to by her, simply by listening to how wise she was in her consideration of whether or not to move forward with baptism.

Then there was the “return to Senior High Camp” incentive that I mentioned above.  That almost broke me.  I think the only reason why I didn’t just crack on the spot is because I was in shock.  But I’ve been choked up many time since just thinking about it.

Another occasion directly pertained to one of the reasons I returned to reunion this year.  I’ve had a lot on my mind of late, and have been very preoccupied with many concerns and issues, to the extent that I I felt spiritually lost, even wounded, and unsure of how to move forward.  I wanted to be healed, to feel cleansed, forgiven, and more assured of God’s love and abiding call.

A tall order for a mere camp to take care of, or resolve.  But I had truly hoped that I would be able to find what I was seeking, and I feel so very blessed, because God steered me on the right course to help me take certain steps that brought about exactly what I was hoping for and I will deeply appreciate forever the support that I received.

And of course, the acceptance, welcome, teasing, scenery, and so much more were all part of what made my week so meaningful, and what made me feel, so clearly, how valued and loved I am.  And again, that is what we do at Reunion.  We love one another.

And if  Reunion is about love, that love is often expressed through laughter.  It is grounded in friendships, true, honest, friendships.  It is a love that at times can almost overpower you, and leaves you dreading the final day and the journey home, but it does rejuvenate you, and it does bolster you and, if you are careful, you can keep everything great about Reunion, including what it does for you, burning within your heart, insulating you to some degree, for quite some time afterwards.

For me, Reunion is an expression of the potential of Zion: a sacred community.  President Veazey, in his first sermon after being ordained Prophet-President of the Church stated:

“The cause of Zion is the ongoing call to enflesh the peace of Jesus Christ in all dimensions of life. I have heard people talk about experiences at reunions, camps, and retreats as a “glimpse” or “taste” of Zion. What was experienced? Love. Acceptance. Unity. Generosity. Peacefulness. A desire to serve others.”

He nailed it.  That is what Zion would be like, and Noronto Reunion is indeed a glimmer of Zion.  I hope this blog helps, at least to some degree, explain what Reunion is all about, and what it means for me, and for so many other people.  I am so grateful for this expression of Zion, and hope that others will experience what I have in future years.

Some Specific Things About the 2014 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
Being told by many people “I love you”
The directors (thank you!)
The guest ministers (Emily, Jim, Terry & Tim)
Everyone who made Reunion what it was
Almost getting to do a prank (maybe next year?)
Grilled cheese and onion sandwiches
Seeing so many old friends
Seeing people I had not expected to see
Mother-in-law made breakfast
A new hoody
Making new friends
Late night walks
Great food
Stepping out of the shadows at just the right time
A dry dorm room
Having the chance to apologize
Learning that some people I thought no longer attended have been doing so
Being told so often how much I’ve been missed
Digital cameras
Six baptisms
Getting to meet the kids of several of my former campers
Feeling appreciated by some of the more “seasoned” people
The tremendous leadership provided by Community Place
Sharing in memories
Canteen
Late night talks
Not being judged
Eyes

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