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
Canteen
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.
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Pondering Reunion 2016

reunion2016

Hey check out my blogs on Reunion 2014 and Reunion 2015

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.

pancakes
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:

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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:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

joy
And, it is very true, that camp friends are forever friends.

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.

we believe

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
Great food
Taking one or two pictures and videos
The support provided by Community Place
Sharing in memories
Sharing some of my favorite scriptures
Canteen
  Celebrating church heritage
Renewing friendships with people after 18 and 24 years.
Pop-up electives
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
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!)
 Higher attendance
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

norontosky

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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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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