SLM 2017 Staff Closing Worship Reflection
To my dearest Summer 2017 Water of Life seekers:
What a ride. Although my body aches literally everywhere and I’m up to about 10 cups of coffee a day and I’m in dire need of a pedicure, I still can’t believe we’re already here. Week 9 (or week 11 if you count staff training) staff closing worship. I want to say “Alleluia. Thanks be to God!” and turn into a bumbling weeping mess all in the same moment. Maybe you can relate.
Making it to this moment is no small feat. You’ve put in a ridiculous amount of work, a crazy number of hours, and have impacted a truly amazing number of campers. You’ve shared yourselves—your gifts, your personalities, your energy, your love—with wild and over the top energetic elementary and preschoolers, with awkward and desperately searching middle school and high schoolers, with growing leaders in CITs and Agape, with ever loving and challenging adults with disabilities, with grandparents and entire families. It’s kind of incredible how much life happens in the course of 11 weeks.
When we arrived in May, some of us were already friends, some of us were even siblings, but at first as a community we were uncertain about each other and let’s be honest, most of us rocked that nervous awkwardness as we worked hard to learn each other’s names, figure out who had what job, and tried desperately to remember basic things about each others’ lives. “So, where are you from?” “Where do you go to school again?” “Remind me what your major is?” And then in the baptism by fire whirlwind we call staff training, you were bombarded with information, songs, games, schedules, curriculum, and expectations. From Mopping with Marv and Canoeing with Dana to lessons in learning styles and cabin management to trial runs of Day Camp and late night campfire jam sessions, those two weeks somehow managed to feel both like two years and two seconds and you probably knew each other better than you could have anticipated. Next thing you know, we were giving each other pep talks on Sunday afternoon as we nervously paced around in the dining hall before the first batch of campers arrived. And just like that, the race began.
On this race, your feet have carried you on countless adventures. You’ve made about three million circles around Keeley Island: from your cabin to the dining hall to back to your cabin to the chapel to the AC or Red Cloud to the playing field to low ropes, back to the dining hall, to EE, to Washishi or the beach or the Gaga ball pit to Good Earth or Pelican and back to your cabin to do it all again. You’ve probably made several laps around Boy Scout, hauling wood packs and coolers and tents and dry bags, all the while instructing and caring for your campers in your calm but “seriously you have to do this now” counselor voice you’ve all perfected. You’ve traveled across Minnesota and South Dakota on Day Camps, you’ve taken your feet to the river on Wet & Wild, you’ve wandered around Walmart in Marshall, you maybe went to Luverne for a fairly silent drive in movie and you ran all around Slayton for a goofy picture scavenger hunt. You’ve played some intense beach volleyball, you’ve attended a luau or two, and you’ve paraded around camp dressed up as your favorite sea creatures. You’ve also cleaned this place from top to bottom, put in a solid chunk of time doing dishes, and taken on a whole assortment of oddball tasks—each in itself an act of hospitality, big or small.
From the first day of staff training, we’ve been reflecting on our theme verse from Isaiah. You can probably recite it in your sleep. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” Our Bible study days have become a steady rhythm: Creation, Baptism, Woman at the Well, Blind Man, Still Waters. Created, Claimed, Invited, Healed, Renewed. Repeat. Together, we have lived this liturgy, this constant song of praise and worship and wondering and laughter and tears and questions and prayer. The Spirit has truly made these stories and promises come alive this summer—turned these ancient words into the very breath of our life together: Created, Claimed, Invited, Healed, Renewed. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And I really do think that together we have indeed been quenched by the Living Water.
Not that the path to Living Water isn’t totally exhausting, but the ways in which God manages to renew my own soul in the midst of the chaos and busyness never ceases to amaze me. Perhaps you’ve experienced God the Creator’s renewal and constant presence in quiet moments on the dock, or in a sunset on outcamp, or in the crackling campfire. Maybe you’ve encountered Christ just when you needed him in kitchen dance parties or in heart to hearts in couch tub or in an affirmation from a friend. Maybe the Spirit has sustained you through profound “I wonder” statements in Bible study, through the tear-jerking prayers earnestly lifted up by campers at campfire, through their energy and joy while singing Psalm 150 or The Rock when you roll into worship exhausted, wondering how you are going to make it through the next couple hours let alone the remaining weeks.
As the weeks have gone on, I’ve watched your fake it ‘til you make it strategy shift to real confidence. You’ve discovered that you’re stronger than you thought you were, and you’ve uncovered hidden talents: 80’s water aerobics, worship leading, praying in public, guiding Bible study conversations, caring for people with special needs (and all that entails), canoeing, fire building, conflict resolution skills, castle building (both sand castles and stone bunker castles…), and a million and one ways to get kids’ attention or fill ten extra minutes. Through it all you’ve wrestled with your own faith questions and exploration while accompanying campers on their own faith journeys. You’ve had to dig deep and have discovered that sometimes even when you feel empty, the Spirit sustains you so that you have just enough left to give.
Created. Called. Invited. Healed. Restored.
And now, my friends, even though this liturgy, these stories, and these promises do not end here, our time together has drawn to a close. It is time for each of us to be sent back out into the world. We have been changed by each other and by our experiences throughout this sacred time together. None of us are exactly the same as we were three short months ago: we leave with new perspectives, new skills, new questions, new ideas, and a million new memories. Most of your clothes now probably smell like campfire, your hair might be a fancy new shade of copper, and you probably have some stellar tan lines. It will likely take a while to relearn that it’s okay to have more than two people up from whatever dinner table you happen to be sitting at, that you might not have to wait for someone to call seconds to get more food from your own kitchen, or that it’s okay to leave your bedroom before someone rings an obnoxious bell to wake you up in the morning. It might feel weird to drive your own car instead of a camp van with, shall we say lots of character, to not dress up like a disciple every Thursday night, or to cook for just a few people instead of an entire camp. You’re bound to be the person who responds with a camp style “We will! Thanks be to God!” after the dismissal at church at least once, and you’ll probably spend your first few weeks at school constantly trying to count your friends or classmates to make sure everyone is accounted for—after all you don’t want to have to do a missing camper drill in the middle of your bio class.
I hope and pray that this summer, you’ve discovered more deeply who you are and have a new appreciation for the truly amazing gifts and talents you each have to offer the world. I hope you’ve discovered that you’re stronger than you think you are and that you’re capable of more than you could have ever imagined, but I hope you’ve also experienced what it means to lean on and be supported by others—and that it’s okay to not have all the answers, to not be able to do it all on your own, that you are deeply loved even in the midst of your own brokenness and imperfections. I hope this place and this community has challenged you, but I also hope that it has become a sanctuary and a place that you know that you can always, always return and can always call home.
Whether you are ready to be done or whether you want to hide out in the boat shed and never leave or if you’re just so tired you don’t even know how to feel, know that you each were and always will be an essential and beloved part of this community. As we look forward to the next adventure, whatever that may be, we trust that the living God, the very same God who meets us at camp, goes with us. Christ is present not only on Keeley Island, but throughout the whole world. The windy uncontrollable wild Spirit already awaits us on our next adventures and continues to call us to be the light of the world, no matter what waters we pass through. So shine where you are, my friends. Keep your eyes and your hearts wide open—continue to seek Living Water, trusting that this Living Water has already claimed you and called you Beloved. And that is always and forever enough.
On the first day of week 1, I shared this prayer from Philippians. Let it be our prayer once again, for this time and space:
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:3-6, 9-11)