Best. Anniversary. Ever. (oh, and an Open House!)

Yup, that’s exactly what you think it is: me in my wrinkled, now-too-small wedding dress, Jonathan in a suit, and some of our fabulous ECC counselors dressed in plastic table cloths.

You see a couple of exciting things happened last Saturday (May 19th).  The first exciting thing is that most of our counselors for this summer arrived at camp at 9am that morning to take part in our adapted April work weekend (adapted because, as you may have noticed, it’s May) and I was able to meet many of them for the first time.  The second exciting thing is that Jonathan and I celebrated five years of marriage.

I admit that I was pretty excited when I discovered that our anniversary was going to fall on a Saturday and on a camp weekend.  After all, we had our wedding reception at camp.  And if you had told me on my wedding day that a mere five years later we’d be back at camp, only this time I’d be the director I pretty much wouldn’t have believed you at all.  But life is full of surprises – and here we are.

So of course I was going to force the counselors into an evening of wedding-themed fun.  They worked all day long making the property beautiful for our Open House the following day (more to come on that a little later), and while they were hard at work I spent time preparing a scavenger hunt that will go down in history, not because of it’s astounding creativity (though it did include limericks) but because some of my misguided clues and one inconveniently placed poem leftover from summer that looked like a clue left two of our groups wandering the property in the dark long after the hunt was meant to have wrapped up.  They were sent out to look for something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.  It sort of worked.  Though the group that was supposed to find this clue:

(that would be the outer area girls bathroom) ended up having to skip right to something blue (a copy of our wedding invitation) because of an issue with their being TWO monster trucks near tents on the property (who knew??).  At any rate, they all survived, and returned to the barn in remarkably good spirits given the amount of time they had spent roaming the property.

When they got back we watched one of my favorite you tube videos,, the JK Wedding Entrance Dance.  This video came out a couple of years after we were married and several of our friends sent it to us and said “this should have been you guys” and they were SO right.  But we just couldn’t get to the choreographed dance part of wedding planning in the 2 1/2 months we were engaged while Jonathan was living in NY and I was living in VA and we were getting married in RI.  We’re just not that talented.

But here’s to second chances and willing counselors!  I sent them off with their plastic table cloths for dress and tuxedo creation and set them to work choreographing a wedding entrance.  Then Jonathan and I went and changed into our attire and we all met back in the barn for the performances – which were amazing!!  These counselors can really dance!  Better yet, they absolutely know how to have a good time.  We laughed and danced and laughed some more, and I came away from the evening SO excited about what a fabulous summer we are going to have up at ECC.

Just when I thought the weekend couldn’t get any better the Open House happened.  We had an incredible turn out, with lots of new folks and many returning friends and alumni.  We also had what might have been the best weather of this entire year, which definitely helped.  Our Eucharist started at 5pm and we had over 120 people filling the barn for a joyful church service, which was followed by a great cookout in the Pavilion.  It’s hard to explain how exciting it was to look out over our property and see it littered with people – adults sitting on picnic tables talking and laughing, children and counselors playing at the volleyball court and basketball court, and groups of friends standing around the baseball diamond while their little ones ran around the bases.  It was pure joy, and it left me incredibly hopeful for not only the summer but the future of ECC, of our diocese, of our church.  We’re so blessed!

why church should be more like Zumba

Ok, I’ll admit it.  I caught the Zumba bug.  I can’t help it – I LOVE dancing (which is not to say I’m any good at it).  It’s one of the reasons I wanted to be a camp director – camp is one of the only places in the world where it’s socially acceptable to break into dance at any time.  Zumba also allows me this luxury as often as four times a week.  The music is so loud, and I’m in a whole room full of friends (because when you’re dancing together, you’re friends. That’s just how it works.) and I don’t have to think about anything except the next move.  It helps that I have the BEST. INSTRUCTOR. EVER.  I’m not sure how she always makes it seem like she’s having the time of her life all through every single class, but somehow she does, and her energy is completely contagious.  She’s having so much fun that you can’t help but have fun with her.  I leave in the best mood.  And then I hear some of our songs on the radio, and I get to re-live the whole experience in my car in the middle of the work day, and that’s pretty awesome too.

When I have to miss Zumba, I’m not a very happy camper.  (Get it?? Camper? I’m a camp director! I know, I’m hysterical.)  But really, if a meeting comes up, or I have to pick up someone at the airport, or if I have some other work commitment – it’s hard for me to know I’m missing something so great.  I know an incredible experience is being had, and I’m not there to share in it.

So it was a little hard for me when my instructor scheduled a new class for Sunday mornings.  Clearly this is not a good time for me.  I’ve tried to be a big girl about it.  After all, I feel incredibly blessed to be doing what I’m doing as a priest.  But on some mornings when I’m driving to a church around the Diocese, I can’t help but feel a little twinge of sadness that I can’t also be dancing.  If only I could be in two places at once!

Last Sunday was like that a little.  I was really excited to be at Church of the Redeemer in Providence, but I was really sad to be missing Zumba. That’s what this picture is all about – I wanted my Zumba peeps to know I was with them in spirit.  Admittedly this picture, or the taking of this picture, caused me some embarrassment when a member of the parish pulled up along the side of the road as I was posing in front of the church sign.  I had not yet met any of the members of this church, and this wasn’t exactly the first impression I was looking to make:  “Oh – hi.  I’m your supply priest today.  I was just dancing.  In front of your sign.  On a very busy road. It’s nice to meet you.”  Sigh.

But then I got to thinking –  is it that terrible for parishioners to see me dancing on their church lawn?  In my sermon that morning I talked about joy and about how sometimes, in the midst of balancing all of our other callings as Christians, we forget that we are called to joy.    For some reason it’s easier to remember that we are called to be compassionate, forgiving, generous, penitent, service-oriented, prayerful, etc, etc, etc.  And those things are all an important part of our Christian life – without question.  But we are also called to be joyful.  And it is my personal opinion that if we could share more joy with one another we might just be more motivated to do all of the other things that come with following Christ.  If we woke up on Sunday mornings and couldn’t WAIT to get to church because the experience of being there swelled our hearts and made us want to sing and dance and celebrate, how much easier would it become to give more of ourselves and our resources to better our church community and consequently our wider communities?

What would happen if church were more like Zumba?  If the priests and deacons and acolytes and vestry members came every week and offered the same kind of enthusiasm and energy that my Zumba instructor gives us in class?  What would happen if we truly didn’t want to be ANYWHERE else but with one another for those hours of the week?  How great would it be if people didn’t want to miss church because they knew they’d be missing an incredible experience?  What if we spent the whole week driving around in our car and re-living our worship together on Sunday morning?  What if church was just a little more fun?

Now, I want to be clear about something.  Just because I want church to be a little more like Zumba doesn’t mean I don’t take church seriously.  I take church very seriously.  I take following Jesus very seriously.  I believe – without a doubt – that if we really take part in this holy journey that we can change our own lives and that of others, and that we can glorify God in the process.  I just also believe that our Christian journey doesn’t need to feel like a burden or an obligation – something we have to do.  Instead I think it should be something we are excited to take part in.  I also think it’s important to note that there are churches that are making this happen, and people that wake up excited to go to church on Sundays.  So I know it’s possible.  I want us to enjoy being with one another so much that we wouldn’t want to miss it for the world.  I want church to be so great that it makes us feel like dancing.  I want us to practice abundant joy in everything we do.  Because JOY is contagious.  Joy is inspiring.  Joy motivates us to make the world we live in a better place.  We are called to be joyful.  So come on people… let’s dance!

Celebrating Susan!

Alright, so it’s not the best picture ever, but it’s the best we could do in a crowded parish hall – and I mean crowded!  I hope that, at the very least, the smiles on our faces give you some sense of what a truly wonderful and joyful afternoon was had this past Sunday at St. Thomas’ church in Greenville when the Rev. Susan Carpenter was installed as rector.  We were just brimming with joy.

Now Susan’s installment as rector was personally significant for me, because her calling to be their rector is what has afforded me the chance to be the director at ECC.  I’m certainly grateful to Susan for thinking of me for the role, and trusting me with such an awesome responsibility.  I was a few minutes late for the installation, thanks to a meeting that ran a bit over, and I snuck into the back of the church as the litany was being sung.  Joyce and Lance were right in the back row and were kind enough to let me squeeze in between them for the rest of the service.  While I would have enjoyed being with the other clergy, I loved being with Joyce and Lance in the back.  I know how much they love Susan and that they will miss her, and they have been SO gracious and wonderful to me as I’ve transitioned into this role.  Sitting with them seemed right – like we were a little corner of ECC there for Susan.

It ended up being good that I was in the back because I cried like a dang fool through almost the entire service.  It was that beautiful.  First, it should be noted how incredible it is that St. Thomas’ has grown so much in the last couple of years that they can call Susan as their full time rector.  In perhaps the most emotional moment of the whole service Bishop Wolf called attention to this incredible growth.   In a short statement after the sermon the Bishop mentioned how many times she had met with the parish to talk about their future, and how she had decided to let them take a chance and see what would happen.  At this point the Bishop got choked up and commented that after closing 12 churches it was truly wonderful to be at the installation and celebrating the growth of this parish.  It was a pretty special moment.

So as if I wasn’t crying enough already (I’m a big crier – I think Lance thought maybe something was wrong with me), right after the bishop’s comment there were a series of presentations made to Susan by other clergy and members of the parish.  A stole, bread and wine, the keys to the church.  Each person that stepped forward invited her to be part of the ministry of St. Thomas’ and the diocese.  Susan is one of the most joyful and loving people I know, and as was said in the sermon, she just gives and gives and gives of herself.  I know how happy she was to be installed as the rector there, so it was great to see how happy they are to have her.  The sign outside the church reads “The Installation of the Rev. Susan Carpenter, April 29th.  How blessed are we??”  And their feeling of blessing was obvious in their celebration on Sunday.

After being given the gifts Susan stood before the Bishop and the altar and read a prayer about her ministry at St. Thomas’ in a loud clear voice, and her passion for her work was abundantly clear.  I found myself uttering my own prayers: prayers of gratitude for Susan’s incredible ministries, and prayers of hope for my own ministry at ECC.  She’s no easy act to follow, so I can only pray for the grace to share my gifts the ways she has shared hers.

The service continued with a heart-warming “The Peace of the Lord be always with you!” from an emotional Susan, followed by Eucharist with joyful singing, and a final blessing and dismissal from the new rector.  A BIG ole party followed, and support for Susan and St. Thomas’ was overflowing.  Having had the pleasure of being supply at St. Thomas’ I can speak to what a wonderful group of people they are.  They are blessed to have Susan, and she is blessed to have them.  Thanks be to God!