This past Saturday night at the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket, RI, we held our annual fundraiser, “An Evening for ECC” and it was a huge success. Not only did people’s generosity help us bring in a LOT of much-needed money, but it was also a wonderful opportunity for people who care about ECC to be together and share fellowship, laughter, and, for many, stories about how their lives were transformed because of their time at the Episcopal Conference Center as a young person. As one friend said, the Holy Spirit was clearly present there. It was a wonderful night, and our fundraising committee out-did themselves with this event: great music, a great auction, great food, venue, and more.
I could go on and on about how great the fundraiser was, but what I really want to talk about is how hard it was to find something to wear to the event. (c’mon, I’ve got to cover the important things here people!) For those of you who are not clergy, I want to go ahead and tell you that dressing up that little white plastic collar is no small feat, especially when you are going to a fancy fundraiser and you want to put your best self out there to a whole bunch of people you haven’t met. I have suits, and I certainly could have worn one, but to be honest I only wear my suit when I go to a funeral. And I definitely didn’t want this event to feel like a funeral! If anything I wanted it to feel like a baptism – full of new life and enthusiasm. But wearing my alb didn’t feel appropriate either, so I was back to the drawing board.
After spending a lot of time thinking about how to approach this conundrum, I decided to go shopping, and I made an important executive decision: I would wear high heels. For those of you that know me, you know this is no small decision. I only own one pair, and I only wear them to weddings until my feet hurt from dancing at which point I pull out my back-up pair of flats for the duration of the evening. But I wanted this night to stand out. So I rummaged through the back of my closet and pulled out my trusty black heels and headed to Banana Republic.
Luckily, after some searching, I found an outfit I was comfortable with. There was a great wrap shirt that I could wear over my collar that didn’t look like a potato sack (which happens more frequently then you might expect) and then I found a cute black skirt. Yes, I said it: a skirt. And the skirt went to my knees. Which meant not only would I be wearing high heels, but I would be showing my legs. I know this might not sound terribly radical, but for me it was the equivalent to sky-diving. I couldn’t believe I was making this choice. But really – the night was special, and I wanted to feel special. So I went with it.
No one seemed horribly appalled at my outfit choice that night and I even got some compliments, especially from my female clergy colleagues who know the challenges we face when getting dressed like a priest every day. I only had one moment of trepidation when it was time to jump on the stage for my welcome speech and I realized there were no gradual steps, only one LARGE step, and that was a little hard to master gracefully in my heels and fitted skirt. But I made it, and all was well. People even clapped a little when I spoke, which was a totally new experience for me and the first time they did it I almost said “NO WAIT – I’m not done!” until I realized they were only encouraging me and liked what I had to say. Goodness.
I will say though, that the next day at church I paid the price for the heels. My feet were killing me all morning. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed how much standing up I do at church on a Sunday, but boy was I wishing for more readings to I could stay in my seat and just rest my tired toes.
So my feet were heavy on my mind when I found myself in a conversation with a parishioner from St. Thomas’ who had been to ECC back when he was a teenager after the camp had first opened. He knew Canon Parshley, the priest who started bringing teens to the property in 1949, and he spoke fondly of him. After reminiscing a bit on what a great man he was, he turned to me and said kindly, “You have some big shoes to fill.”
I smiled and agreed. Because I do have some big shoes to fill. Not only was Canon Parshley an incredible man, but many other wonderful directors followed him. Canon Shumaker filled his stead, and then Caryl Frink and the Rev. John Hall, who ran the camp when I was a camper and counselor there. Following them were the Susans: Susan Henthorne Kelley, then Sue Hurn, and then the Rev. Susan Carpenter. Each of these people gave completely of themselves and their heart and helped make ECC what it is today. And now here I am – eager for my turn to give to a place I love so much – and attempting to fill some very big shoes.
So here’s the thing: I can’t help thinking about the actual shoes. When I was a camper and counselor at ECC, Father Hall wore Birkenstocks. And he wore them all the time. They were kind of his trademark, and anyone who went to camp during that time can envision him in a button-down short sleeved white shirt, khaki shorts, and Birkenstocks. He was pretty consistent that way. There are SO many ways that I will try to be like Father Hall as the director of ECC, and like all of the previous directors. But the thing I keep thinking is that while I’m trying to fill those shoes, I won’t be wearing those shoes. I’m going to be wearing my black high heels. (well, you know what I mean – I’m probably never going to wear those heels again, but it’s a metaphor…) I’m going to bring the same heart and devotion to ECC that all of our directors have had. But I’m going to be much different in practice and personality – and wardrobe!
Sometimes when I’m standing in my office in Canon’s Cottage I get can a little overwhelmed by the magnitude of this position. I know how impacted my life was by Father Hall, Caryl Frink, and Susan Henthorne Kelley, all three of whom I was blessed to work with as a young person. I know that there’s a possibility that I will have the same impact on young lives – I know (at least I hope!) I will help children and teenagers find a second home here. Most days I’m not sure how I landed in this job, and I feel like Father Hall is going to show up and ask me what I’m doing in his office. But then I know – I really know – that I’m being called to this job right now, and that I’m in the right place. So I’m just going to say my prayers, and do my best, and show up for summer camp – with my heels on. I’m going to try to be true to myself, and true to the experience of ECC. We ALL have big shoes to fill here friends – and we all have a part to play in continuing the incredible ministry that has been happening here for over 50 years. Will you help me?