The following is an appeal letter that went out to our ECC mailing list this month. Please enjoy the story. We are grateful for all you do for ECC!
Towards the end of
last summer we were sitting at dinner one night when there was some kind of
disturbance outside where the campers were sitting. I heard lots of people
jumping from their seats and yelling. Some of my older staff, seated inside,
also jumped up to move to the windows to see what was happening.
My heart skipped a
beat, because the commotion immediately indicated to me that perhaps there was
a fight breaking out. The movement of people to see what was happening and
quick response triggered my response before I could stop it. It only took a second for my brain to catch
up and remind me that I was at camp. In
the totally unlikely event that a fight had broken out, one of my staff would
have yelled for me immediately. I took a breath, and decided it was probably
some other teenage silliness. I decided not to feed into it by getting up to
look, and let it play out.
Seconds later, one
of my program staff turned from the window where she had moved to see, and
looked across the room to me. A smile beaming from ear to ear she called out:
As fast as my
heart had panicked moments before, it melted to mush.
These kids, man.
In a world where their peers leap from their seats to watch or video tape a
fight breaking out in high school, they caused equal a commotion to see a rainbow. I moved outside to see myself,
and noticed that most people had abandoned their trays and tables to look up to
the sky in wonder.
It was the magic
of camp in one fleeting, beautiful moment.
In Genesis, God
points to a bow in the sky while making a promise to Noah, saying “this is a
sign of my covenant I make with you.” He is promising to protect and are for
Noah and all things now living.
In June at our 70th
Anniversary Gala, many of you made a promise to ECC to make a sustaining
monthly donation to our ministry here. We were overwhelmed by your generosity,
and we are now heading into 2020 with the promise of funding that you have
made. It will help us budget and plan with more ease, and those gifts will
ensure that campers can come to a camp where the cool kids jump up and start
yelling like fools when a rainbow floods the sky.
What we learned at
the Gala is something we have known at ECC for years – many hands make light
work. So many of you committed to a small amount of money every month, but
together those commitments change the financial landscape for ECC, and help us
enter a new phase of our lives and ministry.
If you already
make a monthly donation and would like to increase it, we would be most
If a one-time annual gift is a better fit for you, we get that, and we are so humbled that you would consider ECC as a recipient of your generosity.
If you aren’t in a
position to give or to give more, I hope you’ll find joy in a good story about
The ECC community
never ceases to astound me. Your love and commitment to this ministry keeps us
going, practically and spiritually as
move through our program year. Your promise to support and uphold ECC helps us
to realize God’s dreams for this place, and together you bring bright bows of
color to our common life.
This sermon was written and delivered by Faith Bessette at Church of the Beloved, Sunday, November 24. The audio of this sermon can be heard here:
Last week when Meaghan asked me to give the sermon today, she said it might be a good space to talk about my experience in Colorado this past year.
It honestly feels like some kind of fever dream by now.
It was a total whirlwind of change, and growth, and frankly some punches to the gut about the reality of what we’re facing as a nation, as a planet even.
I think we’re in a compassion drought. Maybe we always have been.
Maybe I was blinded by sweet lifetime movies and candy coated facebook videos of dogs reacting to their owners coming back from deployment.
Not that those things aren’t pure & good in their own ways..
But we’re lacking in long term compassion I think. We are living in an age of instant gratification. Constant access to content that fuels our feel-good cravings. We can click and swipe and watch- an infinite amount.
We have an ability to continuously shovel a synthetic feeling of compassion that feeds our human condition in just the right way.
Is that bad? I’m not sure. But I think we’ve lost a little bit of the rawness and realness of what it means to be human, in relation to others experiencing this flawed human world too. Or maybe I’m just full of it. Who’s to say?
When I read the gospel, an obvious connection to this idea popped out.
We’re dropped into the scene of Jesus’s crucifixion, this iconic picture of three crosses stuck perpendicular to the ground.
“They crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.”
I reread the gospel a few times but just kept getting stuck on the people standing around, casting lots to divide his clothing, in that moment of crucifixion, of helplessness.
Rifling through his stuff for the things they wanted for themselves, when he was at his most vulnerable.
Even when I repeat it, I’m sure you can picture it in your minds eye.
It’s a pretty grotesque idea really.
But right beside this picture in my head, I saw a mirror image almost..
Of something that used to happen at the shelter sometimes.
For those of you that don’t know, I spent a year in Denver as a full time volunteer at an overnight shelter for youth experiencing homelessness. It’s called Urban Peak.
I met hundreds of young people, all unique in their situations, and levels of independence.
As is expected at a non-lock down facility, folks would come in for a night or two & sometimes we’d never see them again.
Others would stay longer, some had been there for years.
But often, we’d get teenagers just passing through for short periods of time, for one reason or another.
Some people showed up with rubbermaid bins, duffel bags, even trunks full of belongings they’d picked up along the way.
Some would show up with a single plastic grocery bag. Personal belongings change in value when you’re homeless.
For some, they can mean absolutely nothing. Things don’t carry as much value when you’re struggling to survive. There’s something that happens in the brain when you experience trauma like that.
Any kind of trauma really, but I noticed a specific shift while working with these young people.
Suddenly, anyone you meet, anything you do, anything you have, it’s all surrounded by this survival instinct.
This feeling of imminent loss that’s nearly impossible to shake. Especially at 17.
You could have a full wardrobe one day, a couple of pairs of shoes.
A cell phone. An ID, a social security card. But if something goes down that make you feel unsafe. You run. You run and you don’t look back. Because that’s all you know now. Your body is running on fear 80 percent of the time.
Fear of not making it out of this dark place,
fear of others who could hurt you like your loved ones did,
fear of not being enough for other people to see you.
Really see you as someone who is human.
At that point, a loss of things is just apart of surviving. That’s one common extreme.
But others hoard. They keep everything they can gather, anything that they can stake a claim on, huddled up in trash bags underneath their bunks.
Oversized clothing, broken electronics, even trash.
But on the day word would get out that so and so was MIA, hadn’t shown back up to the shelter in a few days, got picked up because they had warrants.
It was a free for all.
I want their shoes, I’m taking their backpack, etc etc.
Other kids, casting lots to divide their clothing.
At this person’s most vulnerable, most helpless and likely most fear filled moment. Their own possessions, some of the only physical things they have relationships with,
are stolen, snatched up, their owners forgotten.
In these two cases, those choices were often informed by an innate human instinct.
On one side, to run in fear. The other, to take advantage of that vulnerability to feed your own desires of gathering… stuff.
What’s so powerful about this gospel is that we’re seeing Jesus be human. He is at his weakest point. Nailed to a cross and one thousand percent vulnerable. As are the criminals beside him.
As they cast lots for his clothing, they are bidding on pieces of him, pieces of his humanity.
When you’re homeless it’s hard to see other people as human. You can barely recognize yourself as one. When you’re at the lowest of lows, with what feels like no one to turn to, it’s hard to remember what it feels like to be a part of a civil society. To follow the polite rules put in place to show each other basic compassion. To think that you still have a right to your own humanity. It’s easier to live into the idea that others look down on you, because you can then allow yourself to be spiteful and self serving.
And I won’t blame them for it!!
We all have the capacity to act in the same way, and we often do!!!
When I sat with these kids, talking, laughing, arguing. Experiencing the most beautiful and ugly parts of them. I could feel a constant itch at the back of my brain, this could be you. This could be any of us, the right set of circumstances and there we are digging through someone else’s trash bags for stuff to fill our own.
There’s a document we fill out with each client when they entered the program at Urban Peak. An intake form to gather some more info about where they’re at, and how we can best help them.
And there’s a section asking about where they slept the previous night. There were subcategories, and the most common one checked was filed under “not fit for long term human habitation”.
Filed under this were places like tents, cars, the street, mental hospitals, shelters. Shelters like the one I worked at.
The government classifies those things, and a few others, as places unfit for humans to exist long term. And they’re right!
These kids are obviously cared for, fed, clothed, given access to free hygiene products and facilities, free medical care, and free options to further their education.
BUT. There is a shift in the human psyche when you are labeled homeless.
There is a fight or flight switch that is flipped on.
There is a dog eat dog mentality when people look at you like you’re no better than a dirty animal.
I’m sure that’s hard to hear. And it’s also hard to see.
Not to say that all people view homeless teenagers like that. They don’t.
But that’s hard to believe when you’re in the thick of it you know?
To look into the eyes of an 18 year old boy, pretty much thrown away by any loved one he’s ever known, in and out of detention centers and jails for crimes he committed to survive, crimes he committed to be spiteful of those who can no longer see his humanness.
To know inside that he needs love and care and someone to trust in.
To know how funny and kind he can be.
To know he writes poetry in his bunk when he feels sad.
To know that he is being nailed to a cross and put on shameful display when he begs for money on the street because Mcdonald’s won’t hire a convict with a face tattoo.
To know that when we lose our ability to recognize humanness,
we make others feel less worthy of love & support & basic human rights like affordable housing and good food.
I don’t tell you all this to make you feel bad. To paint you a sob story of a poor homeless teenager. Because he wasn’t that. None of them were. They were human.
Humans who were resilient. Humans who were funny. Humans who were so so smart. Humans who have potential. Humans who are capable of incredible feats of compassion and love and kindness.
Humans who are capable, of nailing others to crosses because they made a few choices that we might not understand right now.
Just like you and I.
I tell you all this to make the point that the people you make assumptions about, the people who are different than you, the people who have made choices, or had choices that were made for them, who landed in less than ideal situations.
They are human.
They deserve that title.
They deserve grace.
They deserve to be seen as whole people who are capable of great and wonderful things, capable of change.
They just need a little love, understanding, and consistency to get them there.
We are all capable of that.
Capable of giving that to criminals, to the bad guys, even to people less than like-able like the guy in charge of our country right now. (I know.. barf.)
We can look at this gospel as a lesson in recognizing humanness, and the importance of treating people with dignity. Even those who we find it hardest to give.
Jesus was crucified between two criminals.
But there were three humans nailed to crosses that day.
Three humans humiliated by the hands of their fellow man.
Three humans who deserve better.
Who deserve compassion with longevity.
Let’s give it more freely, to others, to ourselves. Sometimes we’re crushing this human thing! Sometimes we aren’t.
Let’s give compassion to the idea that there are some circumstances that leave us feeling nailed to our own cross, naked and vulnerable.
Move with intentions of love, look people in the eye,
and grant others grace in their moments of unbridled humanity. Amen.
The Girls, as I like to call them, played at PPAC last Thursday with the RI Philharmonic Orchestra.
I’ve seen them in concert with an orchestra three times, and it never disappoints. The orchestra manages to put music to the way my heart has always felt listening to Indigo Girls, and it is perfect.
I know that sounds corny but I don’t mind getting a little corny when it comes to my favorite musical group of all time. I started listening to the Indigo Girls when I was 12 – and in fact the first time I ever heard their music it was live at the Folk Festival in Newport. I was hooked from there, and remember riding my bike with their cassette tape in my walkman, searing every word of Closer to Fine into my brain just as every other fan of theirs has ever done. Their music and lyrics have been with me through every major transition in my life, anchoring me and helping me to not lose sight of who I am when everything around me starts to shift. I learned most of what I know about harmony by listening to their voices blend and sitting with my sisters while we tried to match their tone.
My love affair with the Indigo Girls had started prior to my arriving at ECC as a teenager, so I was ecstatic to learn that at the hippie summer camp I was attending I was suddenly one with the cool kids because I knew Michael Stipe’s part in Kid Fears. I soaked up every minute of numerous talent show acts where people sang the familiar songs, and as soon as my sister Kate was old enough to be at teen camp with me I pulled her up on stage with me to sing. Perhaps the greatest heartache of my young (and older!) life is that no one in my family played guitar, so all of our Indigo Girls songs had to be sung a capella… oh, the agony.
Now that I’m back in Rhode Island anytime The Girls come to town I have at least 3 friends who reach out to me to see if I plan to attend the concert. This time around we miraculously managed to get a big group of tickets, and 11 of us planned an evening out together: dinner and the show. I can tell you as a working mom with two small children this kind of social event happens approximately never, and it was so exciting to walk into a restaurant and sit at a table with 10 friends. Here we are:
As soon as we gathered and started to catch up I started to laugh to myself a little as we realized just how deep into this particular stage of life we all are. We all marveled at being out on a Thursday with so many people. We joked about how at the dinner part of the night it always seems like a fun idea to go out after the show, but we knew we’d all go home and straight to bed because….who are we kidding. We talked about work and home and what foods we are allergic to and how hard it is to keep appropriately-sized clothing on our children as they grow. Riveting stuff.
When it was time for the show we blazed over to PPAC in time for everyone to use the bathroom before settling in, and we remarked how great it is to be at a show that you can mostly sit down the whole time and you know it’s going to be over in an hour and a half.
When The Girls took the stage we applauded and hollered just like every other Gen X woman in the room (there were a handful of men and Boomers in there, but they were definitely the outliers) and when the music started we simultaneously started wiping tears from our faces.
The thing is, with music that has brought me through my entire young adult years, I can’t hear it without replaying so many pivotal moments from life. The shows that I have attended with so many different friends start to carousel through my mind, and I remember what was happening in my life at each one. Their music is balm for my soul but it is also the soundtrack of my life, each song a different chapter.
After the first couple of songs I was able to leave memory lane and bring myself back into the room. As I settled into the show I couldn’t help but feel a new wave of gratitude that after all these years I was surrounded by my camp friends – singing and laughing and wiping tears away together. The group of eleven of us were not all at camp at the same time, and we don’t even socialize together as one group – in fact we swapped out many ticket holders with new people when others had to bail. But we all have this shared camp experience, and a shared love for the music we sang at talent shows, and it didn’t matter one bit if it was the first time we all got together socially or the 100th time. We sang those songs like we were swaying in front of the Little Theater together at a Talent Show.
Before the night was over we saw at least a dozen other camp friends – waving to the ones with the good seats down by the stage, texting others in various parts of the theater, and jumping up and down and hugging one another in the bathroom during intermission.
They say change is the one constant in life, and that has certainly been true for me. But this past Thursday I was profoundly grateful for two other constants in my life: the beautiful music of the Indigo Girls and the deep and abiding friendships I have with my camp friends. And with that combo? Well – closer I am to fine.
At Music Camp, Fran McKendree comes to spend the week with us and lead our chorus time. He helps with Rock Band and worship and work projects too, but chorus is the highlight of the day for all of us, and Fran’s music and presence is a tremendous gift to us.
This morning at all camp chorus Fran led us in a song he taught us years ago. The song comes from Malawi, and the words repeat: Da ku o na moni.
The song loosely translates to: I greet you with my eyes, I greet you with my heart. I know that God is in our midst, I greet you with respect.
He asks us to partner up and sing this song to one another – looking into each other’s eyes. There are hand motions we use with each repetition. Moving our hands from our eyes to the person we are facing. Motioning from our heart to theirs. Moving our arms up and towards one another. And at the end, a small bow of respect.
I tend to be pretty comfortable with most spiritual practices, but I’ll be honest that the vulnerability required to sing this song catches me off guard each time we do it. As a culture we don’t spend much time looking into one another’s eyes. Asking a room full of teenagers to do it – over and over – in small and large groups always feels like a big ask to me. But each year – with no hesitation – everyone participates, and they are all in. Each year it brings me to tears watching the way they greet one another.
But this year, something in particular struck me while I was watching the group sing and dance today. I noticed the boys – the young men – who were singing and dancing and motioning from one heart to another.
These boys did not hold back. They didn’t hesitate. They just starting singing and moving and acknowledging God in their midst. Watch some of them here:
Aren’t they great? I noticed them right away. And within moments of seeing them together my heart started to do that melty thing it does at camp all the time.
I started to think about what it’s like to be a young man in America in 2019. How there’s a needed push for an end to toxic masculinity but still enough toxic masculinity around that it’s hard to find an abundance of role models about how to be instead. I started thinking about how much pressure there is on young males – and teens in general – to be “cool” and “popular” – to dress a certain way and act a certain way. I thought about how they are told that they can’t be too arrogant but they also can’t be too sensitive and how hard (impossible) it must be to find that perfect middle ground. I thought about how desperately we need vulnerable, faithful, joyful, brave men to help us bring about a much needed culture change. We need men who will show great love and enthusiasm for one another, and who will help change the world in all the best ways.
I realized as I watched the boys dance in front of me that if they can just harness this feeling – this joy and love and openness that they experience at camp – and figure out how to live this way in their lives outside of ECC, they WILL be the change we need in the world.
Here’s more. You can see it too:
My eyes were leaking at this point, as Fran encouraged the group to gather in a big circle, still singing. He asked if anyone felt inspired to jump into the circle to dance. And who jumped right into the circle?
Boys. Teenage boys.
I worry about the state of our world a lot. Who doesn’t, right? But I have to tell you, for these minutes this morning I felt so much hope.
Boys will be boys.
We hear it all the time. We’ve identified it as part of the problem behind some of the toxic masculinity that can be so dangerous in our culture today. But watching these boys this morning all I could think was, boys WILL be boys. And here’s what that means at ECC:
Boys will dance. Boys will sing. Boys will cry. Boys will look one another in the eye and acknowledge God’s presence in their midst. Boys will pray. Boys will do musical theater. Boys will play sports and boys will play instruments. Boys will be boys even when they were born with female body parts. Boys will be silly. Boys will hug. Boys will laugh. Boys will support. Boys will forgive. Boys will love.
And these boys? I’m convinced they will change the world.
Go ahead and tell me teenagers are terrible. Do it. Go on.
Because I’ll fight you.
I know, I know – they are self absorbed (so were we). And they take selfies all the time (allow me to show you my photos of my 9th grade trip to Paris where I took 6 rolls of film, mostly of myself standing in from of some historical landmark). They are entitled (not their fault actually, that’s on us).
I don’t care what you say. You just can’t convince me they are terrible. I have seen far too much good.
Take this week, for example. It’s Bridge Camp – my most favorite time of the year: when ECC welcomes campers with special needs to come spend a week at camp and high school students come and make sure they have an awesome experience. It’s heaven on earth, people.
HEAVEN. ON. EARTH.
Our Bridge Campers are the most fun, gentle, loving, hysterical, smart, kind, and wonderful people on the planet. They come through the gates of this camp and they just bust our hearts right open from the minute they step out of the car.
I’ve worked with people with special needs for 20 years on and off, and I love every single thing about them. But the thing that most inspires me is the way they live without inhibition. They experience the whole range of emotion and human experience as the rest of us, but they don’t always get hung up on the expectations of the world and our dreadful societal norms. When they are sad, they cry. When they are angry, they yell or sulk. When they are happy, they dance.
Oh, if we could all live this way.
But the best part about Bridge Camp (and I dare say ECC in general) is that once camp starts rolling we all become inspired to live with the same open-heartedness. Our high school campers (helper campers) are SO nervous when they greet the Bridge Campers and their parents. They want to do it right – they want to make a good impression, and connect with the Bridge Camper, and help them feel at home. They try so hard, and for the most part they get it just right.
Then, after about an hour has passed: magic happens. Everyone relaxes, friendships form, laughter erupts – and we are all transported to this incredible place that I am convinced is a preview of the Kingdom of God.
And then what happens? Well, a group of supposedly self-absorbed, narcissistic, entitled teenagers start tripping over themselves to do WHATEVER IT TAKES to make sure that our Bridge Campers have the time of their lives.
It is so stunning to behold.
Like these two – awake early, and sitting in the pavilion coloring and chatting:
Or this teen, playing guitar because the camper she’s paired with loves music:
Or this teen, making sure her camper can find her place during Compline:
And come on – get a load of these sweet faces, making sure the camp has popcorn at the carnival:
Then there’s this group – just relaxing on the front lawn taking in a little sensory time.
I could show you a thousand photos. Everywhere you look at this camp it’s just sheer beauty. Every year I want to tell you all about it, but it’s so good, so beautiful – it’s hard to find words.
But this year, I had to try. These teenagers, they deserve a little positive PR. They are so kind. So tender. Insert all the good things I could possibly say, because I mean them all.
Just go ahead and watch this video of some of our campers singing together today (yes, that’s Jen crying in the background. We adults spend the whole week crying – there’s no getting around it).
How’s that for beautiful? “Make our way to a world that we design…”
We’ve just got it all wrong when it comes to teens. They want to be good. They want an opportunity to help others, to make an impact, to share love. You know who’s generous, hard-working, faithful, and fabulous?
At pre-camp this past week our Assistant Director, Adam, led us through a training on emotional intelligence.
After spending some time unpacking how we consider and identify our own feelings, he switched gears to talking about how we show up for one another and how we can show up for our campers. He posed the following question:
“Think of someone that you that you haven’t known for very long, but that you trust. Why do you trust them?”
I was immediately transported in my mind to a few weeks prior, when, the morning after our 70th Anniversary Gala the timing worked out such that I was able to sit in the green chairs with a camp friend that I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. Social media allows me to keep up with what’s happening in her life (at least on the surface level – with the major details covered) and so we were able to dive right in – asking one another to fill in what happened around and outside of the status updates.
Quite quickly the conversation deepened in nature, and we started sharing more personal details about what had happened in our lives over the two decades that had passed since we had last seen each other. We covered some of the heartaches and disappointments we had encountered. We spoke of the joy and the growth. We commiserated about life’s challenges.
At one point a few minutes into the conversation, when we were sharing about some of life’s more complicated bits, she said “I mean, I trust you. But it’s hard to talk about these things with other people.”
I nodded in agreement. I could have sat there with her in those green chairs for hours talking about all of life’s things. It was so easy – as if only a minute had passed.
I have reflected on that moment so many times since then. Because as deeply as I shared her sentiment and feelings of trust I couldn’t help but shake my head a little at how funny it was that we felt that way. We haven’t seen each other in twenty years. And since the conversation I keep trying to remember: were we even that close when we worked together? Did we talk much? Were we in the same cabin? Was I a good friend to her when we were slogging our way through hot summers together in the 90s?
Somehow, when we sat together that day, all that didn’t matter. She was my camp friend, and we had shared an experience together at ECC that made her someone I could fundamentally trust. More, I knew I could be real with her. That I didn’t have to pretend life was a pretty show of status updates and instagram photos. That time I spent with her was sacred, and if it’s another 20 years that goes by until we sit in the green chairs again, I imagine that same sweet intimacy and trust would still hang in the air between us.
I’m guessing that when Adam said “think of someone you trust that you haven’t known for very long”, that most of the staff thought of their camp friends. The intensity of the camp experience allows friendships to form in a few hours over a work project, or sharing a meal together surrounded by 100 other people, or sitting on the porch together on night duty dodging the moths. Adam effectively brought the training home, reminding us that we have a short period of time to build trust with our campers in order to ensure they have a safe camp experience. And, he reminded us, it is entirely possible to build that trust.
Welp, I turned into a priest-mom-Easter-morning-psycho.
I mean, Christ is Risen, right? Might as well go crazy on your family.
I’m not sure if I could even specifically name when we (I) went off the rails, but I think it had something to do with bad communication leading up to the morning. There were things I didn’t say to my family and maybe should have, like “Jonathan I want you to fill the Easter eggs BUT DON’T HIDE THEM BECAUSE I LOVE THAT PART.” Instead I said, “Fill the Easter eggs.” And I’m married to a guy who’s helpful. And I didn’t get home from my Easter Vigil until 11pm – so he hid the eggs. Nice guy, right?
Ooh I was mad.
Then on Easter morning my family and I went to church together (my particular priest gig at Beloved allows me to attend church with them closer to home on Sunday mornings). But at no time leading up to this event did I say to my family, “Oh hey, even though I started my own church just so I could be super sure no one had to dress up for church every Sunday, this is the ONE day where I want us to look fancy and might even attempt a cute family picture. So dress nice.”
Instead, what did I say? Exactly nothing. I just yelled to everyone 20 minutes before leave-time that they had 20 minutes to get ready.
Then I spent 17 of those minutes in a battle of wills with Sam.
My mother-in-law had gotten him a cute Easter outfit. Here he is the day he got it, when he was totally stoked to put it on:
I mean, right???
But then Easter rolls around and it all falls apart. We can’t find the pants, but I am able to locate the shirt and we get some pants that sort of match and Sam seems to be tracking but then suddenly…..record scratch. He is NOT having it. No way, no how. He doesn’t want to dress fancy. He wants his shorts. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth from both of us.
I pulled out every trick in my book (I don’t have that many tricks). I told him everyone else in the family was dressing up. I tried shaming him by saying that all the other people at church would be dressed nice and he would wish he had dressed nice too. I told him he could only participate in the Easter Egg hunt after church if he was dressed nicely.
He. Would. Not. Budge.
Furious, I stormed away from him. He put on his shorts and t-shirt. Here he is: mismatched socks, one fake tattoo, two unnecessary bandaids, and a sticker of a hot dog that you can’t see on the front of his shirt.
Things did not get better when the rest of the family came outside to get in the car to leave and really no one had dressed all that nicely. Emily and I had dressed up, but that was only because she’s small and I forced her into her dress while she cried and screamed.
By the time we started driving to church I couldn’t even speak to anyone. I just sat there, steam rising off my head, fuming about how my family had dashed all of my hopes for Easter morning. As often happens when I reach this level of mad, my sane self was actually hovering outside of me, looking at me, confused. Sane Meaghan was talking to me and saying things like, “Why are you so upset about this? You don’t even like dressing up for church!” And, “This battle isn’t worth fighting, you want your kids to like going to church, not resent you because you force them to dress a certain way.” And finally “If you wanted everyone to dress up you probably should have mentioned that.”
But I didn’t care about sane Meaghan, and I was not going to listen to or be her. I was going to be FURIOUS. The end.
We pulled up at church and headed indoors, me still giving the steely silent treatment to my loved ones. Because I’m an adult, I made sure they knew I was mad at them by making a big display of saying hello to and hugging a good friend when I ran into her in the parking lot. See, I’ll rejoice with some people. Just not you people.
We found our seats and Sam jumped to the seat beside me.Great.
The priest stood before the congregation to welcome everyone to Easter, and she offered several helpful pieces of information so that everyone could settle in. Interestingly she did not say that only children who had worn fancy clothes could participate in the Easter Egg Hunt.
At the close of her announcements, she explained that she wanted to offer one more word of welcome to those present. She began reading a truly lovely invitation, which made clear that everyone was welcome here, regardless of their beliefs or experience. As she read this invitation, a small child on the other side of the room unleashed a hearty cry of displeasure. Without missing a beat, the rector rolled the cry right into her invitation, “whether you are unhappy about being here, or if you are happy about being here….”
Right after she uttered the words, Sam turned to me with a grin that stretched from ear to ear and announced brightly,
“I’m happy to be here Mama!”
Nothing jolts you out of an Easter morning snit quite like your joyfully resilient 4-year-old, who despite all your best efforts to suppress and control him, is still going to delight in sitting in church next to your grumpy self. Especially when he will say as much – loud enough for the people sitting around you to hear.
Well played, Sam. Well played.
Things got better after that. The church service was lovely, and the corners of my mouth were able to turn up into a smile again, and the Easter Egg hunt was a flurry of excitement and joy. There was lots of chocolate and laughing and fellowship.
We didn’t get a family picture, and that was ok.
The thing I’m coming to realize about going to church with my family is that it’s hard. Sometimes it’s hard because of my own doing (like Easter) and other times it’s just hard because having little kids is hard, and life is busy, and getting somewhere together as a family and at least attempting to sit still for a portion of an hour is hard.
I’m also coming to realize that going to church together as a family is holy: that even though it’s hard, and pajamas and couches are compelling, and we’re already running in a million directions all the time – there is always at least one moment in church when the Divine breaks through in a way I just don’t always get if I’m home in my pajamas. There is a moment, each Sunday we make it there, where I see my children or myself or my God in a new way. And no matter how much of a total mess it is to get out the door and get ourselves into the building, it is worth it to be there, because God breaths new life through music and community and silence and noise and prayer and Easter Egg hunts and little boys in mismatched socks and unnecessary bandaids.
Six years ago I wrote this post. Our then-new Bishop had just been ordained and I was feeling really excited and hopeful about the direction ECC was moving in. I asked for your help (in a long-winded way, as I am prone to do.) I told you what Sara Clarke and I believed in 2011: that NOW is the right time.
It was the right time. Sort of. But there was a windy road from that blog post to this one, that included Sara not working at ECC and then coming back to work at ECC, and me fumbling my way through many years as director and learning the ropes and growing some of the programs and learning a lot through mistakes and risks and new experiences.
In the middle of all of that Sara casually said to me one day, “We celebrate our 70th Anniversary next year. We should have a big gala.”
I’m a girl who loves a party, so I said sure.
We started by doing what any smart people would do: recruiting two other people to plan the party. We asked Chris Labonte and Laura Sidla to come on board, and they recruited more people to help, and RISE Together was born.
We had high hopes and big goals. We wanted 300 people to come to this event, and we hoped to raise a lot of money. I was cautiously optimistic, but a little nervous because at our regular fundraisers we have about 125 people attend. 300 felt like a lot.
But Lord – haven’t I met you people before? I should have known better.
Because here we are on April 11th, and we have sold out of tickets for our 70th Anniversary Gala. SOLD OUT. (ok, we have ten tickets left, but you know what I mean.)
We didn’t sell out 300 tickets though friends, we sold out 400 tickets.
We had to get a bigger tent.
Our bigger tent. (It will look prettier in person)
We are also well on our way to reaching our financial goal for this event. I’m no longer cautiously optimistic – I’m over the moon optimistic, and I’m profoundly overwhelmed by the generous way this community has shown up to support this ministry even though I shouldn’t be surprised or overwhelmed anymore because you do it again and again and again.
The idea behind our Rise Together event is that we are celebrating the past while we sustain the future. I sincerely hope that you are planning to be here to celebrate with us on June 1st. If you cannot be here, I hope you’ll still take part in the celebration and the sustaining. You’ll be seeing more from us as we reflect on 70 incredible years of service and ministry. You can make a one-time or sustaining monthly gift at any time to help us secure the future of ECC.
Your gifts of service, time, celebration, energy, money, in-kind gifts, wishlist gifts, campers, and talents are never taken for granted here. We know that the reason the ministry of ECC has been so powerful for 70 years is because of the people who make up the ministry, and who share love and fellowship with one another in ways that change lives.
Thank you for showing up, once again, to lift up and celebrate the Episcopal Conference Center. I can’t wait to see you on the dance floor!