our Easter best

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:

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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.

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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.

Whatever.

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!”

 

Well then.

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.

Alleluia. 

Celebrating the Past, Sustaining the Future

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 2016 our diocesan CFO Dennis Burton came onto the scene and led us in a really powerful strategic planning process and then things really started to happen. We created a new mission statement, we brought Sara back in a full-time role, we hired Joanne Harrison and Craig Halvarson to help with marketing and care of the property. We made some plans for solar farms and new buildings and new marketing strategies.

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.

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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!

Love is the Energy

The following sermon was preached at Christ Church in Philadelphia, PA in August by a Visiting Staff person and ECC alumni. It is shared with you with her permission!

 

Good morning. My name is Julia DeJoseph.

I’ve had the pleasure of coming to Christ Church with my husband, Dan, for the last 4 years, during which time, this community has given us the great pleasure of welcoming our two young children, Jamie and Carolina, with open arms. I was humbled by the opportunity to speak to you today and a bit terrified when I read our first lesson. I don’t know about you, but my knowledge of Biblical battles is quite limited. The description of poor Absolam’s head caught fast in the oak, as he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on, feels something out of a graphic novel. This passage reminds me that the authors of the Bible were definitely not boring but did not help me know what I should or could say to you today.

Fortunately, our second reading resonated deeply for me. “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. … be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.”

In the last year or so, I have felt that we live in a more bitter, wrathful, and angry world. I am sure that there have been times like these before and times worse than these, but this is my present and I have found it unsettling.

I am a woman.

I am the daughter of an immigrant.

I am a mother with young children.

I am a family doctor who provides health care for primarily Spanish-speaking immigrants in a poor neighborhood of Philadelphia. My health center was one of many in Philadelphia specifically targeted to offer care to those displaced by the hurricane last year in Puerto Rico.

As such, in the last year or so, I have struggled to make sense of the world and I have looked for ways to find solace and reason and hope.

I am a lifelong Episcopalian. As a child and teenager, I was fortunate to attend and later work at an Episcopal summer camp in Rhode Island. For the past three summers, Dan, Jamie, Carolina and I were able to spend a week at that same camp as visiting staff. The camp property is an old 188-acre farmstead bequeathed to the diocese 70 years ago. It is wooded and beautiful. It has an old wood barn which serves as our church. It has a Liberty Bell sized bell that marks time for camp activities throughout the day. It has trails, streams, a murky frog pond, and a stunning lakefront. The current caretakers have brought their llamas, ox, and bull to pastures built into the current landscape of the property. There is a ballfield that serves as an amphitheater to many nights of stargazing.  The property is rustic and welcoming. As one makes the final turn onto the property there is a large rock, just as you enter the parking lot, upon which is painted “He Who Enters Here is a Stranger but Once”.

As such, two weeks ago, my family entered that familiar place and reunited with a church family I’ve known since I was a child.  I reunited with four women who I’d met at camp when we were in our early teens. Twenty plus year of memories, laughter, and the familiar comfort offered by long friendships is the ultimate medicine. Two of these women are now Episcopal priests. All of us have children who also reunited and laughed and played during this brief reprieve from the outside world. Together we served as the adult staff for the week. We embraced and were embraced by the community of enthusiastic and energetic young campers, teen counselors, and twenty-something young adult staff. Many of these campers and counselors were the children of our fellow generations of camp alumni. This interweaving of generations was profound. The expansion of this community as they welcomed new campers and first-generation counselors was uplifting. I wondered what was it that kept this spirit of community going for so long? How had it been so consistently maintained?

Across the main beam of one of the barn’s walls reads, “Love is the energy of a steadfast will bent on creating fellowship”.  I believe this is the answer.

Love is the energy of a steadfast will bent on creating fellowship.

As a child, camp taught me about an all-loving God who preached acceptance, inclusion, tenderness, kindness, and (because we are ultimately a family), forgiveness. These are real and powerful things that can maintain and persevere over generations. Camp’s theme this summer echoes today’s reading.

From 1 Peter 3:8

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

My family returned from this amazing week and we were reminded of the good in the world. The Bible teaches us to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving … to be imitators of God, … and live in love. And as I renewed my faith in these teachings, I find that I receive the kindness, tenderness, love, and even forgiveness that offers me my much-needed solace, reason, and hope.

I pray that each of you are able to find such renewal when you need it, whether here at the community at of Christ Church or in your community in the larger world.

In closing, I’d like to share the closing benediction of the final Eucharist at our week of camp:

Life is short,

and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who make the journey with us.

So…

be swift to love,

and make haste to be kind.

And the blessing of God,

who made us,

who loves us,

and who travels with us

be with you now and forever.

Amen.

 

The author (left) and her camp friends.

The more things change…

This is a guest post by Becky Clarke – lovingly known to the ECC community as the Beckster!

 

The more things change…the more they stay the same

It’s been 20 years since I have participated in summer camp at ECC. I’ve gone back for reunions, softball games, open houses, and my sister’s wedding. But never the summer program. I didn’t have a great end to my last summer at camp (1998). We won’t get into specifics but it was a tough summer.

Some of my closest friends now are the friends I made at camp. I can’t imagine my life without some of these people. And if it wasn’t for ECC I wouldn’t have them. But it still wasn’t enough to bring me back.

Meaghan has been asking me for 7 years to come back for visiting staff. And each year I said no…until this year. Something was pulling me back to that place I had so many memories.

As we all know, Life can be complicated. I needed to recharge my battery and get back to basics…and what better place to do that than camp.

I was visiting staff for summers end. I was very nervous and not my usual outgoing self for the first couple days. I felt like a bit of an outsider. But then it was time for the Rockin round robin campfire on Tuesday night. Meaghan needed some assistance at her station…singing songs from the song book that we haven’t sung in a while. And everything started feeling like camp again…we sang Precious Friend, The cat came back…and the song of the week: The Papaya song. No one really knew how the tune went, but we figured it out and Meaghan lead us through it like Carol used to do back in the day. We were laughing, yelling, dancing. Just like we used to do.

We did compline at the frog pond. I’ve always found compline very comforting…and having the whole camp surrounding the frog pond with candles is an amazing sight. Just like it used to be.

I had a disco ball in my cabin back in 1996…Dorm 1. Meaghan was in Dorm 2 that summer and our theme song was copa cabana by Barry Manilow. Every time the light shined on that disco ball, you could hear Copa Cabana echoing through the Dorm.

The disco ball ended up following me for my head counselor summers after that. But it hasn’t seen much action since then. Until the summers end dance 2018. It added just enough to the dance and it brought back so many memories! I couldn’t stop staring at it. And we of course played Copa Cabana! Just like we used to do.

The dance took place in the pavilion…..a place that didn’t exsist in 1996. There are a good number of structures at camp that weren’t around 20 years ago. I don’t like change…and I remember being sad when I heard about all the changes at camp. But here’s the thing…the meaning of camp hasn’t changed. Just because they eat dinner differently, or have dances in a different place doesn’t mean it’s a bad change.

You can sit in the green chairs and hear all the sounds you heard all those years ago. The crunching of the rocks, the sound of guitars, the voices of the campers singing…the sound of the bell…it’s all still there. It just looks different on the outside…but the inside is the same. This is still a place where people can go and be themselves…have a safe place.
The counselors are still larger than life…and there is still that person you always look forward to seeing each day.

Yes things have changed…but it’s still the same. And if I can go back after 20 years…then YOU can go back to camp. I highly recommend getting involved…whether it’s a softball game, music camp madness or visiting staff. Everyone needs to recharge their batteries and get back to basics…and I can’t think of a better place to do that than 872 reservoir rd. I was told I looked refreshed after I got back. And I couldn’t stop talking about my week at camp…just like I used to do.

Come back! Get involved…go to a fundraiser…visit the open house in the spring…come play softball (the alumni needs some assistance!) Camp has changed on the outside…but when you take a step in you will realize it’s the place you loved…just like you used to.

Oh! And not having AC…it’s totally manageable. Seriously…if I can do it, anyone can.

hug eachother

It’s Older Children’s Camp, and we are tired.

My staff has been here for six weeks, and we’ve been working hard. It has been a terrific summer, and everyone has brought their best game… but we’re feeling it. The long, hot days are catching up. Our clothes have that dank, musty smell and feel from living at camp all summer – and so do we.  We’re starting to feel the yearly crunch of longing for home and free time while also mourning that we only have 2 and a half weeks of camp left. It’s all the feels. And evidently Mercury is in retrograde, so there’s that.

We have 80 campers here this week, including over 20 campers that we have absorbed from another camp that suspended enrollment for a summer. They still wanted their campers to have the camp experience, so they sent them to us. The start of the week was a little rocky as we adjusted to having them and they adjusted to a completely new camp environment but as is so often the case here, after the first 24 hours we were more focused on the friendships we were forming than the differences,. We have LOVED having them here.

One of these campers in particular is a snuggle bug. He gives hugs freely and without reservation to whomever he approaches. As the director I find this particularly refreshing – I’m not often on campers’ radars except for when I make announcements and lead church. But I’ve gotten lots of hugs this week, and it’s pretty great.

This morning my head counselor and I were standing together waiting for everyone to arrive at church when this boy came up to us. Looping one arm around me and the other around her he pulled us together announcing, “group hug!” Kaitlyn and I obliged and squeezed his shoulders affectionately.  While we were hugging him he looked up and noticed that while we were both hugging him, she and I had not closed the loop to hug each other. He swung his eyes up to us and simply said,

“Can you guys hug each other?”

We laughed, and shook our heads, and pulled in for a proper group hug per his instruction.

But oh man. He got me.

I work with my head counselor all day every day, and I adore her. We talk and we laugh and we problem solve and we brainstorm. We do all kinds of things together – but we do not spontaneously hug.  And it’s not because I’m not happy to hug her – of course I am! It’s just that we are so busy doing other things that it doesn’t even occur to us.  If I’m being honest I’m pretty bad about remembering to hug in general. I get so caught up in my to-do list that there’s no time for hugging.

But that group hug was gold for me today. It gave me a moment to connect with one of our campers, but also to connect with one of my staff in a way that was different from all of the other connections we have all day.

So I’m sharing this story with you, just in case you’re too busy today and you forget to connect. Since you might not have a sweet-faced camper to tell you what to do, I figured I could share his instruction:

“Can you guys hug each other?”

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