ECC Jr/Sr Conference and Summer's End

Dear faithful blog readers,

I know you have been beside yourself with grief that there hasn’t been a new blog entry in so long. I can’t blame you. I write riveting stuff here. (For those of you without a sense of sarcasm, you might note that I’m attempting to be ironic.) If I’m being totally honest, I haven’t posted anything about our last two weeks at camp because I’m still trying to process everything that happened. The final two weeks of camp were wildly emotional, joyous, enlightening, and profound. Even as I sit here typing this out, I’m not sure how to put into words what went on.

First of all, both of these weeks were intensely personal. It’s hard to convey to someone not at camp exactly what happened. I certainly hope to share the sense of joy and closeness to God we experienced in these final two weeks, but I also want to respect the incredibly personal stories that were shared at camp. It’s been many, many years since I was in Junior High or High School, but the stresses of those years stay vivid in my mind. I am blessed to have lived a very privileged life with two supportive parents in a nice home where we never went without. Even living with this privilege, my teenage years were filled with emotional struggles and fears. It’s so easy for adults to write these struggles off as melodramatic teenage angst, but what I learned in the past two weeks is that these struggles are very real. They certainly felt real to me as a teenager, and I cannot even begin to imagine the stresses piled on top of those already difficult years by those who do not enjoy the privileges I did as a teen.

The most powerful aspect of the last two weeks of camp for me was how open the teens were about sharing their struggles. There certainly were campers who didn’t say much, but by and large people felt comfortable sharing intimate details of their lives. They shared joys and friendships, but they also shared hurt and betrayals. It was deeply moving to see how even those who had never been to camp before instinctively knew that camp was a safe place for them. Perhaps even more moving was how campers received these stories. I never once saw a camper judged, mocked, or ridiculed for sharing stories of vulnerability. As a matter of fact, there was much hugging, smiling, and affirming. I know that I have a tendency to focus on my own problems in life and try to hide them from the rest of the world. We all want to look like we’ve got it together. Let me assure you right now, brothers and sisters, none of us has it completely together. We are a broken, hurt world. That doesn’t mean we are without hope, however. In the midst of all the brokenness and hurt shared by the teens at camp, there was incredible love and support. Naming our fears and struggles, we joined together in solidarity knowing that we did not have to navigate life’s struggles alone. We are a part of a community of the faithful.

I think the entirety of the summer can be summarized in an illustration done by Ben Sword, the head boy counselor. For those of you familiar with the barn at ECC, you will know that there is a cross over the altar with a relief carving of the risen Christ. For the cover of the annual Staff Magazine, Ben drew a simple but beautiful version of this cross. Each point of the cross has the symbol of one of the four Gospel writers, and there in front of the cross, but no longer bound by its torture to the point of death, is the glorious resurrected Jesus. With his hands outstretched in a wide embrace of all of humanity, Jesus looks out into the beauty of creation. In Ben’s version of the risen Christ, however, Jesus’ face is blank. There are no eyes, ears, nose, mouth—just an outline of a head devoid of features. When I looked at this simple drawing, I realized that Ben had captured the entirety of our summer and our life in Christ. The face of Jesus could not be drawn because Jesus has many faces. At our closing Eucharist I looked out at all the campers, staff, and adults that make up our camp family, and on every single face I saw the face of Christ.  Maybe Ben was just being lazy in not drawing in the details of Jesus’ face (sorry, Ben), but I like to think that he was making a profound theological statement that all of us can be Jesus to one another.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The beauty of the Christian faith is that we worship a God that knows first-hand what it is like to be human. God, incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, walked on this earth and knew the same joys, fears, and sufferings that we know. He endured torture and ridicule at the hands of his oppressors and was able to overcome not only their scorn but death itself. The people of ECC have been Jesus to me. They have shared in my fears, and they have rejoiced in my successes. They hold me up when I fall, and they celebrate my accomplishments. The Kingdom of God is a place where we all follow Christ’s commandment to love God and to love one another. ECC has given me a glimpse of that future reality. I am deeply grateful for the time I have spent in this joyous place. If you are a camper reading this, thank you for showing me the face of Christ in your joys and your sorrows. If you are a staff member reading this, thank you for showing me what Christ-like leadership looks like in caring for these campers and putting their needs above your own. If you are a parent of a camper or staffer, thank you for sharing your child with me just as Mary shared her child with the world. Everyone else, thank you for praying with all of us and living into the unfolding of God’s Kingdom.

If my post today seems a bit rambling, it’s because I don’t want it to end. I don’t want camp to end. I don’t want to wake up without hearing that big cast iron bell announcing that it’s a new day. I want always to bask in the love I have experienced this summer at ECC. At our staff closing Eucharist, there wasn’t a dry eye in the barn. None of us wanted the love and community we experienced at ECC to come to an end. Here are my words of consolation: It doesn’t have to. When the risen Christ appeared to his friends he gave them the Great Commission to go out into the world spreading the Gospel and baptizing in his name. That is our task. We must take the love we know at ECC and spread it throughout the world. It’s a difficult and draining task, but the joy it brings far outweighs the work. I pray that all of you know the love I have known at ECC. May God bless every single one of you as God has blessed me. You are truly God’s beloved. 

ugust 17, 2015

by Charles Lane Cowen