Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Welcome Home!

I spent last weekend in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains, in Toccoa, Georgia, with a group of wonderful people from my church. This was our annual parish retreat, and it was the first year since before I became a member at St. Martin’s that we held the retreat at Camp Mikell.

Camp Mikell is one of my favorite places on earth. It’s not a fancy place, but you can hear the creek from your room in the Retreat Center, you can sit in a rocking chair on the porch of the old dining hall and look at the cross that was built into the mountain sometime long before I attended camp there in the 1970s, or you can climb a rope ladder that looks like it came from a pirate ship and challenge yourself on the high ropes course, ending with an exhilarating zip line ride to the ground. Our group did all of these things and more. We also talked about how we invite God into our homes and our lives, did a few crafts, and enjoyed some wonderful fellowship time on Friday and Saturday evenings, playing games and getting to know each other better.

Our Sunday service was held in an outdoor chapel, and I had the honor of giving the homily. I’m posting it here – I’m guessing that almost anyone who has ever spent any time as a camper at Camp Mikell will agree with my description of the “Mikell Magic.”

We’ve been talking a lot about “home” this weekend. About welcoming Christ into our physical and spiritual homes. As I was thinking about what to say today, my mind kept returning to what it means to “feel at home.”

I actually googled the phrase and read that it means to feel as if you belong, to feel as if you were in your home and to feel accepted. Those are the words that really touched me – to feel accepted.

I changed schools a lot when I was young. We didn’t actually move houses, but they changed the school lines twice between 1st and 5th grades, and then halfway through 5th grade I changed schools from public school to the private school that my older sister and brother attended. Middle school can be hard for any kid, and switching in the middle of a school year made it especially bad. Add to that the fact that I was kind of an odd kid. I was bullied and teased from the instant I walked in the door. I went to that school for 2 and a half years, and it was pretty much torture the entire time.

I moved back to public school for 8th grade, which was the beginning of high school in Dekalb County at that time, and then we did move – so I changed schools AGAIN after the 1st quarter of 8th grade. I was still odd, I guess, and my self-confidence after the previous experience was pretty much non-existent so I was still an easy target.

Fortunately for me, there were two places where I felt accepted and at home. I was baptized late – I was 11 (I call myself a bunk-bed Episcopalian instead of a cradle Episcopalian) – and we started attending St. Bede’s Church. That was the first place I felt at home. My dad and step-mother were really active – my dad directed the folk mass and was on the vestry – and my step-mother was involved in outreach activities. We had a strong youth program with great leaders, and since the kids were from a bunch of different schools, we all got along and had fun together. I hadn’t known God before, but He was definitely there at St. Bede’s. I felt His presence when I was there, and I felt loved and accepted and safe.

The other place was right here at Camp Mikell. I was a camper here for 4 or 5 years, beginning when I was 12, and it was a sanctuary for me. People who have a history here will tell you about the “Mikell Magic” and it’s a real thing. From the people who ran the camp sessions, to the staff members, to the counselors – everyone was focused on making sure each camper found their place here. My first year I was loved and nurtured by people who had never met me – people who didn’t know I was a bit odd –and each subsequent year, they were excited to see me and made me feel like I was someone they were happy to know.

Relationships with other campers were made quickly – necessary because the camp sessions are only a week long – and were really intense (in a good way). Camp Mikell was the first place I realized that friends could love each other – and that it was important to tell people you loved them. Because cell phones and Facebook hadn’t been invented yet, a lot of these relationships went dormant during the school year, but as soon as we returned here, it was as if no time had passed.

You have probably heard of the Celtic concept of “Thin places” – places where heaven and earth seem to touch. For me, Camp Mikell was the thinnest place I knew. God was here all the time – giggling with us in the cabins, singing songs with us in the evening programs and hiking with us up to the cross. He was here with the staff members when they were comforting a home-sick camper, He was certainly here in the kitchen with the people who made the best food I’d ever had, and He was here in the beauty of this place. He was here with me, showing me that I was accepted and loved, and worthy of such acceptance and love. And based on what my daughter, Sara, has experienced here for the last 9 years, not much has changed.

And now I have another home - St. Martin’s. Old habits die hard, and just because I’m a grown-up doesn’t mean I don’t have some residual feeling of not fitting in. But since the first time I walked in the door at our church, I’ve felt nothing but accepted and embraced. I knew I was home. I do a lot at St. Martins – partly because my parents set such a good example of service when I was growing up – but mostly because I want others to feel at home the way I feel at home. And because when we feel at home, maybe we are more apt to open our heart “home” to let Christ in. And when we let Christ in and follow his commandment to love others, we make those others feel at home and accepted.

My hope for all of us is that when we leave this place, we will take the “welcome home” theme with us to our own lives, and especially back to our church family at St. Martins. And I also hope that we will remember the prayers for each room that we considered yesterday morning*, and remember that when we strive to include God in every room in our homes, both physical and spiritual, we receive blessings and we bless those we love.

I want to leave you with something I read earlier this week. I don’t know who to attribute it to, but it says “Christ is the head of the home. The unseen guest at every meal. The silent listener to every conversation.” He’s always with us and we should nurture that, and take comfort in that, and fill our homes with His love.


*We used prayers from “The Book of Occasional Services” Celebration for a Home (pg. 146-156).