I just got home from my favorite week of the year. It’s less expensive than Christmas and just as exciting as any family vacation. It even has the feel of a family vacation since I’ve known some of the staff for over 20 years. Most of them I see in person only this one week a year.
The theme of the week was “God’s Positioning System: Recalculating.” And we recalculated almost from the first day. In fact, we recalculated so much during the week that I think for next year’s theme I will suggest “Be Still and Know That I Am God.”
As we were going to bed the first night of the retreat a storm blew in. A big one. We were staying in dorms built from cinderblocks and brick. They are sturdy buildings. We had no clue of how strong the storm was because we couldn’t hear it or feel it. We saw an occasional flash of lightning. A couple of times the lights flickered but these kids were so laid back that there were no screams of alarm. It was a very ho-hum atmosphere inside the dorm. Remarkably, everyone went to bed on time and with no fanfare.
The next morning we woke up with no electricity. When I called Beaven he told me there were 105,000 people in Oklahoma without power and it might take several days to restore power.
You might expect a total nightmare to even think of hosting 400 people for a week with no electricity. The first order of business was checking how much life was in my cell phone. We had a staff of over 30 people and twice that number of adult sponsors who would be herding the kids and we needed to be able to communicate. Once we figured we could charge our phones in our cars if need be, everyone headed to the dining hall for breakfast. The campus maintenance guys were picking up limbs everywhere.
The dining hall was working off an emergency power supply. We had eggs and potatoes but no meat. They had set it all out on chafing dishes with Sterno heat. There was plenty of cereal and pastries. About the only real hardship was there was no coffee.
Word was going around that we would have our morning music and keynote outside in the Commons on the grass.
The staff was arranging to rent a generator when the lights came back on. Coffee appeared. And we all just went to the next scheduled activity as though nothing had happened.
We just recalculated. It was the most amazing thing. The kids were so calm I was a little startled. And the only thing I can figure is that they trusted the adults to take care of them.
I have said so many times that this week is special to me and everybody else in the Synod Youth Workshop community. Let me try to explain it. The kids weren’t always that laid-back.
We have a huge variety of really cool things to do during the week: We have five keynote addresses by one of the best preachers in the church. A moving Communion service and a 400-person shaving cream fight. Our music is led by the youth; in fact the whole week is planned mostly by ten kids on the planning team. We have 26 different service projects – my group served food at a soup kitchen. There is Town Night when the kids get off campus for about six hours of food and fun. There is a mixer one night and a dance another night. Each group spends some time walking a labyrinth. There’s a Variety Show with some great talent. And then about nine small group meetings where you spend some time figuring out the whole Faith Thing.
And just in case you misunderstand all this fun stuff let me say that Christ is the center of the week. Christ is at the center and all around the edges. Christ was in the labyrinth and at the bowling alley. Christ was at the food bank where they boxed food and He was at the shaving cream fight. Because Christ doesn't just call us to action, Christ calls us into a relationship with Him, a joyful relationship. A relationship where teenagers run with abandon across a grass field sometimes throwing a frisbee and sometimes throwing a sponge filled with water.
It’s a very unique week and Synod of the Sun is slightly famous throughout the Presbyterian Church for it. Not only do we spend far more hours as a small group than other retreats but we make a covenant of confidentiality where a person can say anything with the assurance that it will not be repeated outside the group. And in all my time at Synod I have never known that covenant to be broken.
But I doubt you could take this list of activities and duplicate the week anywhere else. Because the entire community comes with a long history—a kind of a “culture” that makes it what it is. Each element of the week is built on something that preceded it. It is constantly morphing into an even better week. Recalculating, if you will.
When I went to Synod for the first time in 1991 cell phones had not been invented yet. If you wanted to call your mother you had to wait for the black phone in the hall to be available and then you had to call home collect. Music and keynote was done without microphones or computerized graphics with only a piano and a sheet of song lyrics. Also, there was a kind of power play going on all the time between the kids and adults. The challenge of the week for them was to see how much trouble they could get away with: sleeping in someone else’s room or not even being in the dorm for lights out. We oftentimes had kids literally hanging from the balconies.(Chad Kueser is famous for holding onto the second floor balcony rail with one hand while holding a banana with the other.) They were sneaking into each others’ rooms all over the campus. We had to have patrols of adults checking the bushes at midnight. Over the years the adults learned where to draw the line and where to allow for some Grace. The kids eventually learned the limits and learned to trust us.
Today, I can say that they are so well behaved that it is a fairly easy week with great mutual respect between youth and adults. And I’m not sure you build that respect overnight. It must be earned.
You might say we recalculated over the years--little by little, bit by bit.
The biggest recalculation of the week, however, was personal and it was difficult. You never get used to the Big Recalculations.
We were leaving a rousing and energetic morning session that had ended with a story that involved a father dancing the polka with his daughter. I decided to get the Beer Barrel Polka off iTunes. When I pulled out my phone, however, I saw a message from the Garland church telling me that Roland Adams had died.
It knocked the breath out of me. I knew he was sick but I wasn’t prepared for his death. I had to sit down in the empty theatre and recalculate a bit before I could go to the next activity.
Roland Adams was one of the last great gentlemen. He always wore a suit and a tie to worship. He sometimes carried a snappy hat. He was dignified, polite and loving. I served on a couple of committees with him and he was a patient and thoughtful man. We once sat in a long meeting that involved eliminating a staff position at the church. It was a hard decision and it took some time. And Roland didn’t want to do it quickly or thoughtlessly. I learned a lot from him at that meeting.
The picture I will always carry with me was at a wedding reception where the DJ eliminated couples from the dance floor according to the length of their marriage. Finally, Roland and Margaret were left alone. I think they had been married well over 50 years at that time. We watched them dance gracefully and at the end of the song Roland dipped Margaret toward the floor. I will never forget that dip. He was a romantic and a gentleman through and through.
And now God has recalculated him and accepted him into the Church Eternal. Thanks Be to God for his life and our time with him.
I have to stop and post for today. I’ll have videos and photos next week. Don’t worry--the Synod Glow will last another week and some of the best videos are just now getting out.