A recent editorial in The Presbyterian Outlook (an independent and important bi-weekly publication of news related to the PC (USA)) opened with the following Q&A:
“What’s so great about camps and conference centers? In three words, they make converts.” The editorial goes on to point out a number of ways in which camp and conference ministry can be life transforming. As the editor points out, few people walk out of church on any given Sunday saying, “That changed my life,” and yet such a statement is much more common after a weekend retreat or weeklong camp.
Many of you have fond memories of time spent at Camp Burnamwood, and some of you have experienced Montreat Conference Center, or other camp and conference ministries of the Presbyterian Church. I have had conversations with a few of our young adults who look at their time at Camp Burnamwood as having been formational and transformational. The youth who went on the mission trip to Chattanooga last summer had similar sentiments, and we are looking forward to the trip scheduled for this June. We also hope to send more youth to weekend retreats or weeklong summer camps at Burnamwood this year. There is no substitute for that kind of a “mountaintop” experience.
The Sunday before Lent starts is Transfiguration Sunday, which falls this year on March 6th. On this Sunday, we will remember the literal and figurative mountaintop experience that Peter, James, and John share with Jesus, during which Jesus is “transfigured” before them. His face shines like the sun, his clothes become white, and suddenly Moses and Elijah appear. God’s voice can be heard by all, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” There is a real and transformational religious experience if there ever was one!
None of that is to talk away from what we do here at church each Sunday, Wednesday, throughout the week and throughout the year. Mountaintop experiences are important, and they do make converts. They teach us in deep and meaningful ways. And yet, another feature of mountaintop experiences is that they must end. All mountaintop journeyers must once again descend to the valley, and coming down from the mountain can be a shock to the system.
Living out the daily walk of discipleship in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life is a huge challenge. Mountaintop experiences are shared in communities of support and encouragement. Such support and encouragement can be much more difficult to find in the valley. We are surrounded by more distractions, more temptations, and we lose the focus and zeal that seemed so unshakable up on the mountain.
That’s where we come in. Just as there is no substitute for a mountaintop experience, so there is no substitute for the regular practices of worship, Bible study, prayer, and fellowship, that are cultivated in the community of believers we call the church. The church is the ongoing community of support and encouragement, the place where fervor and zeal are given shape and depth in daily life. The church serves to send journeyers to the mountain, and to provide ongoing nurture when they come back down.
Are we doing everything we can to point people to the mountain? And are we cultivating a community of faith that can sustain travelers and deepen their journey? We support Burnamwood in the church budget, and we support scholarships for Burnamwood, Montreat, and the Mission Trip through the Hylen Fund. Do you know of young people who could use such a mountaintop experience? (Hint: if you know any young people, the answer is yes.) Let us help start the journey. We also invite you to prayerfully consider making a financial contribution to Burnamwood, Montreat, or other PC (USA) Camp and Conference Centers, or to the Hylen Fund here at the church to support scholarships for those who would otherwise be unable to attend.
Camps and conferences aren’t just for youth. If you are interested in exploring adult conferences or retreats, talk to us – there are great ones out there. Happy trails!
Grace and Peace,
Stephanie and Andy