On a recent Monday morning, Pat Walsh, the director, called. He told me that Elizabeth, a counselor, was leaving the next morning to return to Pennsylvania for surgery on her broken clavicle. He told me that if the ever the camp needed me, this was the day. Could I come to camp?
I had not planned a trip that day, but I promised to be there - and I left work as promised at 5:00 PM. I drove the 86.7 miles to camp - down I-25 to Douglas, then down the paved road to the White School, then down the dirt road, and the 2.7 miles down the really bumpy dirt trail. And there I was at camp.
I was greeted enthusiastically - with hugs and smiles. The counselors rang the bell, and we gathered at the firepit.
I took a deep and prayerful breath, and started with a story I heard The Rev. Rex Martin tell on the day of his ordination at Church of Our Savior in Hartville, Wyoming. Rex tells about his days working in the Sunrise Mine near Hartville. Every time he left work, he washed the red iron ore off his body. One day, the mine closed. Rex figured he was done with red iron ore dust - but to his surprise, it took months to wash the dust off.
The story illustrates our connectedness. The people we meet are part of our "dust" - and even when they are no longer with us, their "dust" is part of us. It is impossible to wash off the "dust" of family and friends, even when they are no longer close. The camp staff has become a tight-knit group, working and playing and sharing "dust" that will never wash off.
I then asked the staff questions: a theological reflection about the time they have spent together at camp. What has it been like this summer? Where have you seen brokenness or division? What has surprised you or shed new light? What shows a change of heart or mind? Where have you seen blessing? Where have you seen God this summer? We sat in silence as we thought about the questions, and then listened as hearts were opened in sharing.
We prayed a Litany of Farewell borrowed from EfM. (EfMers, check out page 7-12-1 in your Common Lessons and Supporting Materials.)
The staff gave Elizabeth a gift, and we shared ice cream.
It was not really a big deal - and yet it was a big deal. The camp staff was able to say good bye in a graceful way - in a way that acknowledged that Elizabeth's departure was leaving a hole in the staff that could not be filled, and in a way that recognized Elizabeth's need to take care of herself and to heal from the unfortunate mountain bike accident.
We opened our souls in the reflection, and we prayed heartfelt prayers together. We shared in the sacrament of ice cream - a dessert that was more than just milk and cream and sugar.
As I drove home in the dark - up the 2.7 miles of bumpy trail, and then the dirt road, and then the paved road, and then I-25 - I began to recognize what it means to be a priest.
I did not wear a collar or a stole. I was not in a church. I did not bring any magic answers.
I brought a framework for sharing: a story, some questions, some silence, some prayer.
I brought a glimpse of the Good News that God is with us, and that we matter, and we are loved, and we belong.