I spent the weekend on Holy Dirt. This is what we United Methodists call Camp Glisson in Dahlonega, Georgia. Methodist youth have camped near Cane Creek Falls since 1926, when Reverend Elbert Hale organized the first youth summer camp. With the exception of summer 2020, Camp Glisson has been in session every summer since, welcoming generations of young people whose lives have been shaped by porch singing, creek hikes, chapel services and challenges of outdoor life rooted in the Christian faith. I love serving as the Theologian-in-Residence (TIR), aka Chaplain, for a week of summer camp. Last weekend I was the preacher at the Spiritual Life Retreat, a kind of youth revival weekend that takes place every March.
To be honest, I had been sick on Thursday before the retreat started, and I wasn’t sure I would make it. But there is no plan B for SLR preachers. If I didn’t go, I would leave my friend Hannah, the weekend coordinator, in a pickle. On Friday, I felt better, but seriously tired. Also, I still had work to do on my four sermons. I slowly climbed the GA 400 in the pouring rain through Friday afternoon traffic that started well before rush hour.
Later that night I went to the chapel. As I approached the Path of Silence, I could see flashes of red, blue, and green light through the windows. It wasn’t an acoustic guitar summer camp. It was a rock concert with laser lights and a fog machine! The facade of the chapel was also covered with strips of colored fabric. The theme was “For such a time as this”, and clocks of various sizes and shapes dotted the steps. I felt the energy rising, the Spirit moving, and any worry about whether I could do it dissipated. I was on holy ground, and God would give me the words.
We spent the weekend with the story of Esther, the Jewish queen who saved her people from destruction, and Job, the righteous man whose faithfulness never wavered despite losing. It was hard not to make connections with Ukraine, and in fact, the youth raised $1,000 for the work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief in Ukraine. We did this by means of a fabulous duck run on Saturday afternoon. For a donation, you can buy a rubber duck and watch it zip over Cane Creek Falls. All I can say is you had to be there. Let me assure you that I am now a die-hard duck racing fan. Beware the sneaky little one with the blue mohawk. He came from the left side to claim the prize.
As you can see, Spiritual Life Retreat includes a bit of fun as well as some really serious soul work. There is a method to our Methodist ways, and whenever we can raise money for a good cause and have a little fun, we believe God is pleased. We also believe that God is pleased when young people gather on holy ground and worship God together. Lives are transformed in such spaces. Children who struggle to believe they are worthy of love receive the assurance of God’s grace. Someone hears a story that finally makes sense of their experience, and faith grows stronger. Old wounds are healed and hearts open with hope.
We ended the weekend with Sunday morning worship in an outdoor amphitheater overlooking the lake. Steam rose from the water in the crisp, cool spring air. It was the first day of spring! I felt resurrected and energized with hope as we gathered around the communion table. As I prayed the liturgy over bread and grape juice, I was truly grateful for those three days apart. Sometimes you have to leave to come back to yourself. I went to Camp Glisson on Friday tired and wondering how I was going to do. I left Sunday with a deep sense of renewal and a greater appreciation for the healing power of God’s creation. Find your sacred ground and let spring begin!