I spent Friday and Saturday (September 12-13, 2014) with about sixty people who raised over $52,000 for Camp Calumet, our ELCA outdoor ministry here in New England. The activity was a 207 mile relay race across New Hampshire called “Reach the Beach” (http://nh.rtbrelay.com).
We were divided into four teams of twelve runners and drivers, supported by two vans per team. I participated in a small group of seven (six runners and a driver) in team: “Mandatory Fun, Van 2.” As strangers we bonded quickly by the common cause (fundraising for camperships for kids who couldn’t afford camp otherwise), by task (running our legs and driving to get there), in outreach (we shared who we are with other teams participating in the race beyond ourselves), in partnership (Thrivent helped our entire Camp Calumet team [https://www.thrivent.com], as did all the donors who supported the runners…THANKS!) and by encouraging support and prayer for each other.
The faith, generosity and commitment of everyone involved in the recruiting, coordination and execution of our running teams in this race was extraordinary. I felt like I gave everything I had out there and yet came home refreshed and renewed (even with sore legs) knowing I participated in something good and helpful.
My vanmates even set up a new Facebook group on Sunday (a day after we parted ways) so we can stay connected as new friends, and we’ve kept our conversations going. It has been fun over the last few days continuing to laugh, encourage and share this experience – well after it was over.
I got me thinking about our churches. Maybe our ministry sites struggle with using old models of structure, finding enough volunteers to keeping things running like they used to be, and asking for enough incoming dollars to keep the lights on, pay salaries and share with those outside our congregations. Maybe we can call that “decline.”
But I will tell you that after this weekend that I believe the church is strong and as relevant as ever – if we are willing to look in the right places for it and call on the passions of our people to do good in the world to make it a better place in Christ’s name.
The last runner on our team shared this experience:
“This picture is one of my favorite! Matthew Schmidt and I met for the first time at 11 am Friday morning. We hopped in the van, we all introduce ourselves and realize that this our new RTB family until we reach Hampton Beach. My team knew I was nervous about running in the sand. We talked about it, they gave me strategies to make it to the finish line. This is Matt giving me a big hug at Transition Area #35 and wishing me luck! He said, ‘YOU CAN DO IT!’ “ – Beth Kane
This is what it looked like when she made it to the end:
I am left pondering: HOW CAN WE DO CHURCH THIS WAY?
Maybe “decline” is not the right word for what we are experiencing in our churches (even in spite of the numbers). Perhaps it is a craving for a model shift, and greater impact on the world around us. I’m not suggesting we turn our churches into running clubs or cause celeb revenue generators. (Though we could learn a lot from those who do those things well). I am interested in how we clearly articulate who we are and what the goals are, how we support and encourage one another much more intentionally than most churches do, how we partner with others to accomplish the things we do hope to do, how we connect and stay connected in our busy lives, and how we translate our faith that begins with “Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:18) so “we love as he first loved us” (1 Peter 4:19). That way faith is not locked in a book or a building but is lived for all to see as we are transformed by the Spirit. We could use more hugs and “you can do it” moments when things get tough, and we should take more time for joyful celebrations whenever we ‘get there’ or ‘get it’ – even in small doses. Maybe we could smile, laugh and be silly a little more than we normally do too. I think our communities and our congregations would be stronger for it. What about you?
For now, I’m going to start training for Reach the Beach 2015.
Meet our Mandatory Fun Van 2 team:
See more pics and stories from the rest of our Camp Calumet teams on our RTB Bring it! FB page here:
You can still help send kids to camp next summer by visiting my fundraising page:
Here were my legs of the race:
Go in peace. Make peace wherever you go. -PGS