Thursday, September 17, 2009
The Preacher’s Corner
Church camp puts things into perspective
Last Saturday we had a 60th anniversary celebration for Camp Hopewell, our Presbyterian camp on Highway 30, six miles east of Oxford. Many a Holly Springs and Marshall County young person has gone to Camp Hopewell through the years. Denton O’Dell, of Chulahoma, was director of the camp for many years, and as a witness the activities building is named in his honor.
The idea for the camp grew during the years following World War II, but the idea really got started when the Old Hopewell Church offered its building and property for development of a camp to serve the Presbyterians of North Mississippi. That little congregation, which dates back to 1839, would be celebrating its 170th anniversary, had not all the members gone to heaven or moved into town. But the old church still stands and is the camp chapel. It breathes peace and grace.
When all the camp alumni met for worship, the sermon focused on the stones of remembrance the old Hebrews used to put up whenever they reached a significant milestone. You may remember the hymn, “Come, thou fount of every blessing,” with the line “here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’m come.” Ebenezer is the Hebrew word for “stone of remembrance,” and I’ll bet that few in modern times who sing the old hymn know the meaning of that phrase.
The speaker suggested that we each pick up a stone and go to a spot in the camp where we had a special memory and place our stone at that spot as a remembrance, offering a prayer of gratitude. I knew instantly where to go, for although I have many memories, Hopewell was where I was received under care as a candidate for the ministry. That was a pretty big day in my life!
I was not as sentimental about Hopewell then as I am now, and I will confess that, frankly, I had envisioned a grander setting for such a significant spiritual transaction. Some large church that looked like a cathedral would have suited my pretensions. However, the meeting of the presbytery (our regional governing body) was at Hopewell, so I resolved to make do.
Things did not get off to a good start, for the meeting quickly devolved into an argument, for Presbyterians love to contest all sorts of things at their regional and national governing body meetings. The controversy that day was especially intense, and when the order of the day came to hear my testimonials, the moderator had to interrupt the debate and quiet the members, several of whom were so exercised with their previous discussion, that they stepped outside the pavilion and continued their controversy in tones that were clearly audible as the moderator prayed over me.
The whole scene was making me seriously depressed. If this was what being a minister was about, I thought maybe I should reconsider. However, at just that moment God intervened. I was bowing with one eye closed for the aforementioned prayer, when what did I spy but the camp dog, a creature of very uncertain pedigree, wandering down the center aisle with a friendly but knowing look in her eye. It was as if she was telling me that she had seen it all and this present controversy was no great matter over which to be dismayed. Then the dog sat down before the praying moderator, and fixed a quizzical gaze. A moment later she yawned and began laconically scratching her ear with a gnarled and muddy hind paw.
The scene was ludicrous, but somehow I realized the animal was wiser than at least some of the humans there present. When at last the Amens were said, the dog turned circles of joy, and when discussion of the previous resumed, the dog would run up and down the aisle barking furiously every time the decibel level rose too high. Somehow the dust settled, and the crisis was resolved, and I went off to seminary, and we Presbyterians have found new things to engage our propensity for religious dissension.
Camp Hopewell has since helped me many times. It always puts things into perspective.
One wag says that church camps are designed to make children appreciate home, but for me, church camp is something very close to home. For home is a place to which we journey, and like the Hebrews, I am grateful for all the signposts, the Ebenezers, if you will, that mark the way.
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