The theme for St. Elizabeth’s Camp this summer is…the Olympics! Campers and counselors are split into teams representing various countries, cabins are decorated with flags, and the first night of camp involved an epic Opening Ceremonies complete with an Olympic torch symbolizing the Holy Spirit. I can attest that the Holy Spirit is present at St. E’s this week both symbolically and literally.
As chaplain, part of my job is to make sure our counselors have a chance to explore the idea that this is more than just a fun summer gig or a résumé builder. As they befriend and care for our campers with special needs, I hope that each one of them might understand their time at St. E’s as a ministry to which they have been called by God. So before campers arrive, one thing we do to emphasize that sense of “Call” is to have a service of commissioning. Some of the counselor buddies have only ever been campers before, so it is especially important for them to have a tangible experience to mark their transition into their new roles.
We had planned to hold the Commissioning at the Shrine, but with a heat index of 107 and the Shrine in full sun at the appointed hour, we moved to an indoor location. Under the fluorescent lights of Chilton, with the hum of the under-performing window unit air conditioner in the background, we came together to sing, pray, and reflect on God’s Word. And the Holy Spirit showed up too.
During the service, we read the story about Jesus’ trip back home to Nazareth after his public ministry began. If you recall, it didn’t go so well. The townspeople of Nazareth had known Jesus as a baby. Maybe they helped change his diapers. They had seen him as a toddler. They watched him leave childhood behind and become an adolescent. Maybe they had seen him with acne. They had probably watched him go through his awkward phase and then his rebellious phase. They had watched him grow up. And so when they asked, “Is this not the carpenter?” what they were really asking was, “Who does he think he is?”
To the people of Nazareth, Jesus just looked like a local blue collar boy who’d gone off and gotten a big head instead of settling down and marrying a nice Jewish girl. The residents of Nazareth already had an understanding of who Jesus was, and they could not see beyond it. They missed out on so much because they greeted him with closed minds and hard hearts and crossed arms.
In our commissioning, we talked about how it is important to avoid the mentality of the people of Nazareth when they reject Jesus. If we approach our fellow staff or our campers with too many preconceived notions or expectations, we might miss out on some really amazing surprises.
We might accidentally reject Christ, too.
So this week, instead of crossed arms, we’re practicing another posture. We’re taking our inspiration from the Olympic host country’s most famous landmark, the Cristo Redentor statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The 98-foot Christ the Redeemer statue towers over the city with arms outstretched in a posture of hospitality, openness, unconditional love, and vulnerability. It is the posture of Jesus welcoming the little children. It is the posture of the father waiting to embrace his prodigal son who has returned home. It is the posture of Jesus on the cross. Together, the whole St. Elizabeth’s staff spread our arms wide like Christ the Redeemer, to practice the posture that will guide us throughout camp and beyond. And the Holy Spirit was surely present.