Psalm 39 has one of those phrases that has just always stuck with me (from the KJV days) - "...for I am a stranger with thee and a sojourner...". The youth I work with can tell you that I have a thing about language and words. Sojourner (a person who belongs somewhere else but is staying for a time in a different place) is a word that has always appealed to me. In this last week I've gotten the chance to truly feel what it means.
I got the chance to attend an annual meeting of ELCA camp and conference center leaders. They had arranged for Loren Mead, author of "The Once and Future Church" (among many others) to come and talk with us about the place of faith based camp programs in the 21st Century. While many secular camp programs are doing well, church camp is struggling. Loren is an expert on the subject of paradigm shifts (don't roll your eyes!) and the church. Paradigm is simply a shared set of values or beliefs. So a paradigm shift happens when a culture's (large or small) shared set of values change. In the last 50 years we have been in the middle of a massive paradigm shift. The least comfortable place to be during such a time is in the middle of the shift. It's stable at either end but it's hard to find stability in the middle.
You'll note I said leaders from ELCA camps. You may also be aware that I am neither on a camp staff nor am I Lutheran. Our local ELCA camp happens to employ my wife and I serve in a couple roles as a volunteer there. The subject sounded very interesting so I asked if I could tag along and they agreed. It occurred to me though that I wasn't quite sure how to present myself to the larger group. In the end, while I put my link with the ELCA up front, I was clear that I was primarily employed by the Episcopal church. My favorite short version is to tell people I'm a "Lutherpalian". By the second day (the meeting started on Monday and we came home on Thursday) it didn't really matter. They accepted me quite warmly.
What I learned at this meeting will take a while to percolate down through my brain. It was interesting. Loren is a wonderful person who fulfills the role of consultant the way it ought to be filled. Besides that he said some very nice things to me personally! I think it amused him to find another Episcopalian at the conference (Loren is an Episcopal priest).
What really struck me was how the sojourner in their midst was treated. There's a clear instruction in the Scriptures that sojourners are to be treated well. I was treated as a welcome and valued member of the community. They listened thoughtfully to my offerings and seemed to find them worthwhile. At the end of our time together I was told (by several folks) that I was welcome to continue to come to those meetings. I am now "family" and a sojourner no more. That's how faith-filled community is supposed to work.
And that's a very special feeling indeed. My thanks to my new "family" from places like LCLC, Lutherlyn, Calumet, Bear Creek and the other camps whose names escape me at the moment.