Living and Rejoicing in Christian Community

By Marilyn Broadhead

This article was first published in the July/August edition of Glad Tidings Magazine and is published here with permission.

First Impressions

The first time that I attended Presbyterian Music Camp I was ten years old. It was 1976, when the camp was still located at the United Church’s Golden Lake Camp. Music Camp had taken to using the last full week of August at the camp, after the young summer campers and their counselors had returned home to get ready for school. We were a little different: our camp included babies, young families, lots of teenagers, couples whose children had grown up and left home, single women in their sixties and seventies; everyone you might meet at your home church!

I don’t remember what the weather was like that year, but I do remember the music and the people. The whole camp worked together all week to present “Jonah-Man Jazz”. Alison Stewart-Patterson, one of the camp’s founders, conducted. I say conducted, but her conducting was more like a larger-than-life dance of joy! (She paid dearly for her extravagance later at a Kangaroo Court, when she had to sit perfectly still in a chair and conduct the camp choir with her pinky fingers. Ouch!) Costumes were created, backdrops were painted, music was practiced, and everyone participated in some way. I was a “wave”, along with a bunch of the other children, but I think I can still sing all of the songs. And while my mind was learning the music, my heart was beginning to learn about Christian community.

The Teen Years

Finally, I was in the teen cabin – the land of independence! Funny thing, though – we teens were still very much a part of the camp community; our families were with us, we sang in the camp choir as well as the teen choir, we participated in and even helped lead workshops, we did dishes (singing the whole time!), and we participated in the leadership of morning and evening devotions. We had our own space, but we really belonged in the larger group as well. Our musical role-models were amazing – gifted choral conductors, inspiring song-writers, talented vocalists and instrumentalists – but, more than their talent, these adults were people we respected for their kindness, patience, and their willingness to engage with us. What we learned along the way was that they were inspired by us as well; our energy, our raw talent, our eagerness to learn, our willingness to take risks, and the way we looked after each other and the younger children.

During my teens, Music Camp was the beginning of my year. I arrived excited to see my friends again and went home emotionally and spiritually renewed for another year at school and church.

“The Adults Are Here”

You know you’re not one of the teens anymore when you go down to the campfire at night and someone says, “The adults are here.” Believe me, it comes as a surprise. I’m a little older now, but the same God-filled moments that awed me at camp when I was a teen still give a chill: singing pieces in the camp choir that you can only sing because you have a strength in numbers that most church choirs can only dream of, watching little ones fall asleep cuddled happily in the laps of teenagers they didn’t even know a week ago, walking back to the cabin at night by the light of the Milky Way or even the magical dancing of the aurora borealis, myriad impromptu concerts and, yes, singing by the campfire and laughing with friends well into the night. There are new God-filled moments as well: playing in the concert band with my teen-aged son, the odd calm moment sitting reading or watching the water while the kids are busy with their friends, meeting the children of the kids I used to teach in Children’s Choir, or chatting with old friends who still see the teenager inside me.

Getting older isn’t all bad. Parents have the special gift of experiencing again some of the things they did when they were young through the eyes of their children. Now I get to watch my son play his beloved bass in the Garage Band, and my older daughter experience the crystalline beauty – and teamwork – of handbell playing. My younger daughter’s smile beams in the Children’s choir and she’s still thrilled by the idea that she gets to buy candy every day at the tuck shop. But my husband and I are still campers, too. He’s bought himself a lovely ukulele and knows enough chords to teach the beginner class. I sing and play my French horn, and have a (very secret) desire to sing with the Garage Band one day.

Some say they feel camp has started when they experience the Circle and the Flame Sunday evening, with the repeated “Ubi Caritas et Amor, Deus Ibi Est” (Where there is charity and love, there is God) and the lighting of the candles brought by each family to camp. It’s a “coming home” feeling. For me, it comes even earlier – with the grace at dinner. All of the chaos associated with getting three kids and assorted instruments packed, dropping the dog off at the kennel, arranging for house-sitting, planning workshops, etc, etc, is forgotten when we start to sing grace. I think it’s the first moment new campers start to suspect that this might be something different. Everyone is singing – really singing! Not quietly, but strongly – in many-part harmony. The music is beautiful, but this is the first sign of the coming together of this community in Christ.

The common threads that still bring us together at Music Camp each summer are a love of music and a desire to experience Christian community. There’s something about being in a loving community that opens your heart and changes your perspective. Seeing the wonderful musicians at camp could make me feel inadequate, but instead it inspires me to practice just a little harder. Seeing someone spend an afternoon teaching little kids how to use a fishing rod motivates me to be a little more patient. Seeing the perseverance of campers with health or mobility challenges encourages me never to give up. Hearing someone play banjo in the concert after learning for only a week energizes me to be more courageous. Experiencing the uniqueness that each new camper brings to camp reminds me that we all have sacred gifts and that Christ’s community is for everyone.

“May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet, and may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you.” - Celtic Prayer