(Executive Director at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center)
You know all those open letters that take people to task for one reason or another?
This isn’t one of them.
I only wanted to thank you (and all of the Laurelville staff) for a great Association weekend. Ok – maybe I’ll blame you for the weather, but that’s it.
I know that during the past year or so, you’ve gotten to know my parents and in-laws (especially my dads) a bit. However, I don’t know that I’ve shared my own Laurelville story. And that got me to thinking – what is my Laurelville story?
My first memory is of the big rocks in front of the Lodge. At the time, I was unaware that the place was “Laurelville”. It was just a place with climbing rocks that were fun for a young child.
During the summer when I was eight or nine (I can’t remember any more), I came to summer camp for the first time. I think I was scared early on, but things must have gone fine. I came back every summer after that until I graduated from high school. And the summer after high school, I was part of summer staff. Also during those school years, I was at Laurelville quite a few times for Allegheny Mennonite Conference’s annual meeting.
In between my sophomore and junior years of college, I spent one year of voluntary service time at Laurelville. For most of that year, I worked in the dining hall. During the summer, I was a counselor again. If anyone asks me, I tell them that this was the best year of my life.
Along the way, I met, proposed to, and married my wife – all at Laurelville. Since then, we have usually managed to make it to Laurelville once or twice a year for a reunion or Association weekend, despite bouncing from Indiana to Michigan to New York and now to Illinois.
Now, reflecting back, I don’t think that it’s a stretch to say that almost everything that I believe or feel passionately about has been influenced by Laurelville. My reflections began this past weekend with hospitality…
- I learned about hospitality from working in the dining hall. To this day, I judge the hospitality of everyone else in the world by the standard I learned there. It is a high standard to maintain, but I encourage you to embrace it as a joyful challenge and not a burden.
- Along those lines, I learned that Jesus didn’t drive people away from his table or fellowship, and that Laurelville wasn’t going to do that either. There are many times that the Church has done a less than perfect job of sharing Jesus’ love with everyone. I encourage Laurelville to continue taking risks – practice radical hospitality in welcoming everyone to your tables.
- I learned about service, which frequently was synonymous with hospitality. There were always people to serve, and they came in all ages. It was amazing how meeting a small need, like delivering luggage on a golf cart or providing an extra pillow, would open up opportunities for larger needs to also be met. I learned something profound by leading the song, “Teach me to see, in every face that I see, the face of Jesus”. (And believe me – I led that song many times.)
- I learned about creation and about stewardship. It’s hard not do that when you are surrounded by the Laurel Highlands. I learned to listen for creation’s voice “eagerly longing for the revealing of the children of God.” In learning to be a steward of creation, I learned a bit about taking care of other areas of my life, as well.
- I learned a little bit about why the kingdom of heaven belongs to little children. I learned that it’s hard to love more purely than a four-year old who teaches you the sign language for “friend”.
- I learned a lot about family: my family and God’s family, traditions, respect, values, and legacy.
- I learned that all of these things are connected and can’t be compartmentalized; and that authentic belief, faith, and theology are more about living and doing than thinking.
So – that’s my Laurelville story. It’s possible that there isn’t another place in this world more precious to me.
Thanks again for a fun weekend. I’m excited by the things that I see happening, and I’m looking forward to getting back again.