(Executive Director at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center)

Hi, John,

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.