Report of the Assistant Bishop
The Rt. Rev. Ted Gulick
I believe in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and the power of Episcopal camps to deepen a child’s conversion to the God who loves us to death in Jesus Christ. I hope you loved the joy on those kid’s faces, noticed the song that enables them to rest in Christ’s love during the night. I hope you noticed the vigor of their worship, the imaginative programs, that cast a wide enough net to catch jocks, musicians, artists, explorers, special needs kids, the brilliant, the average, and the quirky, and hold them all in the confidence that God loves the world and that God loves them. Unfortunately, this is not the message every child receives during the rest of the year.
At Shrine Mont camps, we sew seeds of faith, and our experience over the last 50 years is of a harvest of a hundred fold! Where would this church be without the ministry of those in this room who have been to Shrine Mont as a camper or served on staff…lets get a visual of the harvest of the last 50 years. Off the top of my head I would call to mind two who are not standing with us. One is dear to me and to so many, my fellow counselor, and the best assistant director of St. George’s Camp I ever served under, Russ Palmore, the other person who comes to mind is my very favorite former camper, the Rt. Rev. Holly Hollerith, the Bishop of Southern Virginia!
Great things happen on the mountain for our campers, seeds of faith are sewn, and the harvest is abundant. But a summer at Shrine Mont Camp is like a good episode of Downton Abbey: a big part of that story line is what is gong on with the staff. The story line is the vocational transformation that is happening to the young adults, from all walks of life, from the best colleges and universities in the country who come to the mountain to live more deeply into the awesome reality of whose they are in a world that is all too quick to tell them who they are.
It might come as news – good news I hope – that at the end of staff training week there is retreat time with a bishop to update on core beliefs of the Episcopal Church and how this church receives and cherishes the sacred scriptures and uses them in a camp context. Did you know that the conclusion of this retreat phase of staff training week involves a commissioning service in which the staff renews their baptismal vows, receives the laying on of the bishop’s hands, gets their staff shirt as a sacred vestment, and receives the body and blood of Christ to strengthen them for the ministry that God is about to entrust to them?
It is beyond dispute that bishops do not have favorite parishes just like parents do not have favorite children, but the truth is I do have a favorite parish and the Rev. Susan Daughtry is its rector. Susan was the priest in residence at the Cathedral Shrine last summer, and her parish was every camper, staff member and guest on the mountain. As rector of that parish, she had a young adult ministry to ninety college age staff and everyone in her “young adult group” knew themselves to be a minister of Jesus Christ.
Herself a product of the mountain, (when she was a camper she and her best friend, a girl named Paris Ball, both decided that they wanted to be Happy Pullman when they grew up), Susan, in her very being knows the transformative potential of a summer serving at Shrine Mont. With her faith, her compassionate open heart, her intelligence, and her approachability, young adults were able to talk about vocation, purpose, frustrations, family of origin issues, staff issues, relationship issues, and the core life realities that form the complex season of young adulthood in the third millennium. Since Shrine Mont is such a lab for leadership, how lucky they were to have her. What a profound gift this diocese gives to young adults who give the diocese their best gifts and energies and in return receives the care and support of such a gifted priest. And the investment pays a dividend. Almost half of our summer staff returned for a combination mission trip and retreat at Falls Church this past December. It was my joy to continue the conversations begun in the summer and listen with awe as they reflected on these questions:
Did you have a “for this I was born” moment last summer?
Who seemed vocationally alive last summer? What did that picture of a person really alive do to you?
After a summer at Shrine Mont are you clearer or less clear about the vocational trajectory of your life?
Did the ministry you were engaged in last summer seem to make more of you?
I wish we could have recorded the answers but of course that would have violated the profound confidentiality of a privileged conversation.
In short, the young adult church continued the conversation of the previous summer because those conversations are the sacred task of the season of young adulthood.
Last summer, my brother in Christ and our bishop gave me the great privilege of preaching at the 50th anniversary service. It was a great joy, perhaps a bit intoxicating especially when people clapped. Sobriety was quickly achieved when Webster Gibson said at the end of the service, when people clap for the preacher it probably means you failed! And of course Webster is right on. But as great as the reunion liturgy was, my moment of clarity had occurred about three hours earlier. I sat on the rectory porch and watched, with tears running down my cheeks, as a crusty middle aged Richmond lawyer, now a newly minted Episcopal priest, stood at the Shrine Altar and lived the vocation God had called him to when he was a camper and staff member on the Mountain. Granted, it took him over three decades to claim his “for this I was born reality” but claim it and live it he does to the benefit of God’s glory and the Holy folk of God in Mountpelier. As I heard Herbert Jones, former counselor say “Holy and gracious father in your infinite love you made us for yourself” I knew that he knew who he was talking about because Herbert told me the story of finding and being found on that hill!
During that same weekend, I had another moment different from observing Herbert and it occurred in a snippet of conversation with a counselor at St. Sebastian’s. “Bishop Ted, working at camp has made it clear that I am switching from business to physical education. I want to teach and coach.” In this one sentence I was in awe of the Spirit’s method. Take a PHD in medieval German, make him a sports camp director, add a open hearted young African American male, campers that love their very cool counselor, and then you will have a healthy role model for generations of young African American and other high school students who desperately need just the right minister of encouragement at just the right time. Its not just vocations to ordination that are produced at that Shrine Mont lab! God loves the world and God is always looking for co-operators in the transformation of this loved world.
Because Shrine Mont is such a lab for leadership and in a sense a pathway to power in this diocese and in this church, it is essential that the community served and the staff community recruited reflects the diversity that sometimes eludes our church. We need to lower the sticker shock of summer fees for folks in our ethnically defined congregations, our mountain missions, and our urban congregations. The only reason to have a campaign for Shrine Mont is if it will advance and broaden the mission of God in Jesus Christ for this generation and for the generations to come.
So what is it worth to you? What does the fact that God has been transforming lives through Shrine Mont camps mean to you? When you vote on Resolution 1 tomorrow you will have a very concrete opportunity to answer that question. I beg you – to use the language of St. Paul, I beseech you – to vote yes to a pre campaign feasibility study only if you are invested and will invest in continuing the trajectory of the last fifty years into the future. A vote yes by you who are the most invested in the mission of the diocese (or you would not be at council) will mean that you anticipate giving of your wealth and your efforts to continue the future. Do not vote to commit others to this work without first of all knowing that you believe in the powerful evidence of God’s transformative work at Shrine Mont this past half century.
One final story to illustrate the importance of this moment before us: Once upon a time a young girl whose faith had been deepened on Shrine Mont mountain wrote a heartfelt letter to a trusted counselor as she was about to go to college. Part of that counselor’s response contained these sublime words. “Remember your way home: wherever you are, never forget your place in a circle unbroken around a table, set in a stone shrine on a Virginia mountainside…He is waiting for you still.” The camper was one Paris Ball, the trusted director of St. George’s Camp, Henry Burt. Where would we be without the transformation that God has accomplished on that mountain, at that Spiritual Home? Tomorrow when you vote on Resolution One, answer this one question: What is it worth?