One of the important decisions that has to be made on each Youth Mission Trip is “how will we spend our ‘free’ day?” As I mentioned in post #1 about this trip, our goal is to create memory that will help to shape identity. This year, we had to decide: do we stay on the beach? Head to a wildlife refuge? Visit the boardwalk somewhere? At the end of the day, we decided to head towards historic Philadelphia, and try something completely different. In our entire group of 19, I believe I am the only one to have laid eyes on the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, or anything like that.
So we drove an hour to Collingswood, NJ, where we met my friend Kate. I have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. When we were looking for a site for this year’s trip, the kids asked for a beach locale. I called Kate, who had been the seminary assistant at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Delaware when I was in High School, and asked her for help. She connected me with the folks in Brigantine, and thus we made it here. When I told the kids how we were able to be here, most were appreciative of the nature of relationships and connectivity in the church. Carly, however, stared at me with wide eyes and said, “You mean that the person who was your youth group leader is still alive?” The happy news is yes, in fact, Kate is very much alive and willing to lead us through the city of brotherly love.
We rode the train into town (another first for many in our group) and walked around. Did we see everything? Not a chance. Did we see some? You bet. Stories were told and created, history was visited and made, and we thoroughly enjoyed the day. That part of the day was capped off by a cookout and a fire at Kate and Gary’s home.
We arrived back in Brigantine and headed straight to the beach for our final devotional. The highlight of this was the way that Corie and Alexis, our two seniors, shared with the team some of their closing thoughts about youth group, life, and God. In what was one of the more interesting prayer circles of which I’ve been a part, we gathered to lay hands on these two girls and were interrupted by 2 vehicles of the beach patrol, spotlights glaring, wanting to know what in the world we were doing. I’m not sure they believed us, but Jeff told them something and off they went in search of other, more nefarious, activity.
When we asked the kids what they thought about the trip to Philly, almost everyone said that the best part was our visit to the Old Friends Meeting House and Christ Church, where we met guides who told us how people of another era lived out their faith in the best way that they could. Both of these faith communities are still active today, more than 250 years after being founded.
I was reminded of a sign I saw while in the Holy Land. Outside the church in the Garden of Gethsemane, there was a plaque instructing the guides not to interrupt the reverence of the moment:
I loved that sign for all kinds of reasons, the chief of which is that I do not want to be a part of a church where pastors try to explain things. Too many pastors interfere with people’s ability to see where God is guiding them because we insert ourselves in all kinds of places where we wind up being less than helpful. Like our best guides yesterday, I want to bring people to a point where they can see reality for themselves and figure out what to do with it. Like the best guides, I think it might be helpful if I know a few stories and can offer some background and perspective. But like the best guides, I think that pastors do well to remember that nobody comes to Philadelphia to hear the guide – people come to see the history and to be reminded and enlightened. Guides are helpful, but not the point of the story. My hope and prayer is that the kids on our team were able to see this week a little more deeply into the lives of people who are upended by a catastrophic storm; that they might know that they have within themselves the gifts that God can use to make the world a little less fractured; that they are surrounded by beauty and joy and can share that with their neighbors; that we are all called to walk with justice and humility in the love of God; and that it’s almost always best when we do that together.
If any of them learned any of that this week, then I was a good guide. I guess we’ll know in a decade or so how this part of the tour turned out.