These two weeks, I’ve been at Montreat Youth Conference serving as a Recreation Leader. I was a last minute addition to the line up, brought on to help out my dear friend who is leading rec while also very pregnant. I told myself I was going to say no to Montreat during this Sabbatical summer. Over the past three years, I’ve served on planning team, then as a recreation leader, then as a co-director of the youth conference. That’s a lot of Montreat. But it’s also some of the most fun I’ve ever had. And it’s the place that I most clearly discern and live out my call to ministry…the place that reminds me why I do what I do. So when Montreat came calling last spring, I considered saying no and sticking to my Sabbatical. But after about 4 minutes, I decided Montreat and I would be together again this July.
Anderson Auditorium at Montreat is hot. Pack over a thousand sweaty, smelly, teens in it and it can be downright miserable. Encourage those sweaty, smelly teens (and their adults) to do energizers and you have…magic. Energizers (crazy dances to a variety of songs) at Montreat are a staple of youth conferences. Everyone has their favorite and many have been in the mix since I was a youth. Energizers provide an opportunity for everyone to join in community… great dancers and those with no rhythm…young and old…those with any sort of physical limitation… Everyone can join in. Everyone looks a little silly. Everyone can make it their own, adding personal flair as they wish. In God we live and move and have our being (Acts 17: 28) and nowhere is that more apparent than in Anderson Auditorium at 9am every morning of the 6 weeks of youth conference.
There are few unwritten rules when it comes to energizers. Don’t step on your neighbor. Don’t make fun of folks. Support one another. Encourage one another. Laugh with each other. Listen for the cues. Follow the good people up front showing you the steps.
Kinda like the church isn’t it? Or maybe it’s how the church should be. Every time I stand on that Montreat stage to lead the youth in an energizer, in recreation, in re-creation, I am keenly aware that I am leading the youth in Church. It may look more like a party than your typical Sunday morning sanctuary in the PC(USA), but for a few minutes every morning, I see youth and adults together following all those rules our church communities (should) follow. I see a glimpse of the Kingdom as people put themselves out there, risking their reputation as the jock, the pretty one, or the bookworm, to look silly together, to be in community with other another, and to praise God with their whole selves.
I began coming to Montreat Youth Conferences in 1996 and, while I know it’s cliche’ and incredibly cheesy to say, it changed my life. As a 15-year-old girl from small town North Carolina, I had no idea there were thousands of other Presbyterian teenagers out there who worshiped and believed like me. I had no idea that God was calling little ol’ me to serve. And I certainly had no idea that I could serve God through recreation. But from the moment I laid eyes on the recreation leaders at Montreat Youth Conference on stage, leading a thousand teens in energizers, a door opened for me that forever changed my life of faith. “These people do this for a job??? They help people love one another through games??? Welp, sign me up, Lord! Here. Am. I!”
Now as an adult, I am often humbled that I’m one of the faithful leading those youth in energizers. It may sound silly to you. Humbled that I get to make a fool of myself every morning in front of tons of teens? Humbled by recreation? Humbled by silly dances? It’s true. I am humbled and honored. I am now getting to be a part of the thing that was most significant in my call story. Without amazing recreation leaders in my life, I may have never heard God calling me to ministry. Without play, I would never have known the joy that comes from building community with strangers. Without energizers at Montreat specifically, church would have stayed stiff for me and I doubt I would have sought out the church community beyond high school, further burying the sound of God calling me to serve through recreation.
As a high schooler, Montreat taught me that God was most definitely calling me, just as God was calling each youth there with me. Montreat taught me that recreation can be ministry too and that preaching the gospel through helping others build community with fun and games is just as important as preaching from a pulpit. Year after year, I came to this thin place to hear the voice of God and to discern God’s call for me. And I am grateful that I get to continue doing that from time to time as an adult.
While serving as a recreation leader at Montreat is far from anything that resembles rest (no sleep, long days, lots of running around), these two weeks are reminding me why play is so vital to our life of faith and vital to Sabbath. Making room for play time in our lives means making room for Sabbath, for times of non-work. While I’m certain that part of my calling involves helping others learn how to play and how to re-create themselves through fun and energizing activities, I must remember to do that for myself as well.
In what ways can I honor God and the Sabbath through my own recreation? How can play-time be done in response to God’s gifts? How can we as a faith community, help those around us realize the holiness of regular, weekly, re-creation? How can we help ourselves realize that there is holiness in play and peace in childlike fun? Tuning our hearts to listen for God in laughter and silliness can be a first step to Sabbath rest. Where will you find your re-creation this week?
A few more Montreat recreation photos from last week: