by Josh Sander
If my math is right, my first time at Silver Lake Conference Center was in the summer of 1990; which would mean that I've been familiar with Silver Lake for over 25 years. Not as long as some folk, for sure, but long enough to see some significant changes and to notice what stays the same.
I think what strikes the hardest chord with me are the untold joys and unnumbered miracles (great and small!) that happen here, one week at a time. A young person first considers working for God for a living. A Resource staff person takes the time to teach someone how to fix a broken ceramic project. The kitchen goes peanut and tree nut free for the week to make absolutely sure that someone with life-threatening allergies can be (and feel) safe. Conferees team up to create an original song or dance or story or whole musical together. The Artist in Residence lends her expertise in the painting of a backdrop. The blessing station at the Communion service gets so swamped that more clergy appear from the congregation to pray with the crowd of young people. A Dean speaks openly about an aspect of their own faith that inspires a youth to join their local church. Someone patiently explains what the Freds are. Someone complements another person on their choice of socks. Someone freely gives out smiles. Or hugs.
Joys untold and miracles unnumbered happen at Silver Lake Conference Center every summer, week by week and day by day. I watched, and at times received, and I hope participated in them all week long! And I think that they happen because of the way Silver Lake is intentional about being in community with one another. It starts with a greeting completely inspired by the Gospel of Matthew, "While you're here, I'd like to ask you to do three things: that's to love God, love your neighbor, and love yourself. If you do that, I'm sure we'll all have a good week." (Ok, I'm showing my age, there. We now include a fourth thing, "Love creation.")
It reminds me of one time a conference was working on a behavioral covenant together. One youth expressed the idea that he needed camp to be a safe place —not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually, too. And I said, "There's a word for that you know... 'Sanctuary.'" That's what Silver Lake Conference Center has always strived —and succeeded!— at being: A sanctuary.
But the truly awesome thing is that the Lake is never satisfied to leave it there. As one of my Counselors challenged me once upon a time, "How do you bring that Silver Lake feeling out into the world with you?" And the only answer I've ever come up with is, "Be a sanctuary yourself." Be a safe person to be around. Not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually, too. Watch and receive and participate in joys untold and miracles unnumbered.
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