I spent the last week and a half on an island called Martha’s Vineyard. It’s off the coast of Massachussets and the last time I was there was 2003, the summer before my freshman year of college. It’s funny when you return to a place you haven’t been to in years and you are a different person when you go back but the place is the same. It shows you things.
The reason I went up was to work a Christian Camp called Focus for their community service camp for rising seniors. I went up on a whim, not knowing anybody up there since most of the people I went to camp with have moved on since then. The mission of the camp was to help these 12 rising seniors transition out of “camp is all about me” mode and into “because I am a christian, I’ll start to serve now.” I like this concept because many times juniors and seniors who are still coming to summer camps have done everything that the camp has to offer and are only trying to relive emotional highs from past summers.
The gist of this camp was that our twelve servants would serve the fifty middle schoolers who were at the camp by cleaning their bathrooms, bunks, and dishes for the whole week. This was a good mission because there was a lot to keep them busy. In the afternoons, we would do social things like go to the beach, go to the bird sanctuary and pretend we were back in the garden of eden, play obnoxious games in town, or buy local pies and swim in the camp pond. At night we would have small group bible study, worship, have an occasional dance party, and listen to talks about discipleship.
In Acts chapter two, Luke describes what happened to many of the new believers after they had seen the risen Jesus and pentecost had occured.
2They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
This is a radical description of a new community. The summary of what was so different in this group of friends from our world’s definition of friends is this: 1. They would sit and carve out space for teaching, sacraments, and prayer. 2. Everyone was filled with awe, experiencing things that were changing who they were. 3. They sold things they didn’t need and gave to people who did have needs. 4. They ate together with true friendship 5. They worshipped 6. They earned the favor of all the locals. 7. Many were being saved.
It would be a far stretch to say this is what I experienced on Martha’s Vineyard or that it is easy to make this community happen today. There was no one point during my time with these kids where I said “aha, the new community!” For the most part, it looked just like teenagers hanging out, working on a farm, washing dishes, going to the beach, eating alot of ice cream, pumping LCD soundsystem, and clamoring on in the sweetness of youth like seventeen year olds will. However, when you leave a place and head home, you experience a very strong contrast in life that shows you what you did not realize you had.
The simplest thing that keeps pulling me back to ministry IS the new community. This is a place where people stop being sorted into categories from jock and drama queen on down to band kid and loser. They definitely have roles to play and gifts that make them very different from each other, but there was a true understanding among these twelve that popularity is not the end all be all. They didn’t care how different they were. They got along and formed friendships they might not make in the real world. They served together, they got dirty together, they laughed together, the girls probably cried together, the boys ran around the boys’ house naked together. I tried to stop it.
In high school, I didn’t have the experience of a sinful world or the words to express how awesome the new community truly was. I’ve sensed it, but it is hard to capture. What I like most about the new community is that the joy you experience there gives you the strength you don’t have back in the real world to live in a different way; maybe to fix your bad habits or become the happier person you wish you could be. It helps you realize that life IS more than your failures. You are not defined by your failures, but if you never leave and take a risk, you might be.
I like how a cd that I’m listening to for the first time will lock in with my memories of a visiting a place I’ve come to love. Here are some clever lines from the cd that will stick with me.
“Southtown girls won’t blow you away, but you know that they’ll stay.”
“Guys go for looks. Girls go for status. There are so many nights when this is just how it happens.”
“I feel Jesus and the clumsiness of young and awkward lovers.”
“Lost in fog and love and faithless fear, I’ve had kisses that make Judas seem sincere.”