I’ve gone dark on this blog for the last six weeks or so, mainly because I’ve been working on a special project that’s been consuming my thinking. The project was taking my free time (which often goes to writing here), but it was also the main thing I wanted to think and write about during the last couple months, and I did not want to put those ideas out here before I had a chance to complete the project.
Well, it’s over now. Last week, I was the camp pastor for the Chicago area Joni and Friends (JAF) Family Retreat. JAF hosts two weeks of Family Retreat each summer, and I was invited to be the pastor/speaker for the first week. In the weeks to come, material related to that project will be showing up in my writing here and my preaching at St. Paul Church. Today, though, I just want to reflect on the challenge to do the very thing that Family Retreat is trying to accomplish.
Family Retreat is an ambitious, sprawling sort of thing – I keep trying to start a sentence with “The goal(s) of Family Retreat is/are…” and I can’t do it. I think it’s clearer to say what it is: Family Retreat creates a special kind of community for 5 days. People who have been marginalized in the institutional Church because of their impairments, and their families, are invited to be together, and at home together. The community is also made of those who do not live with major impairments or disabilities, but feel the call of Jesus to live in community with those who do; many of those people take roles of service and support during the week to make it more possible for people to have the sort of summer camp experience most people take for granted. Together, all of these people share worship, meals, and recreation time for 5 days. This experience reveals something that most Christians don’t see, and probably don’t want to see: most American Christian community leaves at the margins those who are impaired, because the physical and social structures of the Church make it impossible for the impaired to enter in and be at home.
I think of Family Retreat in the terms I’ve put as the title – A Community For Everyone. Of course, even as I type this, sitting in the front room of the house my family has for accomodations during these two weeks of Retreat, my eldest son is in his bedroom, hiding away from all of the opening activities of the new week of Retreat. He is miserable, and insists that he doesn’t want to be here. His social and emotional limitations continue to push him more frequently into isolation, and none of us (his mother and I, his school, his psychiatrist) are succeeding in finding solutions. So even as I am striving to be a part of a community for everyone, I am trying to figure out how to extend that community to a boy who alternates between warmth, joy and kindness and tortured isolation, a boy who isn’t actually sure he wants community.
How does Jesus Christ make a community for a boy like that? How do we?