Submitted by Rev. Bruce D. Ervin
We picked up right where we left off. That was my sense as I looked around the table as a group of former Chi Rho campers gathered for dinner, 50 years after we’d last been together at camp. Folks engaged in spirited conversation, enjoying each other’s company. It was like we’d never been apart.
Chi Rho Camp is the traditional name for junior high church camps in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The name derives from the first two letters in the Greek spelling of Christ.
In August 1967, about 80 youth gathered at the Chi Rho Camp at Campbell Conference Center (near Waukegan, IL). We were an eclectic group: white and black, inner-city and suburban, mostly middle class but with some economic diversity. Our staff was similarly diverse: African-American, Caucasian and Puerto Rican, clergy and lay, male and female. For some of us, it was the first time that we’d been in an interracial community. For others, it was an eye-opening realization that we could become friends with folks we’d labeled as “the other.”
Being a city kid, I’d never spent much time with people from the suburbs. Stereotypes fell like scales from my eyes as I found myself forming friendships that lasted long after camp ended.
For all of us who reunited in late August 2017, Chi Rho Camp was a life-changing experience. Through the singing and talent show skits, the Bible studies and late-night conversations, and the baseball and tetherball games, we experienced the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Back then, few of us would have used such language, but there is no doubt in my mind that the Spirit has been at work in all of our lives since that first night of Chi Rho Camp.
And so a group of us gathered, 50 years to the month after that amazing week. Some of us had stayed in touch, while others hadn’t seen each other for decades. We met at Disciples Divinity House in Chicago, where some of our counselors had been students. Dean Kristine Culp graciously made the House’s common room available to us, for which we were deeply grateful.
We reminisced about our camp experiences in 1967 and beyond. We reflected on the challenging cultural and political events of those summers long ago. We shared how camp and those events shaped us. Some of us remembered arriving at camp feeling like misfits, and leaving with the assurance that we were accepted. All of us remembered the fun of being young and naïve and having a great time together.
We also spoke about our journeys since Chi Rho Camp, and about current events and challenges. We reflected on how camp helped to make us who we are today. We prayed and we sang and we embraced each other.
Saying goodbye was the hard part. It felt like the last day of camp all over again. We formed a circle, held hands, and sang Blest Be the Tie that Binds. But then, an amazing thing happened.
I found myself no longer pining for the clock to be turned back and for those long ago camp days to be relived. Now I have a new relationship with these Christian brothers and sisters; one that can be enjoyed both now and in the future. Regardless of when or if we reunite as a group, we are bound together always by the Spirit. Because, you see, the bonds of Christian love transcend both the miles and the years.