Nothing More, Nor Less, Than Play

by | Aug 21, 2015

“We are here to have fun,” Canon Paula Clark said on Thursday afternoon, greeting those who gathered at the Claggett Center for Camp EDOW for Clergy. Opening our time together in prayer, Paula intentionally used words such as “renew” and “re-create” and “celebrate.”

More than 50 clergy, clergy spouses, and members of Bishop Mariann’s staff gathered from Thursday, May 14 to Friday, May 15 for a time which was really set apart for nothing more, nor nothing less than the work of relationship-building and renewal. True to Paula’s opening invitation, Camp EDOW for Clergy was a celebration, even though to an outside observer it might’ve looked like a whole lot of unstructured playtime. There was a get-to-know-you icebreaker in which those gathered learned the delicate art of holding a piece of string while, at the same time, throwing the ball of string to someone across the circle. All things which kids at summer camp learn much more instinctively, say, than folks who’ve become more accustomed to talking about Prayer Book rubrics and family systems theory. There was an afternoon hike and, for others, time spent on rocking chairs with colleagues or, for still others, a nap and, for some, meditative coloring on what many of us were introduced to as adult coloring books. Who knew that the simple act of coloring pages of architectural and geometric designs could be so, well, rejuvenating and re-creational?

Those patterns of my day-to-day life in ministry – worship, bible study, fellowship, meal conversations – began to have restored to them new, well,renewed meaning in my time with my colleagues at Claggett. I was reminded of the vocationalsignificance behind the occupations of my day. Evening Prayer on Thursday, Holy Eucharist on Friday, and Bible study later that morning were foundational to the experience, of course, but they also seemed to take on a greater focus, a greater clarity since they weren’t events-on-the-schedule (preceding or following another event-on-the-schedule); they were the event itself, the encounter entire. Like all of my colleagues, I do a lot of necessary and important and, yes, holy things in my day-to-day life and work, but how often do I pause, really just take the moment as an encounter entire? There’s nothing quite like relatively unstructured time with ministry colleagues to bring about a real focus, a fact, I suppose, which is just one of those ironies of Christian community that needs to hang out there.

There was plenty of play-time, too, featured in the Thursday night campfire – with requisite s’mores and camp songs. And there was the Amazing (Clergy) Race on Friday afternoon, a series of activities which encouraged some mental and physical exertion activities, all in the name of team building and fun.

It was wonderful to participate in and take a part in helping develop this year’s Camp EDOW for Clergy. Responding to Bishop Mariann’s invitation last spring to help her re-think the ways in which we gather as diocesan clergy, I and others heard her encourage us to find new ways to gather and new formats in which to do so if, in fact, a two-day-away clergy conference is no longer a working model. I don’t think we’ve struck on the perfect model just yet, even while the February retreat and this past weekend’s gathering were successful in their own right. But that’s also, I suspect, Bishop Mariann’s point: that we need to be constantly creating and re-creating, not only in our common, institutional life – as a diocese, as a congregation, as a school – but we need to be doing so, first, in our own walk with God in Christ, remembering how restorative it is to do nothing more, nor nothing less than just play.