Saturday my current "church family" of Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) held an all-day retreat at Bethany Hills the Disciples of Christ church camp west of Nashville. Now this wasn't a "formal" retreat, as in a day of specified spiritual learning and development. It was rather quite informal and unstructured. Messages from the church about it stated for instance that "start time" was ten in the morning, but folk could arrive any time. Also, bring your own lunch. Dinner would be provided at six, and a closing worship at seven.
I got a ride there with Steve Walls, a tenor in the church choir, whose SUV was filled with youth in addition to us two adults. We chatted about the beautiful weather -- cool and low-humidity for an August day in Tennessee -- and the beautiful green tree-covered hills west of the city. When Steve turned his SUV into the lane leading down into the campground I was surprised. It was pretty much as I remembered it from my last visit, except for a large bell prominently placed between the entry lane and the main lodge. But the memory of Bethany Hills was FRESH, as tho' I'd been there just last summer, not some time in the late 1980s! Later I determined that the freshness was possibly due to having taken my teenage children in the late 1990s from Clarksville to an Independent church campground nearby.
It turned out that we in Steve's SUV were about the first to arrive -- setting aside that a few ECC(DC) members had spent Friday night in the camp. I think a total of close to fifty folks of all ages ultimately participated in the retreat at Bethany Hills. Most of the day was spent in relaxing, impromptu activities of the sort one might do at any camp out in the woods. Steve and I, for example, after lunch joined with about half a dozen folks in a nature hike up the hill past the pond. A couple of the hikers were quite knowledgeable about the flora we encountered. On our way back we encountered a beautiful butterfly. Prentice and I both took photos of this lovely creature. Dear reader, please take a look at Prentice's photo!
Also, I broke out my guitar that I'd carried to camp with me, and played a few songs on it (more for my own pleasure than to deliberately entertain anybody). Another item I broke out was my swim trunks, which hadn't seen use since I left San Antonio. Despite having not been to see the VA podiatrist for my follow-up to his having "liberated" my left big toenail, I chose to go ahead an immerse the said nail-less and recuperating toe in the pool water. After all, the water's sterile from all the chlorine used in it. Right?
The weather continued to be fresh and clear until late afternoon, when it began to cloud up. I didn't expect any rain, since it hadn't been in the forecasts for the weekend. But once we all went into the dining hall for supper, and everybody was seated and eating, the sky opened up. A quick warning was hollered to everybody in the hall, that if their vehicle windows were open to go roll them up. Steve was one of those who had to run thru the pouring rain to do so. When he returned he affirmed that the interior of his SUV hadn't gotten wet much at all.
And certainly his guitar hadn't been moistened! It was up in the great hall of the lodge, beside mine. You see, the two of us had been asked to bring our instruments to provide accompaniment for the closing worship. In fact, he and I had tuned up our guitars and practiced the two suggested songs when we first arrived in the morning.
The rain hadn't lasted long, but it had been a true "gully-washer" as they say in Texas. So the worship, which had been planned for the outdoor amphitheater on the bank of the camp pond, got moved into the great hall. There was a call for strong boys and men to move the tables therein and set up rows of chairs. Per standard Disciples of Christ practice for any worship, a communion table was set up for the Lord's Supper. The Supper is the central element of Disciples worship, indeed is in all worship services of the three denominations who came out of the Restoration Movement.
The layout of the Table for the Supper was so simply and yet focal, that I felt moved to take a photograph of it. I had carried my camera to the camp for the express purpose of taking pictures and already had several.
And so we gathered in that great hall, under that high ceiling with the Table of the Lord front and center, and worshiped our Creator and Savior. We sang two songs, as Steve and I strummed out guitars. The opening song was "Here I Am, Lord" and later we sang "Leaning on the everlasting Arms". Young John Hartley, the Pastor's youngest son, played his violin for an instrumental offering. Our ECC(DC) choir director, Julie Duemler, also sang a cappella just before communion. Both Associate Pastor Michael Lehman and Pastor Jay Hartley read scriptures and offered meditations (or mini-sermons if you will). And both were in a manner profound reflections on the Christian life in the context of the church camp we'd been blessed to enjoy this day.
And then it was time to depart in the darkness of dusk and return to the city and the "real world". But refreshed in spirit by the experiences of the day out in the country at Bethany Hills camp!