Back in the spring, Caroline Ferry, a member of Christ Episcopal Church in Tuscaloosa and a veteran Sawyerville Summer Camp staff member, gave the sermon on Youth Sunday. In it, she talks about her experiences at Sawyerville. Enjoy!
Whenever I go to a new place and pass by an Episcopal church, I get so excited. The cemetery where Alexander Hamilton was buried, the historic Christ Church in Philadelphia that was attended by the Founding Fathers, the National Cathedral in D.C., or any other place marked by our shield. Even when I pass a car with the sticker, I imagine that we have some telepathic connection by being Episcopalian. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I know that those churches are places where I can go and be welcomed. That’s what I love most about the church. The overwhelming understanding that all are welcome. The doors of an Episcopal church are always open, barring a global pandemic of course.
It’s hard to imagine what my life would have looked like if it hadn’t been spent with the church. So many of my defining moments, best friends, and favorite memories were made through this parish and the diocese. How would I have spent my summers if I wasn’t at Camp McDowell? What would I have done with all of those weekends if they weren’t spent at Happening and other diocesan retreats? What would I do during the hours spent at Sunday Eucharist, choir rehearsal, and EYC? I’m so grateful that I never had to find out. Thank you to everyone who has shown me how special this church is and what it means to follow Christ. To name a few, Father David, Reverend Catherine, Katherine Gould, and all of the youth ministers and interns, especially, Hannah, Logan, Kathleen, Jesse, Kennedy, and Mary Alison, who are all part of the reason I wanted to stay active in the church. Of course I am thankful for my parents who forced me to go to church on Sunday mornings and my siblings who have given me so many opportunities to practice patience. I’m most thankful for the parish as a whole; for being a constant in all of the craziness of life, even during times like this. I can only hope that I’ve been at least a fraction of the role model that people like Cammie and Mary Margaret were for me and that I am able to continue contributing to communities like this one in the future. No matter where I am, I want to create for others the same love and welcoming that I have grown up surrounded by.
One ministry of the diocese in particular had a huge impact on my relationship with Jesus and God. Two summers ago, I spent a week at Sawyerville Day Camp as a counselor in lower camp. If you’re not sure what Sawyerville is, it’s a ministry of the diocese which aims to “ serve God, broaden the horizons of participants and staff, improve race relations in Alabama, and enrich the lives of those living in poverty.” One of their programs is Summer Camp, which offers three sessions in the summer for 6-13 year olds in Hale County. If I were ever assigned the task of explaining love to an extraterrestrial being, Sawyerville is where I would send them. Through all of the exhaustion and difficulties, God’s light shines brighter than ever there. From the biscuits in the cafeteria of Greensboro Elementary school to the bus taking us to the pool at Marion Military Academy and back. You spend one day there, and you just get it.
One of my campers in particular impacted me in a way that I will never forget. He was only 7 years old, but throughout the week, he had been so angry. He went from not talking at all, to the rare, grunted response, despite all of my efforts to get to know him. I tried to play, dance, talk, and sing with him, and he seemed not only miserable, but like he hated me. But as every other counselor there does, I was persistent in trying to make sure he had fun. One day, I had to send him to the lower camp “co-co” for saying some non-lower-camp-friendly words to me (which is the equivalent of getting sent to the Principal’s office). I was sure that it was the final nail in the coffin of any chance I had at him liking me. As everyone was leaving family night, which is when all the campers come back with their families to hang out one last time, the kid came up to me while we were playing outside. I squatted down to talk to him, and before I knew it he had tackled me to the ground in a hug. He didn’t say anything, but he was crying a little as he gave me the first smile I had seen from him all week. After everyone left, the staff had our daily rest time. Laying on that classroom floor, half asleep and drooling onto my backpack-turned-pillow, I had never felt more alive.
That moment was the purest love and joy I have ever experienced. When I forget what it means to love like Jesus or I’m stressed about one thing or another, all I have to do is think about that hug and I know everything will be okay. The gospel today talks about Jesus being our gatekeeper, or as he puts it, “ I come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The only way to truly live is through him and by his love. But what does it mean to live? Jesus wanted us to do more than express our love to one another with words and hugs. His kind of love isn’t passive, so we too must be active. That’s part of why Sawyerville has been so powerful in my life and many others. It’s why when I came back the next year, that boy was smiling at me and excited for a week at camp. While it is centered around love, it’s also driven by purpose and passion. Making an impact on the lives of children, mending race relations, and reaching out to those in poverty are all acts of love, even if they can be difficult and harsh realities to face. It’s love in spite of and among the darkness. Love that’s active and fighting the good fight. That message has been crucial to me in the past couple of years. There are lots of big decisions and changes happening. I have tried to be guided by the goal that whatever I am doing today or in 10 years, I want to be working hard, with love and passion. The task is full time, there’s no separating it from work or play. We all have different strengths and talents given to us, but God didn’t say that any of these things were excluded from love. In fact, using these gifts alongside love is where things really start to change. Taking shortcuts or trying to separate a career or education from the greater mission of loving others is like the thieves sneaking over the fence into the pasture. To achieve true life, we have to enter by the gate.
Thank you, Caroline, for sharing this with the Sawyerville community!