Letters from Camp

I never really went to camp as a kid. Sure, we had a wonderful Covenant camp nearby in southern New Hampshire, but my summers were filled with trips to the library, VBS at church, and playing endless games outdoors with my neighborhood friends. The first times I really remember going to camp were in high school for our winter retreats in New York state.

So it’s been a new thing – a wonderful one – to be here at Winnetka, where camp is a way of life. Where kids look forward to summer camp all year long, and sing camp songs on Wednesday nights during the school year, and pile into minivans and church buses on weekends in the fall and winter to trek up to camp for a couple of nights.

I had a couple of opportunities in my first year at WCC to travel to camp at Covenant Harbor, for our women’s retreat and various Central Conference gatherings, but I didn’t make it up to camp at Covenant Point until a couple of years ago. And I was surprised by what I found there.

Not surprised by how beautiful it was – I’d been told, over and over. Nor by how good the food is. Or how wonderful the staff are.

But by how camp feels, and what it does inside of me.

There’s no argument that Point is far. That’s part of what kept me from going, in all honestly, for my first few years here.

It is a long drive, but it is also far from my normal life; far from the city noise outside my windows all day and well into the night. Far from the bustle of everyday living, with its screens and technology and movement and stress. Far from my normal community of friends and neighbors; more often than not, far from my Zoe.

Far from my comfort zone.

Every time I get up to camp, I find myself a little disoriented. Raw. Like not just my iPad and my computer have been stripped away, but some of my feelings of security and my sense of place and identity. I feel a little lost, like a kid going to camp for the first time.

I usually get up to camp wondering why I went. And go to bed longing for home.

But then the thing about camp – so far, without exception – is that I leave deeply glad I came. Feeling rested and restored and connected in ways I do not experience at home.

And it’s the journey in-between those two emotional states that I am pondering today.

What happens in me at camp? How do I go from feeling homesick and heartsick to calm and at peace?

I think I will have to keep going to know for sure, but for now I think it has a great deal to do with people.

Because every time I feel like maybe I shouldn’t have come, God seems to give me a little nudge in the opposite direction through the presence, words, or actions of a person.

This weekend, it was the kids greeting me at Friday breakfast.

The staff person who helped pull my truck out of the snow (yes, I did get it stuck there).

The family who invited me to their Thursday night pizza dinner in town.

The friends who brought me on my first snowshoeing trip.

With enough of these little nudges, I remember how wonderful and vital community is, and how connecting can be intimidating and tiring (especially for us introverts) but how it is abundantly worth it.

And after a few days, or at most a week, I go home feeling thankful for all if it. For being stretched and uncomfortable, and for learning new things and being more fully present than I have been for a while.

That is as true this morning, after a few days at camp with our church family, as it has ever been. I am tired, I am glad to have my bed back, but I am so grateful I got to go to camp, and already looking forward to the next visit.

-Pastor Jen

Rest and Work

This snowy Wednesday afternoon I am tired. You know the feeling. It almost aches to keep my eyes open, as I sit and read the same sentence of a book over and over without even realizing it! The book drops. My head droops. I think my body is trying to tell me something! I need to close my eyes and rest, I need to stop what I’m doing for awhile.

This is Godly, God-like, right there in the beginning on the seventh day of creation: “And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:2-3) A Rabbi once told me that in this text God the Hebrew words find God ceasing, and then exhaling, letting his breath out. there’s a helpful image!

What’s interesting is the connection between rest and creating, or “all the work he had done” as it says two times. Rest is necessary and a great investment in the to do list always waiting for action. What I also know is that this idea is not valued and re-enforced, especially in we of the protestant work ethic and our American way of driving ourselves forward.

(Getting up to grab another cup of coffee…now back to writing this blog!)

In the fall of 1992 I learned my lesson. Having recently arrived in Stockholm Sweden for a year long internship at the Immanuel Covenant Church. Mid-way through morning number one a stranger appeared at my door, peeked in and asked, “Ska Vi Fika?” , waited to see if I knew what she was asking, and then followed up the silence with a command: “time for coffee!” Not finding a mug in my office, I followed her to a common space where everyone was. Seeing the cups across the room, and walking around the growing laughter and conversation, I filled my cup and turned to make my way back to work.

“No! No!” pastor Ake shouted as though he expected me to disappear. “Now we Fika, we sit together and drink coffee here together, not alone in our offices.” “Come and join us!” Nervously, I did. The same crazy thing happened mid-afternoon. After couple months I realized that I wasn’t tired at the end of the day, and that was happily connected in community, and that I was looking forward to my work.

But I had to be forced to stop. And not necessarily to rest by sleeping, but by ceasing for fifteen minutes or so, and then getting back to it. I learned in that time that stepping away for a bit and turning off productivity investing in collegial relationships and thinking about other things lights the fuse for the work to do when returning.

Think about it in your own context. “Work” can be your job, your school schedule, your volunteering, whatever your day’s list contains. It is good and necessary to rest for a bit, like God did before getting back to creating again.

My honest confession is that much of this is lost on me these days. but my body mind and spirit are preaching to me. Now it’s 3:30. Wednesday night dinner and refuel looms. the sermon clock is ticking. There’s calls to make and prayers to pray. I’m done with my fourth cup of coffee. I’ve talked myself into closing my eyes for twenty minutes. Alarm set. Back to work soon.

Love from here!

Peter Hawkinson

The Stigmatized Church

Stigma is a means of excluding or discrediting someone that is deemed by the majority culture as socially deviant and is usually identified with bodily deformities, moral or behavioral differences, and difference in ethnicity, culture, and religion.

I’m a third of the way through the book Saved by Faith and Hospitality by Joshua Jipp, who is assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He says, “Hospitality is the act or process whereby the identity of the stranger is transformed into that of guest. The primary impulse of hospitality is to create a safe and welcoming place where a stranger can be converted into a friend.

Jipp wrestles with this hospitality as it comes to life in Jesus, who he says “grants divine hospitality to the ‘other’ without distinction, exemplified in his welcome to sinners and the religious, men and women, rich and poor, and Jews and Gentiles….Jesus’ extension of divine hospitality appears as indiscriminate — which is precisely the feature of Jesus’s ministry that annoys so many of the religious leaders of his time.” (p.18)

All well and good. We’re wrestling with that welcome all the time.

But then he says this: “The church is called to participate in Jesus’s hospitality among sinners and outcasts by embracing a stigmatized identity that follows from sharing life together with all of God’s people. the Church must embody God’s hospitality by considering what it might look like to embrace a stigmatized identity.” (p.19). This is a fascinating thing to ponder…that to follow Jesus and minister in his name means to accept and even embrace a stigmatized identity in the world, and often even in the religious community! He quotes Heather Vacek, who says “religious stigmatization is evidence of faithful practice.” (p.42)

Over the past few years, we as a local Church have been wrestling with what it means to be a stigmatized community. In our deep discernment and earnest struggle to embrace the hospitality of Jesus, which is about embrace and welcome, we have been stigmatized by our own larger Christian community, experiencing our own exclusion and unwelcome as those seeking to be inclusive. Again, Jipp in reflecting on the parable of the prodigal son and his brother notes that “Jesus tangibly extends God’s friendship to those who, in the eyes of others, are not righteous, have a low status, and are viewed as unworthy of friendship with God… and the Pharisees and scribes are grumbling, and saying, “this one extends hospitality to sinners and eats with them! It should not escape the reader that the charge brought against Jesus (extending hospitality to sinners and tax collectors) is exactly what Jesus himself described as the very purpose of his mission (“to proclaim the year of the Lord’s welcome”)...Jesus compassionately extends God’s hospitality to any of the religious leaders who might relate with the elder son and be in need of a reorientation in their understanding of their relationship with their merciful Father AND fellow neighbors who are being welcomed into God’s family.”

Here, two thousand years later, as the ministry of Jesus’ welcome unfolds in a new way, the religious part of us still is resistant, dismissive, and largely unwilling to follow his lead. And those who do are stigmatized. I’m praying today for colleagues and churches on deck for church trials and likely dismissals, because they are trying to love like Jesus does.

And as painful as this is, we must with all earnest desire continue to follow Jesus wherever his love reaches, which is after all, everywhere! May we always and forever embrace Jesus’s stigmatized identity for the purpose of God’s love that he embodies.

Love from Here!

Peter Hawkinson

P.S. This book is to be the subject of a lenten zoom study led by Rev. Jason Mohn and Exodus World Service, which is a ministry of welcoming refugees in our midst. I hope you’ll get a copy and join the discussion. Info is here:

The words “saved by faith alone” are a hallmark of the protestant movement. Yet have you ever wondered if there is more to the Christian faith than a simple mental accent to a curated list of theological concepts? What place does hospitality play in the Christian faith? Exodus World Service is hosting a six-week virtual Book Club during Lent on the book “Saved by Faith and Hospitality” by Joshua W. Jipp, Associate Professor of New Testament at TEDS in Deerfield, IL to explore these questions.  

The Book Club will be hosted virtually starting Thursday, February 23rd from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. (the day after Ash Wednesday) and gather weekly for six weeks, concluding on Thursday, March 30th (the Thursday before Holy Week). Interested participants can sign up to participate via this form. Participants who register will receive the link for the virtual meeting after registering. Each participant should purchase the book and read the first chapter before the first meeting. 

Questions about the Book Club can be directed to Jason O. Mohn, Director of Church and School Engagement at Exodus World Service (jason.mohn@exodusworldservice.org



The Beloved Community

As I sit in my living room, cozy and dry despite the rain pouring down outside today, I am thinking of the group who are right now making their way around Evanston in an interfaith “Walk for Warmth.” I am thinking, too, about the Community Renewal Society’s Faith in Action assembly starting just shortly down in Chicago. And these are just two of the local events I’m aware of, two of certainly dozens or more, attempting to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, and to continue his legacy by joining in his work.

I subscribe to a daily newsletter summary on my email called theSkimm, exceedingly popular with millennials, which breaks down each day’s news in a few highlights that I can quickly digest before going about my day. And I was pleased to note that, today, the Skimm’s editors chose to devote all of their content to MLK Day. They reminded me that there are always options for doing something, even if it is small, to keep pursuing King’s “beloved community” – a vision derived in no small part from scripture. It is a community where no one has too little while others have too much; where everyone is included, and valued, and cared for. A community marked by love and generosity.

Today’s newsletter listed ideas for pursuing the beloved community for all of the following: people who have time, people who have money, and people who have skills to donate in service of this mission. All of us, I bet, have at least one of those. And all of them – indeed, all of us, are needed.

So often, when I talk about “time, talents, and resources” (i.e. money), it’s in the context of congregational stewardship. We need all of these, after all, to keep Winnetka Covenant Church going. But today reminds me that the vision is so much bigger than that. We don’t just need each other to share these things for our church and ourselves, but for our community and our world.

We need to remember that the beloved community won’t come through the work of one amazing activist, or a small group of them. It will require everyone to participate in some way. To sacrifice one meal out so they can give that $20 to a charitable organization, or to take one hour to have a difficult conversation about racism, or to knit one warm hat to give to a clothing drive.

Jesus once said to his disciples that “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Today I am imagining how much we could change if the workers were many. It’s a dream that Rev. Dr. King shared, and one that still aches to come true.

How will you join in, today or in the days to come? Where is the Spirit prompting you, to join in the work of pursuing the Beloved Community?

-Pastor Jen

The Power of Celebration

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. (Psalm 126:3)

Over the last weekend I was surprised by joy. I mean, I knew it was going to be a happy time as Bonnie and I made our way to Peoria for the wedding of Peter Sudhoff and Erica Lee. But throughout the weekend I experienced the kind of celebration that liberated me from the burdens I brought with me. I felt invited to be free from them for awhile.

There were many moments. Finally encountering the sun for a bit on the Friday afternoon drive after so many gloomy days in a row. The radiant joy on the faces of Steve and Mollie to greet us. The deep holy breath I saw Peter take as he watched Erica moving toward him down the aisle, and the emotive love expressed by Erica and Peter as they shared their vows. The banquet that followed, up on a high bluff overlooking the river, with friends new and old. The clanging glasses, the toasts to life and love, the feasting, the music and dancing, and the laughter, the laughter everywhere.

Now I’ve been to many, many weddings, and I know that what I speak of here is not unusual. My record book tells me this was the seventy-fifth time I’ve had the holy privilege of standing with a couple in their most holy moment of life.

But there was something this time that liberated my spirit, invited me into a deep remembering of life’s gift and goodness. I drove home with a profound sense that the Spirit of God had a meeting with me there, and invited me into gladness, to let the isolating fog of the last three years and the unprecedented challenges of ministry that companion me through these days be gone for awhile.

I’m still basking in that celebration, and am going to stubbornly hold onto that invitation as long as I can. It was a healing and transformative time for me.

What I want to say is that celebration is a powerful mitigating remedy for the challenges we face and the sorrows we hold. And though weddings are wonderful, it need not be such a planned and festive celebration; we can make plans to seek out gladness and joy right in the middle of our ordinary days. Knowing yourself best, it’s up to you to figure out what that looks like.

I just know I’ve been reminded again of the healing power celebration has!

God bless and keep Peter and Erica!

Dark Shines the Light

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world…the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1)

It’s challenging to wake up in the dark these days! I much prefer warm bright summer bird-noisy alarms than the one I have to set now. The cold and dreary winter skies seem to do their level best to conspire against the light. What I’m grateful for is that my waking eyes face east, for me to notice that even on most of these dark and dreary days, the rising sun’s light somehow wins the battle for a brief time, over the great lake, before it’s shut out again. The light shines in the darkness, and colors up the sky, ever so briefly. Our feast of Epiphany begins tomorrow, January 6. 

Light is the Church’s theme in January, in the darkest days of the year, for a brief time between Christmas and Lent. Epiphany is its name, and the words means, a revealing, a sudden manifestation. It begins with the starlight leading the Magi to the manger, ramps up with the baptism and temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, illuminates scenes of Jesus’ ministry, and concludes with his transfigured moment of blazing glory. The resounding message of the ministry of Jesus is the inclusion of the Gentiles as God’s people, chosen for love and grace, salvation’s wonder. It’s a gift to us who live in the darkness, captured by Walter Brueggemann in his prayer/poem, Epiphany:

On Epiphany day, 

            We are still the people walking, still people in the dark,

            And the darkness looms large around us,

            Beset as we are by anxiety, brutality, violence, loss—

            A dozen alienations that we cannot manage.

We are – we could be – people of your light.

So we pray for the light of your glorious presence

            As we wait for your appearing.

We pray for the light of your wondrous grace

            As we exhaust our coping capacity;

We pray for the gift of newness 

that will override our weariness;

We pray that we will see and know and hear and trust

            In your good rule,

That we may have energy, courage and freedom

            To enact your rule through the demands of this day.

We submit our day to you and to your rule,

            With deep joy and high hope. 

Dark shines the light. Looking forward to worship in the blessed community where the Spirit comes to remind us it is so!

Love from Here — Peter Hawkinson