Starting in 1999, each June my family of four would load up our van with a tent, sleeping bags, camp stove, dishes, food and more and head out for wherever that year's General Assembly was being held. We would plan these trips for months - pouring over maps to figure out the best routes, reading guide books to find places we wanted to visit along the route, and talking about the best places to stop. Each person got to select 2-3 places to stop, making their case to the rest of the family. Then early in June we'd set out.
Those trips were hours in the van with two tweens and later teens. This was before cell phones and tablets, so our trips were filled with conversation, highway games and debates about what we'd seen at the last stop and what we were most excited about what was ahead. Our evening stops were setting up camp, fixing meals and sharing time as we watched the stars come out. In later years, we skipped the camping and stayed at hotels but the rest of the trip remained the same.
I now cherish those trips. I realize now that having that one to three weeks of enforced time together as a family before we arrived at General Assembly and were each going a million different directions was valuable. The trips home after General Assembly were a chance to share what each of us had learned. I don't think we would have had the same opportunities to share those experiences and learn from each other if we hadn't made those trips together.
What I now know is that those trips were an opportunity for two things. They helped us reconnect after a busy school year and just be a family again with no outside pressures. And they helped us think deeply about our faith through the lens of what we had learned while at General Assembly.
As our congregations come back together after enforced time apart, meeting only virtually, we're also going to need to reconnect. For my family that connection took place in shared experiences and long van rides. How will your congregation create these connection opportunities? And how will you incorporate those who can't make the trip with you right now for safety reasons? How will you message that need to rebuild and relearn being in community?
The yearly long family trips ended for us in 2007, with one final one in 2011. But the things we learned and the bonds we created last today. I hope your congregations find a way to create those important opportunities for connection and community building as we begin gathering back together in person.