Ricardo and his grandparents arrived at Camp Taylor for the congregation's weekend retreat. This was Ricardo's third year at the retreat and he had been looking forward to this weekend for months. He helped bring the bags to their cabin. Then, he looked all over for his friends Abby and Kamal, but they had not yet arrived.
Instead he found his grandfather in the large, group kitchen. "Time will pass faster if you keep busy," his grandfather said, and he asked Ricardo to help him place bread in baskets for Friday night's dinner.
Grandfather was right: Time did move faster when you kept busy. In fact, Ricardo was busy all weekend. When he wasn't playing with his friends, he helped prepare meals and clean up after activities. At Saturday's lunch, the minister, Rev. Hendrix, sat by Ricardo. "Ricardo, you are really being helpful this weekend. I like to see such leadership in the children of the congregation."
"Leadership?" asked Ricardo.
"Sure. Leadership doesn't only mean being the person in charge. Pitching in where help is needed is leadership, too. I need a young person to help with tomorrow's worship service. Would you like to help?"
"Sure," said Ricardo, though he wasn't sure how he could help. What did he know about creating worship?
That night, the worship planning team met. Rev. Hendrix explained that they would keep the planned components short to leave plenty of room for people to share. The theme for the service was "All Together Now." She used newsprint to list the parts of the worship service.
"When we gather at the pond, people will come from all over. Let's gather people with a song, a song some people know and others can learn quickly," she said.
"How about, 'Come, Come Whoever You Are?" asked Ricardo. "We learned that in RE and we sing it a lot on Sunday mornings."
Everyone liked that idea. Someone wrote the title of the song on the newsprint. Another member of the team suggested they open with a chalice lighting. Ricardo was surprised to see that someone had brought a chalice to the retreat. They knew it would be needed because all the worship services at the congregation started with a chalice lighting.
More ideas for the worship service were added to the newsprint, including two more hymns and a meditation led by one of the congregation's elders.
"Will you give a sermon?" Ricardo asked Rev. Hendrix.
"Not this time," said Rev. Hendrix. "Alex has prepared a short sermon," Alex was a college student, who was new to the congregation. Ricardo was surprised that someone besides a minister could give a sermon—especially someone almost as young as himself.
"At the end of my sermon, I will invite anyone who wishes to do so to say a few words about what coming together for this retreat means to them. Instead of our usual Joys and Concerns, this is what we will ask participants to give during the service," said Alex. Ricardo liked that. He thought everyone would be able to participate in this way.
The next morning, Ricardo went to the pond in time to start singing "Come, Come Whoever You Are" exactly at ten o'clock with the other worship planners. As more people arrived, they quickly joined in. Some brought chairs or blankets, and others just sat on the grass. Rev. Hendrix placed the chalice on a large stone. Different people led the group through the parts of the worship service. The songs were easy—no hymnbooks were needed.
Then Alex stood up to give a sermon. Ricardo was surprised to realize that Alex was talking about him! "Because we all took time to be together here," Alex said, "I have received some amazing gifts this weekend. One of these gifts was the special time I got to spend with my young friend Ricardo this morning, planning this worship gathering together."
After Alex finished speaking, it was time for people to share what the retreat meant for them. One person said, "Taking time away from the busyness of our everyday lives allowed me to just be right here, in the moment, without thinking about what I have to go and do next. I feel refreshed and renewed."
A parent said, "I got to spend more time with my children this weekend than I have for months."
An elder said, "I almost didn't come. I thought the retreat was really only for families with kids. But some of you encouraged me to come, and I'm so glad I did. I got to know people better. We shared many stories. Young and old people should talk together more often."
Ricardo had thought worshipping in the woods would be strange, and complicated. But it was easy. It turned out they didn't need hymnbooks, or an altar—just people, willing to share what was important to them with each other in a spirit of love and togetherness. After the closing words, Ricardo extinguished the chalice. It was time to go home.
"See you at Camp Taylor next year," Ricardo called out to Rev. Hendrix.
Rev. Hendrix laughed and called back, "See you at the congregation next Sunday."