The first weekend of each May we cancel services here and our church family heads up to Vogel State Park for the weekend. It's been an honored tradition for 17 years. Each year Verna and I stay in a cabin by a quiet brook. It's as close to camping as we get. It's a great place to read, relax and enjoy conversation with people who stop by during the weekend.
There are many reasons Vogel is such a treasured tradition by our church family. Friday night cookouts and Eddie Rew leading the line dancing. Children playing on the beach together. Hiking with Sue McCabe (for the brave of heart and body). Hayrides for the kids. Playing soccer in the field. Families camping together. Stories of the weather and bears wandering through a campsite. Saturday evening worship on the lake. The simple beauty of Vogel State Park. So many memories.
Driving home this year it struck me that Vogel's value is much more significant than a fun weekend at a State Park. We set aside a couple of days simply to be together as a family. When we think about discipleship we generally associate it with thoughtful sermons, structured classes, safe small groups and intentional conversations. And all these practices play a needed role. But I wonder if our structured environments cause discipleship to be more cumbersome (even complicated) than it really is.
The beauty of Vogel is that it's so unstructured and informal. We hardly notice discipleship is taking place. Life is being shared together. Meaningful conversations simply happen without defensiveness, agenda or pretense. We're shaped listening to each other's stories and lives. I had a conversation Saturday evening with a single mom who left a successful career because of her passion for lives being ruined by sexual trafficking. Her story challenges me to sell out as I follow Christ. I want to live more like her.
Vogel is a taste of discipleship in its most simple and pure expression - sharing life with friends as we seek to follow Jesus together. It's less about enjoying camping together than it is enjoying community together.
And people notice.
Jesus prayed that "all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:21-23 NIV)
As I was loading my car to leave Sunday a young lady was out walking and stopped to chat about our cabin. As we talked I learned she was tent camping. So I mentioned that our church family was there for our annual trip to Vogel and a large group of them were tent camping. "I've noticed. I've met a number of them this weekend. Really nice people. Must be pretty special to belong to a family like this."
Pretty special indeed.