On Saturday, I arrived at Chautauqua for the 14th consecutive summer. While Chautauqua is better experienced than explained, I will do my best to provide an overview of the experience and to articulate why these experiences are so important to me.
Chautauqua began as an experiment in Christian education in 1874. Started by Methodist minister John Vincent and businessman Lewis Miller as The New York Chautauqua Assembly, the organization quickly morphed into much, much more.
By the early 20th century, Chautauquas sprang up all over the United States (including one in Mt. Gretna that is alive and well). Now, practically every major denomination owns property and contributes to the quality of life at Chautauqua’s New York site.
Every day at Chautauqua begins with ecumenical worship in the amphitheater that serves as the centerpiece of the campus. Following worship, there is coffee followed by presentations that set faith into conversation with science, the arts and the humanities. In the afternoon, there is further intellectual discourse and conversations that change lives. After dinner, one may go to concerts, live theater, the cinema and/or an opera, all of which are offered on the grounds.
The first time that I visited Chautauqua, I was adjusting to the idea of becoming a single parent. At that time, my daughter was five years-old. I remember being intimidated, especially by the thought of styling a five year-old girl’s hair, but determined to live in my new call. By the end of that week, God had given me a glimpse of the fact that could be the kind of parent that I hoped to be.
Chautauqua offers programming for people of all ages. I remember walking with my daughter to the bus stop where she would be picked up for Chautauqua’s Children’s School and then later saying “goodbye” to her as she bicycled off to Girls Club.
When I look back on the history of the Chautauqua movement, I often wonder what Vincent and Miller would say about the ecumenical, interfaith and artistic juggernaut that the institution has become. More importantly, I give thanks for a community of faith, like this one, that has sustained me for more than a quarter of my life.
I am glad that, in the PC(USA), four weeks vacation and two weeks study leave are standard terms of call, and in the Presbytery of Carlisle, pastors are granted one day of spiritual renewal per quarter. Since I started serving St. James in June, these terms have been cut in half for me this year. Meaning: the Chautauqua experience is generative enough to me to consider Chautauqua vacation inasmuch as it also serves as continuing education.
This coming week, I will be participating in programming on religion and the Supreme Court. The following week, I will be here for a series of studies on comedy and the human condition. I am super-excited about the ways in which we will making use of the discussion of religion and the Supreme Court in adult Sunday school this fall, and as you have probably noticed, I am already an enthusiastic proponent of the ways in which humor adds vitality to worship and may function as pastoral care.
A common refrain in the sermons that I preached in my first series at St. James was: “I pray that we will be a congregation who welcomes people of all ages.” At Chautauqua, I am reminded that the spiritual development of a congregation’s adults is as important to the church as is the education of the children whom God entrusts to our care.
If we, as adults, are not spiritually developed and developing, then who will model discipleship to the next generation?