September 15, 2023

Is there Spiritual Value with Summer Vacation?

Is there Spiritual Value with Summer Vacation?

Summertime, and the living is easy…

barryI was listening to one of my favourite Jazz standards, “Summer Time,” while driving to a Church service to hear a dear friend sing a choir solo at a quaint rural United Church.

It was an idyllic setting. A Victorian era church surrounded by mature 200 year old oaks. Inside I noticed a bulletin stating, Sunday school would close the end of June and Sunday services would “take a vacation” until September 1st. It struck me as odd that “Church would take a vacation” during a beautiful, relaxing time of year. Following the service I chatted with the Minister who shared with me the joy that his congregation had in “Church vacation.” I left the service rather puzzled as I had always thought that summer was the ideal time for spiritual reflection and recharging.

As fate would have it I had the good fortune of taking a road trip to upstate New York a few weeks later and rediscovering the Chautauqua Institute on the shores of a beautiful lake of the same name. I noticed the Institute sign and recalled the day that I discovered this educational gem. How I pulled over and went down a winding gravel road toward the lake. What first intrigued me were the cottages and wooden homes, all appearing as if they had been built at the turn of the century. Multiple theatres, art studios, and grassed squares came into view as well as a magnificent wood Victorian hotel near the water’s edge. I later learned that the hotel is the last remaining wooden hotel on Lake Chautauqua.

“refreshed and encouraged in my belief that vacation education has great spiritual value..”

A gentleman then welcomed me and advised cars were not permitted on the site. He then invited me to sit on a bench as he answered my question, “What is the Chautauqua Institute?”

In 1874, Methodist ministers held a Sunday School Assembly on the site as an experiment in vacation learning. The two men believed that summer was the ideal period to bring people together, to enjoy nature and discuss the challenges of the world in open discussion.

The experiment proved a great success and today the Institute offers vacation learning for nine summer weeks focusing on art, music, theatre, writing and debate. The Institute is faithful to its roots as it provides a vibrant Department of Religion. Every denomination is involved with conducting daily services, lectures and Chaplin training. The various denominations each operate quest homes. The youth focus is evident with many participants belonging to families who have attended for many generations. I smiled when I read one sign above a sink in the artists quarter which read, “Painters please do not wash your brushes in the sink, Thank You”.  Would be artists, singers and debaters thrived in a climate of enthusiasm, energy, and love. One evening the Mormon Tabernacle Choir provided a concert of inspiration.

I left the Institute refreshed and encouraged in my belief that vacation education has great spiritual value. In a number of urban ministries I have encouraged “Summertime Spiritual Services” designed to continue “community engagement programs” which traditionally close when school does.

Continuance of faith based programs in the summer is popular with many families who do not have the financial means to take a vacation and therefore find even greater fulfillment through continued relationship exercises such as a shared Sunday service. One urban ministry started a “Steel Band Sunday” service targeting youth with a steel band playing and has seen its congregation grow by over 50%.  To me the experience was validation that Sunday service shouldn’t take a holiday in summer. It is an opportunity to grow and nourish young church members. The continuance of human service intervention programs during the summer months prevents regression in marginalized youth who benefit greatly from continuity and sustained support. Unconditional love never takes a holiday.

As for me I am planning another trip to Lake Chautauqua this summer for a little spiritual renewal. I may also take my paint brushes too!

Until next time.

Barry Coe

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