Summer in Winter – January 29, 2017

Three Unitarian Universalist Camps and Conference Centers

Introduction by Carole Berney, worship associate

A few words about the subject of this lay service:

I was struck by a sermon Mark gave a few weeks ago—about how some may feel that what draws us here is our church community. But, he stated, our community crucially derives its identity, importance, and sacredness from the UU faith. We all gather here in UU spirit and values—on Sundays in the Worship Service, social hour, or religious education classes; and at other times in Committee meetings, workdays, and special events.

Well, our Worship Committee wanted to let you know, in this lay service, about some other very special UU places –out in the world, not far away–that are worth attending: Ferry Beach, Rowe Camp and Conference Center, and Star Island. So — we’ve invited 3 First Parish UU camp attendees to speak to us briefly about their experiences at each of these camps. We hope they will inspire you to appreciate the special spirit these UU places emanate. Also, we thought it might be refreshingly welcome on one of the last days of January, to imagine yourself in one of these beautiful natural settings in summertime, drinking in the warmth of such UU gathering places.

Introduction to Star Island

Star Island is one of the Isles of Shoals, ten miles off the coast of New Hampshire, a one-hour ferry ride out of Portsmouth.  Since 1915 the mission of Star Island has been to maintain a center for religious, educational, and kindred purposes consistent with the principles of the UU Association and the United Church of Christ. For the last 100 years, it has offered an all-inclusive summer camp experience for families and hosted a wide variety of themed conferences on a range of subjects such as natural history, writing, photography, music, painting, ecology, matters of the spirit, yoga and more.

There’s a reason so many artists have been drawn to Star Island over the years. Beyond the aesthetics—the raw wind and sea spray, the pink blossoms of beach roses and the stately weathered architecture—there’s the gift of stepping away from the mainland, enjoying the sunset in a rocking chair on the porch, exploring Gosport Harbor in a kayak, or participating in innovative and wide-ranging programs.

Star Island is my Spiritual Home by Carole Katz

I first visited Star Island on a day trip put together by FPW sometime in the 90s.  And when I learned there was a week dedicated to art workshops where I could practice painting watercolors I registered.  It’s called the Arts conference. It’s always held on the 3rd week of June.  It was 1996 the first time I attended.  I didn’t know anyone.  About a month before I arrived I received a thick packet containing pages of things I should know and plan for.  I studied it closely and packed accordingly.  I was paired with another first timer named Beth.  She was a single mom too.  We hit it off right away and talked late into the night about our lives and our kids.  We are still good friends today, 20 years later.

There were several things that make the conference welcoming.  Everyone is required to wear a nametag that includes the town and state where they are from.  It is a great ice-breaker in the dining room.  The island staff, called the Pelicans, also provide an extensive orientation for new comers that includes a tour of the island and the facilities.

That first week I was completely entranced with everything.  The nineteenth century hotel called The Oceanic evoked powerful nostalgia though I don’t have a conscious memory of ever being in such a place.  I think there is some truth in genetic memories.

The 200 year old stone chapel on the rocks was too perfect.  Almost a cliché! Disney couldn’t conceive of anything as perfect.  The stone cottages, the ocean vista from where ever you stood, the changing weather that would create dramatic new scenes –It’s all quite magical.  Even after attending for the most part of 20 years I am still deeply moved by the setting.

But as wonderful as all of that is, it’s the guest ministers and lay services that have the most affect on me.  The Arts conference has had extraordinary ministers as guests over the years: Reverend Maggie Rebman from Burlington Vermont is an amazing story teller.  David Morrison can attest to that.  I still have a few of her stories printed out to return to when I want to.  The Reverend Nancy Crumbine is a poet who has an improvisational spirit to her sermons.  Rev. Bill Clark has a fragile heart but doesn’t hold back with sharing his heartfelt emotions with us all.  The most recent minister has been Rev. Kate Wilkinson whose wisdom and strength far surpass her years.  You can see her sermons by visiting the Provincetown UU website.

The daily chapel services have become the most important reason I return to Star each year.  To hear the wonderful ministers the committees invite to join us.

Spending the day among 150 people can be overwhelming to some of us.  There’s plenty of opportunity to spend time in small groups or alone, but all the meals are communal and it can all feel a little too much sometimes.  Fortunately the end of day ritual soothes the soul.  Members of the conference can volunteer to lead a short service at the end of the day in the chapel.  Those who want to attend gather on the large hotel porch and, when the chapel bell begins to toll, we each pick up a candle-lit lantern.  People are asked to stop talking at that point and walk silently up to the dark chapel where our lanterns get hung on hooks inside to light the chapel.  Quietly we sit and await an end of day service that includes beautiful music and some words of love and wisdom.  At the end of the service we silently make our way back to the hotel.  It’s a tremendous relief to have that quiet time each day.  To be among people but quiet.  The power of that surprises me every time.

So it would really be enough for me to just go to Star Island each year to hear the services each morning and night.  But the Art Conference also provides wonderful workshop leaders in the areas of photography, visual arts, theater, writing and dance.  I used to stay in my safe place – painting workshops.  But some of my best weeks have been when I stretched myself and tried the writing workshop or dance.   In 2015 I took a course on American Haiku.  It’s a little less strict than traditional Japanese Haiku.  It was the right choice for me that year.  It helped me to sit and be quiet and think and write using all of my senses.  It made for an especially peaceful week.

I haven’t tried theater yet.  But I look forward to trying it one of these years.  You don’t have to have any previous experience or skill.  The workshop leaders adjust to every level.

There are many other types of conferences throughout the summer.  Carol Berney mentioned the natural history conference.  There’s also an international affairs conference and several family conferences and more.  On Darwin’s 100th birthday year they had a week-long conference all about Darwin.

Thanks to Star Island I’ve made UU friends from throughout New England, New York, DC and beyond.

Finding First Parish first gave me a wonderful place to be on Sunday mornings. It then provided wonderful friends, and a fascinating history.  But it also brought Star Island into my life.  Unitarian Universalism keeps bringing me gifts.  I look forward to experiencing other UU retreat locales in the future.

I have a short video you can view downstairs after the service if you like.  -And a book about Star Island’s history.

Thank you.

Introduction to Ferry Beach

First, we’ll be hearing from some of our young members who have attended Ferry Beach: Roane Morton, Seneca Hart, and David Ostfeld.

Ferry Beach is located in Saco, Maine, with beach front and woodlands lying to the south and west of Old Orchard Beach, along the east side of the Saco river and skirting upon Saco Bay. Founded in 1901 by a Universalist minister, Ferry Beach is a retreat community informed by the traditions of Universalism, including camp and revival meetings, and today, by the seven Unitarian Universalist principles.

As a respite away from the everyday world, it is a collection of meeting spaces, wide porches, an art and pottery studio, an outdoor chapel, a performance space, and a wonderful dining hall. It is a place of renewal and rejuvenation for families, couples, and individuals.

Roane Morton – Ferry Beach – coming soon

Introduction to Rowe Camp and Conference Center

Rowe Camp is a Unitarian-Universalist Center, a spiritual and educational organization folded into the slope of the gentle Berkshire Mountains at the edge of an old New England village. The Rowe campus offers such features as forested land and trails, an old millpond and waterfall, a labyrinth, a meditation hut and a sauna.

Rowe’s summer camps have inspired and delighted kids since 1924. Adult camps have developed over several decades into self-sustaining communities ready to welcome new members, and year round conferences with interesting facilitators offer alternative topics with a focus on self-discovery.

Rowe’s stated purpose, consistent with UU principles and values, is to provide opportunities, in a safe and supportive environment, for people to explore diverse, far-reaching subjects in order to learn about themselves, each other, other cultures and the earth, and go forth with new knowledge, insight, and courage.

Rachel Benson Monroe – Rowe Camp and Conference Center 

My Experience at Rowe Camp

By Rachel Benson Monroe

At age 13, for reasons that are still unbeknownst to me (but I have ideas…) my parents told me they wanted me to attend Rowe Camp in Rowe, Massachusetts. I was pretty against the idea- summer was an ideal time to cement middle school friendships- plus I actually, despite how I may have acted, LIKED my parents and sister, and didn’t want to leave for 3 weeks. I made my parents promise that if I called and asked, they would come pick me up. Let’s just say that after arriving at Rowe, that call was never to come, and it would become my spiritual summer home for the next 10 years.

I have attended Rowe camps and worked on staff for the middle school and high school aged camps. I have served as Youth Ambassador to the Board, am a regular donor, and recently attended a conference.

At Rowe we describe something called the Rowe Spirit. For me, it is a love and appreciation for the magical quality generated when a group of people join together to learn, grow, play, love, feel, be in an environment of trust, kindness, respect, and safety. When a person, especially a young person, is in a place they know they are safe and supported, welcomed and trusted, they can be the best, kindest, most energized, most vital version of themselves. That phenomenon is Rowe Camp.

The majority of my experiences at Rowe were at Junior High Camp, designed for ages 13-15, a three-week long retreat for adolescents focusing on personal and spiritual growth, identity exploration, socio-emotional bonding, appropriate boundary setting, freedom of expression, and fun. We lived in rustic cabins, showered outdoors, and spent 3 blissful weeks away from screens of all kinds, phones, and parents.

At Rowe we were presented and asked to commit to community guidelines, emphasizing respect for ourselves, each other, the space, and the environment. Being entrusted with these guidelines and having their meaning instilled in us created a sense of ownership and responsibility for our actions within the community. Our decisions to act responsibly came from an internal locus of respect and ethics, as opposed to externally imposed rules.

Consent was highlighted- as teenagers we were treated as unique individuals with autonomy over our bodies and our decisions. We were given, with permission from our parents, frank, compassionate, developmentally appropriate information about sex, consent, and relationships. This is a refreshing and much needed element excluded from most education systems and was formational in creating in me a vital sense of respect and authority over my own body.

Campers are called by the names they choose and pronouns they prefer. There has been an increased emphasis on building diversity at Rowe in the last 10 years, so children from all backgrounds can experience the magic. At Rowe you can actually be who you want to be- and try on any number of identities to see what sticks, knowing you will be loved and appreciated.

Programming is totally diverse and aimed at cultivating creativity, weirdness, freedom of expression, and fun. There is an effort to include and create opportunities for all kids. Kids who may not “fit in” in mainstream culture are celebrated at Rowe. There is no dress code, shoes are optional (except in the kitchen, where required weekly chores build a sense of ownership and responsibility for the functioning of the space), weirdness is gladly embraced. There are games, sports, and activities for kids who need to run around- there are quiet spaces, art materials, hikes, and small group outings for kids who are more introverted.

Friday night dances are raucous, barefoot, and community based. There are no dates, no attire that is expected, and most importantly there is no type of dancing that doesn’t fit.

Nightly, we would meet at dusk and walk in silence down to a centuries-old one room chapel, stopping on the short walk to sit and reflect at the mill pond, where a chorus of bullfrogs greeted us. We would share our experiences in the chapel Quaker style, always beginning and ending with certain rituals meant to soothe and ground everyone in the room. This experience of chapel was positively transformative for me and I felt connected not only to myself and my friends but to something deeper and greater, something “magical”.

Food is plentiful, made fresh daily, mostly vegetarian, and absolutely delicious. Family style meals are fun, chaotic and community building. The background of the lush forest, mountains, and starry night sky are a welcome respite from the confines of school, cell phones and cities that many kids experience.

For me, Rowe was a place where I was respected and appreciated for the unique individual that I am. I was given space to grow, learn, make mistakes, and form bonds that defied the typical and prescribed social norms of mainstream adolescent culture. living together for 3 weeks each summer and engaging in bonding rituals and foundational experiences during transformative and identity building times of life left me with friendships that endure the test of time. At my wedding two years ago, 3 friends from Rowe were by my side, having known each of them for more than 15 years.

I am thankful for the First Parish community for instilling in me the foundational beliefs that grew at Rowe. I am thankful to Rowe for offering me a sacred and safe space to evolve. I am thankful to my parents for having the foresight to send me to this magical retreat, and for recognizing it’s importance to me and allowing me to return, and I am thankful for the opportunity to share my experience with all of you today.