Children remind us of the simplicity of "being the church," even in times of change.
Credit: Courtesy of Kids at CAM
Published On: June 27, 2018
I was probably going to make a fool of myself.
My colleague asks all of us, kids and adults, to sit in a circle. She pulls out a single roll of toilet paper. She tells us to pick off as many sheets of toilet paper as we wish. But she doesn't say why. It's for our first activity together. There is tension in the air. She hands me the roll first. I tear off several sheets.
The roll goes around the circle. More sheets are torn off. The kids who have been with us before pepper my colleague with ideas about what the purpose of the activity is. She refuses to tell them until she's ready. The roll finally gets to back to her. It's suddenly very quiet.
My colleague waits a few seconds. She has our undivided attention. She describes the activity.
It's a get-to-know-you game. Each piece of toilet paper represents a chance to tell the group something about themselves. I start. I say, trying to be funny, "I have the best dance moves."
Laughs from the kids who have been with us before and know that I have no good dance moves. But silence from one of the new kids - an eight-year-old with us for the first time. She's directly opposite me in the circle. Her eyes have narrowed. She's staring with fierce intensity right at me. With the eyes of a hawk targeting its prey.
I've seen that look before from our own child. I may have made a big mistake.
Soon enough, it's "Hawkeyes'" turn to speak. She's still looking unwaveringly at me. "I have the best dance moves - I'm better than you!" She doesn't speak with malice or scorn or ridicule. She speaks with the steely determination and competitive fire of a child that has had several years of dance lessons (as I would later find out). Dance is her comfort zone — where she can express herself, compete and be good at something that other people can notice.
Instantly, the other kids called out for a "Dance-off" between Hawkeyes and me. I only wanted to poke fun at myself and help the group loosen up and and have fun together. Hawkeyes was ready to dance me into dust.
I had made a rod for my own back. How could we now make the weekend not about victory and defeat but about us being kind to each other?
The weekend in question was the 94th, and perhaps final, session of the Bay of Quinte Conference's Annual Meeting [CAM] hosted at Grace and Trinity United Churches in Napanee, Ontario. I volunteered as one of the adult leaders supervising the Children’s Program & Kids at CAM. For two-and-a-half days we were entrusted with these kids' care, while their parents and grandparents attended to the business of the session.
This year, we arrived on early on the Friday morning to find that we had a well-aired large space with ample access to washrooms, food and the "court" of the CAM. We had very hospitable, gracious and kind hosts from Trinity United where we were based and great food and welcome from the folks at Grace United. Most importantly, the kids got along well.
We had a full age-range of kids — from four-year-olds that were obsessed with Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig to eleven-year-olds fully knowledgeable about YouTube memes, Instagram selfies, and apps we are probably not even aware of.
Some of the kids were quiet, shy introverts. Some were buzzing, wired extroverts. Some have been with us at previous CAMs. Some were with us for the first time.
Snapshots from our time together:
balloon & pool noodle battles | heart-breaking tears | delicious cake | moments of grace | tantrums | older kids helping younger kids without being asked | "casting" for adults with rainbow-coloured fishing rods off the balcony | good behaviour | crafts, crafts, crafts | noisy youth & young adults running outside our motel rooms late at night | more delicious cake | bad behaviour | too many cups of coffee | joyful reunions with former Kids at CAM who are now youth delegates | kids leading the Saturday worship telling the story of the loaves and fishes | a wonderful youth chorus | dancing
Ahhh yes, what to do about that Dance-off? The Dance-off was set for Sunday morning before the final CAM worship service.
When Hawkeyes was dropped off by her grandparents on Saturday morning, one of them pulled me aside, out of earshot of the determined dancer. "This morning she asked me if you were going to feel bad and not like her if she won the Dance-off..."
Behind the bravado, she was worried about hurting my feelings. How was the Dance-off going to play out without any hurt feelings for anyone?
Sunday morning, Providence came to the rescue in the form of a hashtag. It turned out that that very day, April 29, was #InternationalDanceDay. A day for people around the world to dance with joy and love.
So, as we gathered together the kids one last time before worship, I told the group what day it was. And that in the spirit of the day, instead of having a contest, we should all dance together as the group we had become, and have fun doing it.
I paused and looked at Hawkeyes. Her eyes grew wide. She very slightly nodded her head up and down and grinned. The hawk eyes disappeared.
Then we all danced.
This was my seventh year volunteering to help take care of these Kids at CAM. Why do we keep coming back?
Were we there to help these kids think and feel about what it means to "Be the Church" through our behaviour with them and with others, knowing how closely we are being watched?
Were we there to provide a secure and welcoming space for these kids to be themselves without judgment or pressure, knowing that they are each beloved children of God?
Were we simply trying to keep them safe, fed, and entertained for two-and-a-half days?
Yes...but even more than all of these reasons...ultimately, we were there to dance.
We were there to dance together.
And 8-year-olds have much better dance moves than me.
— G.G. Wood
This year's Bay of Quinte Conference Annual Meeting occurred a month earlier than usual, to accommodate extra planning time for General Council 43. GC43 is being co-hosted by Bay of Quinte Conference in Oshawa this July. The author's home congregation will be hosting the children of GC43 Commissioners and is looking forward to seeing kids make new friends from across the country.