For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Jennifer Thomson, I’m currently a senior at West Potomac, and I will be attending Virginia Tech in the fall. Today, I am honored to be the youth preacher! Christ Church has been a part of my life since Day 1. My parents actually met through the All-Parish Retreat at Shrine Mont. I met my best friend here at Christ Church. I’ve been part of the choir since I was 3—you name it, I’ve probably done it. This place has had quite an impact on me.
Another place that has had a huge impact on me is Shrine Mont (which you can all sign up for now!). It’s a little oasis of paradise hidden in the beautiful mountains of the Shenandoah Valley, free from texting, social media and all those electronic distractions. That’s one of the reasons why I love it so much—it’s free from distractions.
Shrine Mont has a lot of summer camps. I went to the Music and Drama Camp (referred to as MAD Camp) for eight years. If I had a few hours, I’d love to tell you all about the crazy adventures it took me on, but I’m just going to focus on one thing: the hike up North Mountain.
We began to hike up North Mountain in Session 2 of camp. It’s about two hours up and two hours down. The first time hiking it was not easy. Parts of the trail are really rocky and unstable. And this is where I want to mention a line we heard earlier today from Romans: “…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…” This is basically like when you complain about something and your dad says, “It builds character!” Well, on the hike up North Mountain, we definitely felt a little suffering. But it’s all worth it once you get to the top.
Once you get to the top, it doesn’t seem like much. It’s just a bunch of trees. To get to the scenic view, you have to scale this giant grey rock. The counselors formed a system to help lift us all up and over. Once you get up there, you turn a corner, and suddenly, you are on top of the world. The view is amazing. Imagine clear, bright blue skies over the mountains that roll on for miles. We do this thing called the Shouting Prayer, where we—guess what—shout a prayer. It’s a call and response, but I’ll just read the lines to you quickly: “God loves the world, God loves us, God loves you, I love you, God loves me, I love me, Thanks be to God, Amen, Amen.” We shout it and wait after every line—you can hear the sound of our voices echo over the mountains.
However, the real fun begins when you have to climb back down that other side of the rock. Once again, the counselors had to form sort of an assembly line to help us descend the rock. Well, when I was 11, it was really scary. My legs were too short to reach the next ledge. The counselors assured me that they would catch me, but I did not believe them. It took me awhile, but I finally agreed to try again. It was kind of a leap of faith.
Trusting in others and in God is pretty hard. We don’t really know and can’t really know everything about God, or why he works the way he does, but we just have to trust. I had to trust in my counselors to know I’d get down off the rock safely. When we’re scared, we just trust. Even simple things like thunderstorms—when I was a younger camper, and there was a crazy storm in the middle of the night, I would just have to wait it out. Sometimes that’s all we can do.
A more recent time of stress was the college application process. It was a whirlwind of essay-writing, transcript-sending and decision-making. I had no idea where I wanted to go. And waiting to hear back was like watching grass grow.
Another tradition at camp is having a “feeling check” every night before bed. We go around the cabin and answer a few questions, one of which is usually: “Where did you see God today?” This question is pretty easy to answer at Shrine Mont. Like I said, it’s truly a place apart. However, back in the “real world,” it’s sometimes harder to see God
at work. Romans says “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” I believe that we need to take this love and spread it as far as it will go, no matter where we are or whom we’re with. Camp is so great because of the unconditional love there. I want to take that and share it with the community.
I’d like to repeat this verse from today’s Gospel: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth…” I like this verse because we don’t always understand God. We can only work with and trust in the knowledge that we have. I know that whenever I see God at work, it’s through many ways. I see God through volunteer work. A while back, the youth group here did a project called “100 Meals for $100.” We worked on cooking meals that were only $1 each. Working with such a strict price limit was difficult, but it was worth it to help serve the community. I see God through simple things too, like making new friends, helping strangers, or even just having a conversation with someone you don’t usually talk to. And that can be hard! But sometimes, you have to take that little leap of faith.
I’d like to thank everyone here for helping me grow over the past 18 years. I’m so thankful for Mary Beth Abplanalp and Anna Broadbent for being wonderful youth leaders and mentors, Mr. Jason for being an amazing choir director who has put up with my constant requests to play flute in church, Reverend Heather for guiding me through the sermon-writing process, and my family for always being there for me. I know I can always find peace in this church and the presence of God, which have been and will always be supportive of me and my journey.