It happened again – I was trying to describe where our church is and which of the many Congregational churches in our area is actually East Woodstock. Then the light dawned – “Oh, is your church the Jamboree church?” Yes, indeed. That’s who we are.
It’s a good way to be known. Yes, we’re the church that hosts an enormous party on the Fourth of the July. Yes, we’re the church that offers safe, old-fashioned fun for families. Yes, we’re the church that invites kids to play games, dance to music, and ride their bikes in the parade. Yes, we’re the church that encourages people to spend the day relaxing on the common as they listen to local musicians and enjoy delicious food. Yes, we’re the church that opens our doors and our hearts wide and says, “Come on in.”
While I’m glad that hundreds of people will find their way here on the Fourth of July, I wish more people could experience the behind-the-scenes activity that makes that special day possible. The small but mighty Jamboree committee begins meeting and dreaming in February.
About 10 days prior to the big celebration, the church starts humming with activity as people stop by with donations of “treasures” and books. I love listening to the laughter and conversations of volunteers as they sort, clean, and categorize the huge variety of items that will be for sale. It is not unusual to find people standing with bits and pieces in their hands, deep in conversation, as they take the chance to catch up with old friends or meet new ones. Sometimes a guessing game ensues – “What is this thing?” (The answers have been as varied as a cranberry scoop, a candle sharpener, and an apple peeler/corer). Or reminiscing kicks in – “I remember these! I used to have one when I was a kid.” I have heard mini book reviews as people happen upon a favorite book and recount a much-loved story. It is a time of excitement and anticipation.
Fellowship and community are a big part of the Jamboree and they begin long before the actual day.
The Jamboree started in 1957 when the church was short on funds. While this was not a particularly unusual situation, the solution was. A trio of creative women – Barbara Barrett, Nancy Lyons, and Betty Wells – imagined a one-time event to fill the budget gaps. They invited the community and people responded with enthusiasm. And thus, a tradition was born. This year we’ll celebrate our 63rd Jamboree.
Some things have changed over the decades. We no longer host a ham and bean supper in the evening (those hardy New Englanders! How did they have the stamina to prepare a meal after a long day on the common?!) and the torch runners now carry flags representing our country, our state, and the thirteen colonies.
But the heart of the Jamboree remains the same. It is an invitation for people from near and far to come together. We celebrate our country and the freedoms we enjoy. We celebrate East Woodstock and give thanks for the church. It is a day filled with festivities and gratitude.
I look forward to celebrating the Fourth of July Jamboree and give thanks for all the volunteers – past and present – who make it possible.