Until next year…

It was, on the one hand, a hard decision to make. Who wants to be the one to cancel a beloved event that has taken place on the East Woodstock Common since 1957?  It felt agonizing.

            And yet, on the other hand, it was very clear that it was the only practical and prudent decision that was available.

            Perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear that a Bible story played into the decision to cancel our Jamboree.

 In Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, there are two brothers, Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve.  Both brothers are trying to be faithful followers of God so each of them carries an offering to place on God’s altar. Without explanation, God accepts the gift of Abel but rejects what Cain has to offer. This infuriates Cain. He is filled with anger so he attacks his brother and kills him.

            When God comes looking for the brothers and can only find one, God turns to Cain and wonder about Abel’s whereabouts. Cain doesn’t want this responsibility so he angrily asks God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

            It is significant that the answer is so obvious that God doesn’t even bother voicing it. Instead, God shows what it means to care and especially to care for those in need. Throughout the rest of the Bible, God shows what compassion and care looks like. God protects the stranger, welcomes the outcast, tends to the sick, and searches for those who are lost. God is our keeper. And we are keepers of one another.

            That’s why we are canceling the Jamboree this year. We are trying to take care of one another. I might not be sick with Covid-19 and you may not be either. But we could easily infect someone else and that person could spread the virus to others. It is an unacceptable risk.

            We are not ending the Jamboree. We are pushing the pause button. We are planning to gather on July 4, 2021 so we can celebrate with renewed gratitude and a whole new appreciation of being together. Until then, we are all called to be each other’s keepers – to visit those who are lonely, to help those who may need a hand, to pick up groceries, to pitch in with chores, to make a phone call or send an email.

            The story of Cain and Abel reminds us that our lives are entwined with one another. We are all in this together. We can care for one another. Together, we will go forward to a brighter future.

            See you next year!

Jamboree – it’s who we are

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.

Jamboree 2018

There is no tired like a post-Jamboree tired. After days of preparation, setting up tents, preparing the barbecue pit, sorting thousands of books, cleaning, arranging, and pricing countless “attic treasures,” hauling signs, tables, and chairs from the church basement, and tending to hundreds of other details, our team of volunteers was ready for the Big Day.

It didn’t rain – good!

But it was HOT.  Wow.

But nothing keeps our volunteers down. They did a fabulous job.

If you happened by at 6:00 a.m., you would have found a chatty crew talking and laughing in the church kitchen as they prepared strawberries for the mouth-watering shortcake. The volunteers from the Muddy Brook Fire Department were out back tending the barbecue fire and putting 500 chickens into grilling racks. By 8:00 a.m. volunteers were scattered across the common, setting up signs and creating displays of baked goods, snow-cones, ice cream, jewelry, and soft drinks. The hot dog and hamburger folks were preparing for a long day cooking over the hot grill.

What do people experience when they come to the Jamboree? They discover a welcome that reflects our church and our faith. “Whoever you are,” our sign reads, “and wherever you are on life’s journey – you are welcome here.” That slogan is lived out all day long during the Jamboree.

Welcome

Technology (besides our sound system) really doesn’t play a part on this old-fashioned day. People are welcome to pull up a chair, sit in the shade, and enjoy the music. Some folks bring a book or knitting and settle in for the day. Some families schedule their reunion time to coincide with the chicken barbecue and the upbeat tunes provided by the East Woodstock Cornet Band. Children laugh and giggle in the bouncy house, get their faces painted, and enjoy the bean-bag toss and the giant wooden puzzle of the 50 states.

There’s music – plenty of it. The Jamboree kicks off with the National Anthem. It is almost a sacred moment when hundreds of people stop in their tracks across the common to quietly listen to our country’s song. Throughout the day local musicians share their bountiful talents.

Sarah Jo

During the heat of the day everyone is invited into our 1832 sanctuary for our “pipe organ pops” concert which shows off the extraordinary sounds that those 300 pipes can make. Then there’s the sing-along, joining our voices together to celebrate the day in the relative cool of that peaceful place.

A cake walk (kind of like musical chairs – your chance to win a delicious cake) is filled with laughter and good cheer as beautiful desserts are distributed to lucky winners.

The day ends with “God Bless America,” our prayer for our country.

There were no lessons on “Jamboree” in seminary. It was nothing I ever expected to be part of. But it is a day that reminds me why I love being a pastor. Over 100 people are needed to make this day a success and every year they come together to create a day worth remembering. They offer a welcoming, relaxed atmosphere that invites people in and encourages fellowship and fun.

So yes, we all experienced that post-Jamboree exhaustion. But you know what? Next year we will do it all again.

It’s a tradition that started in 1957 and, God willing, it will continue for decades to come.

Uncle Sam