Non permanent Group: The Transfiguration and Christian Tenting The Alternate

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On the last day of Epiphany, the Anglican Church reads the account of the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor this year from Mark 9. It is an appropriate transition to Lent later this week, the 40-day preparation for Easter in the church calendar. In the Mark narrative, the transfiguration came shortly after Jesus began teaching his disciples of his impending death. As they came down from the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they saw until he was raised from the dead (Mark 9: 9). The transfiguration, which was supported by these teachings, was intended, among other things, to prepare the disciples for the mystery of the coming death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and his saving power. Years later, Peter wrote about it from a position of better understanding, stating: “Because of this experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets” – 2 Peter 1:19.

The Transfiguration Report was a formative encounter for Peter, James, and John. It contains several key elements of the temporary community, an integral part of Christian camping. First, Jesus selected a small subgroup of disciples from his group of twelve to accompany him on this mini-expedition. Temporary communities inherently have a limited number of participants, which allows for more meaningful engagement between participants and with their moderator. In Christian camping, larger groups of campers are divided into small units, often cabin groups of 8 to 10 people, who eat, sleep and carry out activities together for this reason.

Second, the Transfiguration was a hyper-experience; an intense encounter. The disciples were given a glimpse into the divine appearance of Jesus, and chronic linear time was overtaken by a Kairos event when Moses and Elijah, historical figures hundreds of years apart, appeared in a room. A puzzled Peter blurted out, "It's wonderful for us to be here!" (Mark 9: 5). Although obviously not to the same extent, the camp is often a hyper experience with activities, relationships and experiences that are imparted by the Holy Spirit and come together to influence participants in extraordinary ways. It is no wonder that Peter suggested establishing permanent shelters to expand the experience ad infinitum, which would have violated a third element of temporary communities: time boundaries. Though cute and transformative, temporary communities are events that have defined a beginning and an end and further reinforce the kairos meaning of the moment.

Another characteristic of the Transfiguration, which also applies to temporary communities in Christian camps, is the following: encounters with transcendence. This encounter brought together examples of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) and the impressive presence of God the Father as he audibly affirmed his Son. Christian camps are also places for transcendent encounters where participants experience the Eternal Word through study, activities, relationships and facilitated reflection in the context of creation on the mountaintop. Campers learn about themselves and their gifts, make life-changing decisions, and are influenced in ways that reflect the rest of their lives.

"Dazzling", a poem by Jan Richardson in her text about church times, Circle of Grace, wonderfully personalizes the Transfiguration as a temporary communal experience:

But this blessing
is built to leave.

This blessing
is made to come down
the mountain.

This blessing
want to be on the move
travel with you
how to return
Level the floor.

It will seem strange
how quiet this blessing becomes
when it returns to earth.

It is not shy.
It is not afraid.

It just knows
how to bide your time.

To see and wait
to know and pray

until the moment comes
when it will reveal
all it knows
when it will shine
with all that it has seen

When it will dazzle
with the unforgettable light
you wore
All the Way.

The Transfiguration is a paradigm for temporary communities that lead to transformation and renewal. It is one of many examples in God's scriptures of diverting his people from "normal life" for a time or period of time in order to move them to new or renewed revivals, perspectives, or approaches to life. He commanded the Israelites to celebrate temporary community celebrations, such as Passover and the Feast of the Shelters, to remind them of his redemptive work and provision. The forty years of wandering the desert was itself a sort of temporary community, transforming it from a slave mentality to a nation of God's people ready to conquer the land.

After the risen Christ was lifted to heaven in Acts chapter 1, the disciples withdrew to a temporary fellowship as they waited for Pentecost to bring about the birth of the Church. All over the world, a vibrant Christian camping movement is taking advantage of this dynamic. In 2018, Christian Camping International reported over 23,000 member camps, accommodating 11.5 million campers in 70 countries, all of which used a temporary community.

At HoneyRock, Wheaton College's outdoor leadership development center, lifelong relationships are nurtured and nurtured, discipleship in life occurs, and the word is found in the context of its creation. Our camps and programs are designed to bring Jesus Christ to children, students, and young adults in His Full Majesty seated at the right hand of the Father.

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