Monday, June 9, 2014

Going to Grand Junction

Grand Junction and The Gospel Trumpet Years stand synonymous in the Church of God. For me, going to Grand Junction was the quest of a lifetime--until today! I called Sue [Bannister] and relinquished room #5 of Warner Lodge. A sad occasion!

I first attended Grand Junction as an annual camp meeting. The oldest buildings were not more than 35 years old. The builder, S. Michels, had only been dead a year or two when I began. Driving in from South Haven, we made sure we got a good run so as to climb the Baseline Road Railroad Crossing, which was a challenging sand trap in those early years. Camp Meeting, however, was sure to gather perhaps 1,500 people on the big weekend, filling the tabernacle and spilling across the quadrangle.

Back then, my family often ate Sunday dinner picnic style adjacent to the cemetery where D. S. Warner is buried.. The small tabernacle housed home-made wooden-bench pews on a sawdust floor. The tabernacle and quadrangle were surrounded by tiny frame cottages resembling Migrant shacks; meals were served in what had once been part of Michels’ Children’s Home, restroom facilities were primitive at best; and it was still a working farm, occupied by relatives of the Joseph Smith family (parents of F. G.).

Occupied but once a year, it provided a “Facebook focal point” that filled much of the calendar year. We heard outstanding preachers like W. T. Wallace of Louisville and W. O. Moon of Florida. We met bright young leaders graduating from Anderson College. Hershel Rice graduated at AC then spent his honeymoon as Evangelist at Grand Junction. Warren Edmundson challenged us at the Youth Center in The Grove, before departing for his home in PA – only to be killed on the PA Turnpike while changing a flat tire. His young wife Frances later married Bob Clark from New England and they spent their lifetime in Far East Missionary Service.

My first love affair resulted when at twelve I met this beauty on the last day of camp meeting. I dreamed of her one full year. She returned the following year, as did I, and I discovered she lived only twenty miles from me. Meanwhile, we each moved on, but I learned to appreciate her sturdy German parents, who raised peaches large enough that they needed quartering to go into a large mouth fruit jar.

When I finished high school in 1945, it was probably late 1951 before I visited Grand Junction again, proudly showing off some of my heritage to my then new bride. The problem I discovered was that it was hard for me to believe how much my getting out into the larger world had shrunk the grand vision I held of Grand Junction camp meeting. It would be another twenty years before I would return to Grand Junction as a working pastor in 1973.

The next forty years would find us at all levels of supporting life at Warner Camp, and lending support to the new Camp  Leadership Team, Ray and Grace Selent—by now a Year-round Retreat and Leadership Training Center.  Name a committee and I probably served on it sometime or other. I remember driving home late one night from a Board Meeting; just as I accelerated, I suddenly found myself weaving my way through a herd of deer crossing a highway somewhere East of Bloomingdale. Never did know how I managed to miss all of them.

Some of our greatest memories include events like the final 1973 National Consultation which climaxed at Warner Camp following a series of regional meetings around the country. Sharing the leadership of men like W. E. Reed, a giant of a man spiritually and physically, but equally great was being part of Ray and Grace’s support team in the Dining Hall et al. Another outstanding event was hosting 300 black brothers in Christ from a southside Chicago mega-church. What a time we had, working alongside four stalwart Selent sons and wives. Now a paid staff of college students comes in and does this for college credit et al; but that perhaps began with Doc Stevens.

Grace and I were privileged to be part of the team bringing in Doc Stevens who did such an extraordinarily good job. Some never really understood that we hired Doc for his programming skills et al but that he did not want the authority of being Camp Director. However, we hired him conditionally, that the buck stopped with him--some Staff gave him less than the support he deserved, but he totally fulfilled the role the Board gave him when hired. It was one of the best things we ever did!

I was privileged to lead in some of the refurbishing of the Warner House, in connection with the Warner Camp Centennial. I joyfully peddled books –for Reformation Publishers and numerous others. I mopped a lot of floors and slopped tons of garbage (you think I’m kidding), assisting Grace, and Tommie, and for numerous years Susan Stace.

Tommie and Susan ran a crew of hardworking kids from Kalamazoo-Three Rivers for Grace for perhaps 20 years (Susan could tell some stories of changed lives here). I recall one year being given the privilege to preach the opening Sunday sermon. The kids working that year for Susan/Tommie left the service as usual when it came time for them to prep the dining hall. They saw me in my suit preaching, but they were astounded when next they saw me in the dining hall slopping garbage in my dungarees and commented on it. I took their surprise as a compliment: anybody can dress up and preach to the crowd; but not everybody will put on work clothes and slop garbage and mop floors.

Probably most satisfying to me personally was the closeness with which my wife and Grace worked through the years, either in the kitchen or dining hall or both. Since my wife worked many of those years and God blessed us by making it possible for her to channel out-of-state family funds from a sibling, which went into upgrading the kitchen facility from the 19th century and able to function in the 21st century.  They were a team for forty years, give or take a year or so and Warner Camp is indebted to the! WMC was “my” heritage, but my Oklahoma Irish- Cherokee adopted it as hers when she and Grace became sisters in the WMC Family.

Memories and stories abound, but my 2014 Warner Camp days will be with her and we are now memories in the life of Warner Memorial Camp. The last time Warner Lodge was refurbished, it came via my parents in South Haven.  There is a Memorial Tree not far off the steps of Warner House that memorializes my parents and has my mother’s cremains.  

From Warner’s World, this is – if we are remembered for anything at all, my hope is that it will be not for how well we dressed, or how great did on the platform, but how we carried the load when in our work clothes.  That was the spirit that produced Warner Camp; that is the spirit
that will maintain Warner Camp.


Brian said...

Interesting article, Wayne. Thanks for posting it. I have some memories of "slopping garbage" in the dining hall at St. Louis, and appreciated hearing of yours at WMC.

Wayne said...

Thanks Brian; those were character-building days . . .