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For four days and three nights last week, I entered into an alternative universe – the universe of 9-year-old girls.

Last week, I spent time volunteering as a camp counselor at our church camp on Lake Coeur D’Alene. Every year I am a camp counselor, I learn a lesson about faith and life.

This year the lesson came through my interactions with the other camp counselors. As a group we came from diverse settings, across different generations with different skills and abilities. Most of us only work with each other once a year and, for some, we are complete strangers before camp begins. Into this strange mix of personalities, work styles and communication skills, we were thrown together to try to work as a team.

In a situation like this, one learns quickly about both the gifts and the limitations of each member of the team. What are we to do with the hyper-critical people of our group? Or the person who tries to be so friendly they end up invading your space? How do we interact with the dominant talker, who will talk your ear off? What are we to do with the person who walks through life with a scowl on their face, gruff and unwelcoming? Or the quiet one who seems to fold into the surroundings? How do we create community with people who feel like they have all the answers to all the problems? Or the folks who never seem to be able to make up their minds about anything?

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It was, in the end, the small gestures that helped to make community viable and real. It was the welcoming hand shake, the smile across the room, the ability to laugh with each other and at ourselves, the “hellos” and “how are yous,” extended each day that made us able to overcome our differences of opinion and styles of communication.

I was reminded of that old hymn that sang, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Too often religion is used as a tool of judgment rather than a way of practicing a welcoming presence in our lives. And that welcoming presence is defined within the core teachings of Jesus to love our enemies, to welcome the stranger, and to take out the log in our own eye before we try remove the speck from our neighbor’s.

To love our neighbor as ourselves takes a lifetime of practice. And sometimes we are given the opportunity to live these words in real and present ways. This summer, as you find yourselves in new situations, as you meet new friends and gather with your families, take extra care to live out of that place of welcome and grace.

The Rev. Amy M. Carter of the University Congregational, United Church of Christ in Missoula can be reached at 543-6952 or at amycarter@uccmsla.org.

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