The excitement was in the air as the youth arrived at the church to check in for their 10 day tour! Thanks to a fabulous team of adults, everything went quickly and smoothly. Kelly Bratburd had lovingly prepared each participant with a clean, washed, personalized water bottle and folded matching t-shirt. Polly Baldridge had prepared tour booklets for everyone that had a detailed itinerary, contact phone numbers and other important information about our schedule for the week. Wendy Hembrough, Deborah Bowe and Steve Kalnoske helped with checking in participants and passing out ribbons to tie onto the luggage for easy identification. Emma and Tom Baldridge filled the coolers with cold water so we would have plenty of water on the bus. Instruments were loaded into the “Terp” van as Jonathan Colburn and Thomas Hulcher prepared to follow the bus. And did I mention the bus? Our fabulous bus which was equipped with wi-fi and charging outlets along the floor? A media dream! Old timer tour participants were extremely happy to recognize Paul Lopez, the same bus driver who accompanied us on the tour to Canada back in 2012! He actually came back of his own free will, knowing what he was getting into!
After a scripture reading and blessing by Pastor David, everyone scrambled for a favorite seat on the bus and we were off! Tom Baldridge explained to the first time tour participants all about our traditions. For example, every morning we give a breakfast report to see who was served the best or worst food. Kids also tell stories of their previous night’s adventures in the host home. The best story is voted on and a fork is awarded – hence the name “Fork Stories.” (This tradition dates back many years ago when a youth told a hilarious story about his host home and everyone wanted to give him a prize. Nothing was available except a plastic fork!) Julia Bratburd gave a fine example of a typical fork story by telling us about one of her adventures from last year. I think everyone understands now! Another tradition is choosing “Greeters” on the bus every day. The two participants must walk to the front of the bus and hug each other, then walk the entire length of the bus and greet everyone else with a hug. By the end of tour, we all know each other’s names! Our first Greeters of today’s tour were Connie Morella and Troy Moskowitz. You could feel the love and friendship in the air as they passed the peace!
Polly brought a set of beautiful glass vases to present as a gift to our host churches and Julia Bratburd decorated them with colorful ribbon and “helping hands.” Our hosts will always remember us when they look at it. A “first” of our morning included the first band-aid given out by Mama Bowe to Emma Baldridge, who had scraped her finger. Hopefully that will be the only serious medical emergency we have on this trip! A big “Thank You!” goes out from Deborah Bowe to all of the parents who contributed supplies for her medical kit and snacks for the bus!
Our first stop was in Williamsburg, VA. Strict instructions were given during our PPA (Polly Public Announcement) that everyone must travel in groups of two or more. A few adventurous groups headed toward the historic district. Another group went shopping. Since the temperature was a balmy 98 degrees, many opted to head for the air conditioned shops in Merchant Square. I overheard some clever girls saying they were headed for the Candy Shoppe. Since I assumed that kids know best, I followed them. As we walked through the door and the aromatic scent of comforting confections wafted through our nostrils, one of the youth threw out his arms and said, “This is like heaven covered in chocolate!” (Definitely one of my new favorite sayings!) On the way back to the bus, I was surprised to see a brave group of our athletic young people playing Ultimate Frisbee in the field outside of the art museum. I tried to think of it as poetry in motion (instead of heat stroke in motion.) Ahhh youth!
We ended our Williamsburg adventure with our first “WitnesSING” on the grounds of the first African American Baptist Church in the area. A wooden structure used to stand there in 1818, which was replaced by a brick building during the civil war and remained in use until 1955. The group appropriately sang an old spiritual called “Ain’t Got Time to Die.” I could almost hear a distant clapping through the ages, accompanying them in the summer breeze.
By the time we reached our evening venue to rehearse, the temperature had risen to 100 degrees! However, the heat didn’t affect appetites in the least. Dinner was carry-out pizza, which was wolfed down with relish. For dessert, a surprise birthday cake was brought out to honor Reid Taylor. What better way to celebrate his 12th birthday than to spend it with the Charles Wesley singers?
Our evening concert was held at Saint Bede Catholic Church. The massive church was beautiful and welcoming. A giant golden cross sits on the roof of the sanctuary beckoning worshippers to come inside. The church holds 1500 people but they only have 300 or so parking spaces, so people have to carpool! They have 9,000 parishioners and a beautiful organ with 3,300 pipes! Coincidentally, the builder of this organ came to DUMC several years ago to hear our very own skinner organ. As expected, Steve Kalnoske sounded fabulous playing this one and amazed the audience with his improvisation of hymns.
As the youth sang “I’ll Be A Witness” I thought about how they are truly witnessing God’s love through their singing and sharing of musical gifts. It was a joy to watch them. At the end of the concert, we had a surprise visit from Allison Heinbaugh, a former CWS who now lives in Williamsburg. It has been a decade since she went on tour with us and she was very excited to join the choir on our last song, “River in Judea.”As the youth scattered to their various host homes, I couldn’t help but think that it was a perfect ending to a perfect day. Nine more to go!
Click Here for Pictures from Day 1