Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tour 2017 - When it Comes to Lobster, It’s OK to be Shellfish

Something about a continental breakfast makes you feel like you’re about to go out on an adventure, and boy what a time we had today. We slept in for the first time in a while today, pulling out of the good old RWUBICC around 10am with bathing suits and towels packed in day bags. We set out for the quaint town of Chatham on the elbow of Cape Cod.

Upon arrival we managed to find a place just big enough for the bus to park and began our takeover of the small beach town. Chatham Squire is my family’s favorite place to get a cup of “chowdah” on all of the Cape, so a few of us indulged in a pre-lunch lunch. Afterward the group explored the unique little shops there and made sure we had gifts for those who couldn’t make it on the trip this year. My favorite shop is the famous Candy Manor fudge shop which houses many kinds of designer candies and boast a great collection of fudge made on the premises. The smell is one of the fondest of my childhood and brings back memories of summers past and fudge consumed. Reconvening at the green area, we had a spectacular sandwich spread under a gazebo in the park there.

Once we'd had our fill, we boarded the bus for a quick ride to the Corporation Beach in Dennis. After figuring out how to fit a charter bus down a tiny beach road, everybody bolted off the bus excited to play on the beach. Sunscreen application was overscreen by our wonderful medical team (Liz, Deb, and Kay … all of whom have been doing a fantastic job of ensuring the health, hydration, and care of everyone on the trip). This beach is truly magical, and it was very fulfilling to share such an integral part of my youth with the group. Jonathan Colburn took immaculate photos of the kids in action and I encourage you to follow the link that will be provided (We hope you have been enjoying the photos provided primarily by Jonathan and Nick!).

Around five o’clock everyone admitted that they could go for a meal, and what a meal it was! The Sesuit Harbor Cafe, which overlooks the Northside Marina, is the best place to get a lobster roll, no, a lobster anything, no, just anything seafood at all, on Cape Cod. The day was absolutely gorgeous, and our friend JC ensured that we were well taken care of, just like he had done in 2009 when we had booked the whole restaurant for the night. Many of the kids had never had lobster before, and those who preferred something else had steak tips or chicken tenders. Potato salad, cole slaw, and corn on the cob ensured that our lobster feast was filling and a few of the more experienced chaperones lent a claw, er.. hand to make sure that everyone could work their lobsters and the meal went swimmingly.

After dinner we were free to walk along the beach there before boarding the bus once again for the good old RWUBICC. The ride featured a double greeting but not much else. The sun has a way of taking the energy right out of you. The only thing left on the agenda was some reflection time in the common area. There is a feeling of safety and comfortability with others that leads one to speak from the heart (Jonathan Colburn would later describe it as Holy Spirit time). It’s the most raw version of yourself that you expose to people you know will accept you no matter what. The room was full of a warm energy that surprised some, and as the discussion went on it was amazing to see who opened up and gave their burdens up to God.

It has been incredible to share this tour with all of these young people, and as we prepare to return to Damascus, I’m confident that we have achieved our goal of spreading the good Word to those in need.

"Goodnight all”

Click here for photos of day 7

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

2017 Tour - Day 6 “Everyone Who Thirsteth Come to the Water…Front”

Good morning Vietnam! I mean day six! With the tour well past the halfway mark everyone is making sure to treasure each waking moment! Our hosts dropped us off at the beautiful Waterfront Park in Bath, ME where we would be led in worship under a bright blue sky. The readings this morning from Genesis were a reminder to treat every day as a new beginning, and as the pastor spoke about opening our eyes to God’s creation, we gazed out at the water and saw that it truly was “good”.

At the end of the service everyone was invited to take a pebble, which symbolized a burden we all carry, and throw it into the water - giving it up to God. It’s important for us to remember that we all carry many burdens, and that while a single pebble isn’t too much to handle, a backpack full of pebbles is quite a load to carry.

Feeling liberated, we boarded the bus for one of our country’s greatest cities: Boston, MA. We stopped for a very quick lunch about an hour in, and got right back on our way. With our master driver Paul maneuvering the lucrative streets of Boston, ooohs and ahhhs rang out from the back seats of the bus. We pulled into Trinity Church about a quarter of 5 and got into our formal concert attire. The church was as magnificent as ever, and the acoustics were second to none. We were assured that we couldn’t possibly make a mistake in the service and given a truly great piece of advice, “You can get away with anything in the service, as long as you do it slowly”. Speaking of the service, it was quite a different experience from what we are used to on Sundays at DUMC. All the same, the congregation let us know that we were still in top form after performing “Hear My Prayer” and “One Faith, One Hope, One Lord”.

We were glad to witness Steve really opening up the organ for the postlude. The room was full of sound and life as he worked away on the instrument with which he is so familiar. After changing and heading back into the city we broke into small groups in our search for dinner. Again, we lucked out and missed the rain entirely! On the previous New England tour in 2009 it had rained A LOT. Like every day. Seriously.

It’s nice for us to all be staying in one place tonight and tomorrow. Roger Williams University Bayport Inn and Conference Center (that’s quite a mouthful and will henceforth be referred to as the good old RWUBICC) will house us the final two nights of the tour. Looking forward to what joy Cape Cod will bring tomorrow.

“We’re inn touch, so you be in touch” (you thought you were getting through this without a pun? Yeah right!)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

2017 Tour - Day 5 - L.L. Bean There Done That

The morning came quickly on day five of our journey. We had a traditional New England breakfast of Dunkin Doughnuts, muffins, and fruit at South Church in Andover. Following breakfast we gathered in the sanctuary for informal worship led by Nick, and sang a few hymns Steve chose for us. Our gracious hosts didn’t get enough of the group last night and hung around after breakfast to hear a few more selections. During this time the rain came and went as it so often does in New England.

If you’ve been keeping up with the blog then you know the drill by now: board the bus, have a greeting, and go back to sleep! However, today they couldn’t help but spontaneously break out singing Owl City’s “Fireflies”. As a tour veteran I can’t help but add that there is a strict code to uphold whilst riding the bus which reads “No singing on the bus!”. The reasoning of course is to preserve our voices for the concerts, but I digress. The singing was short lived and it seems also caused by a sugar rush because very shortly after, the bus fell silent.

Ever fallen asleep and woken up in Maine? Join the club! We woke up in Freeport where we had a few hours to explore the campus of L.L. Bean stores there. The campus (which is open 24hrs) includes the following stores:
“The Flagship”, Hunting and Fishing, Bike, Boat & Ski, Home, and of course the Outlet. We unfortunately didn’t lay eyes on the famed Bootmobile (worth looking up), but did get plenty of pictures and delicious food while in town (keep in mind, we’re in lobster country). I’ll spare you the MANY “bean” puns I could have filled this post with, and instead let it suffice to say it had bean a great day in Freeport, but it was time to take a Bath.

Bath, ME was only a stone’s throw from Freeport, so we arrived at Grace Episcopal Church early for rehearsal in the sanctuary. Did I mention it was AIR CONDITIONED!? It’s a really big deal sorry for the all caps. From there we headed over to Bath UMC for a quick dinner where we made contact with a former CWS member Smo Hicks! It was great to have some fellowship time there as we prepared for the concert. Our shadow tour had met up with us so we were happy to see some familiar faces in the audience.

With the humidity rising and the sun falling we escaped the Maine state bird (the mosquito) and landed safely in our host homes for the evening. It’s been a long day and we all need our sleep. “That’s all folks”

Saturday, June 24, 2017

2017 Tour - Day 4 - “Y’ale Come Back Soon Now! Ya Hear?"

Friday, June 23, 2017
I think you already know where your favorite choir went today… A pleasant morning departure from Mary Taylor UMC transitioned into a warm afternoon on the Bulldogs campus. The group disembarked the bus and hiked down to the Yale bookstore where they wrapped themselves in Yale Blue (which is NOT navy, it’s Yale Blue). Some even dawned newly purchased sweatshirts (in 80 degree weather). The joke of the day was that for those of us who wish to attend an ivy league school this tour may be the closest we would ever get!

With a group this talented though, I believe the potential is unlimited. The more I get to know those I’m not so familiar with, the clearer that gets. We are so fortunate to have such a truly incredible group of young people traveling New England and spreading the word of our Lord. The concerts continue to get better and better so make sure you tell everyone you know to come to the homecoming concert on the Wednesday, June 28th!

After dropping our souvenirs off on the bus we were led on a tour of the Battell Chapel. The Chapel was built in 1874 and is now non-denominational (see pictures below). We were all provided with bracelets with symbols specific to many of the denominations that practice worship there (Star of David, Cross, Dharmachakra, Crescent Moon and Star, and Om to name a few). We then took over the campus in search of lunch and later I spotted a few of ours napping in the shade of the Oak and Elm trees in the green across from the chapel.

As the last few stragglers got onto the bus, we prepared for what we thought would be a 2.5 hr trip, but thanks to infamous New England traffic, turned out to be more like 4 hours. We made it to West Parish in Andover, MA by the skin of our teeth and walked into (what I believe to be) one of the greatest meals that has ever been prepared for us. Deep fried turkey, stuffing, mac & cheese, green beans, and ham made up a meal that we thoroughly gave thanks for.

The concert was a hot one for sure, but working for the Lord is so cool we hardly noticed once we got going. It was a treat to see some long time friends of DUMC in the congregation and once we had packed up, the town of Andover warmly welcomed us into their homes.

“That’s all (he) wrote” … Goodnight everyone.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Tour 2017 - Day 3 - Gillette, It’s the Best (Castle) a Man Can Get

Thursday, June 22, 2017
We gathered at 8:30 sharp this morning and were ready to move on to our next stop, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum. The youth rubbed their eyes and yawned as they clamored onto the bus. It was a short ride to the museum but that never stops us from getting a few extra minutes of sleep in.

Now officially on the Pequot’s sovereign land we were excited to see what the 308,000 sq ft museum had in store for us, and it did not disappoint. The collection of artifacts housed there is not only massive, but truly breathtaking. From authentic dugout canoes to original tools and back, they have everything there. We were led on a great tour and acquired a wealth of information on the Pequot people. An incredible story of perseverance and pride that resulted in a once disbanded and failing tribe becoming one of only two federally recognized tribes in Connecticut.

The group boarded the bus, souvenirs in hand, the greeters made their rounds and we dove right into Fork Stories from the previous night. Today’s winners were William Baldridge and Bryce Taylor who took “potty time” a bit too seriously and had somehow ended up fishing a clock that had fallen off of the wall in the bathroom out of a toilet…

Our next stop was about an hour away - Gillette Castle State Park in East Haddam, CT. Thanks to Paul Lopez (our long time friend and bus driver) we successfully navigated the winding roads up to the castle and disembarked. We had a self guided tour of the fantastic grounds, and lunch at Sherlock’s Grill with an exquisite view of the Connecticut River (PLEASE see pictures below). William Gillette was a man who attended Harvard, Yale, Trinity, MIT, and College of the City of New York, but never received a degree. In other words he was in pursuit of the best, so he designed the entirety of his castle by himself… let me explain a bit of what that means.

-It took 20 men five years to complete his design of the structure which was steel framework and fieldstone
-There are 47 masterfully crafted wooden doors that could themselves be considered works of art… no two are the same
-He conceived the idea of a 7,000 gallon rainwater collection basin that was connected to a network of pipes throughout the castle to create his own unique fire suppression system… in 1919*

I’m sure you are wondering "How much does it cost to build a castle?” well, I actually heard a park employee say “If money could buy it, Mr. Gillette had it” which I took as the equivalent of “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it”.

With everyone back on the bus we were headed to Mary Taylor UMC in Millford, CT. Upon our arrival we corralled everyone into the sanctuary for a quick rehearsal. It immediately became apparent that the theme of the night would be “Ho! Everybody Thirsteth” due to the New England heat! Deb Bowe would later ensure the hydration of the group with subtle hints prompting us to drink during the concert. We had a great dinner of chicken, hot dogs, macaroni salad, and potato salad, after which several of the men had a shirt vs skins game of ultimate frisbee in the green space in the center of town. We make our presence known wherever we go.

Up next was the concert! The congregation loved the program, applauding well after the final word. We then shifted gears and returned to the courtyard to meet with the hosts. After a long day of activity we are grateful to be in host homes and are anxiously awaiting the tour of Yale in the morning (not to mention heading to one of my family’s favorite places, Andover, MA).
“Until next time, I’ve been Graham Taylor… Stay warm New England”


Thursday, June 22, 2017

2017 Tour - Day 2 - Mystic Connecticut (Home of the Mystical Pizza)

IMDb rates “Mystic Pizza” (1988) 3/5 stars but Mystic, CT earned all 5 today as the CWS descended upon the small town. The four hour drive flew by thanks to the breakfast report, weather report, fake news report, real news report, Fork Stories* and a screening of Beauty and the Beast.

While we didn’t see Julia Roberts or Matt Damon today (Mystic Pizza reference), the youth were elated at the opportunity to have some free time around town. They enjoyed ice cream, saw a drawbridge in action, and still found time for a group picture. We enjoyed another great meal, this time prepared by our friends at Union Baptist, and Nick blessed the meal and the evening for us. From there many of the youth returned to the parking lot to finish games of nerf football and basketball.

It was a gorgeous Summer Solstice with a light breeze and a quick shower (once the concert had begun thankfully) and some of us reflected on the last time we were in Mystic in 2009 as the choir sang with the doors and windows to the sanctuary wide open. The little coastal town was particularly alive with the Holy Spirit as “This Is My Word” rang out and was heard by all who passed by one of the busiest intersections in town. I encourage you to speak (or sing) the following excerpt from the piece aloud to fully comprehend the beauty of the words:

“And the Word of My mouth,
it shall not return empty,
it will bless the Earth wherever it is heard.
So be faithful, brave, and true
for I shall go before you,
and when your Earthly journey here is done,
I’ll say well done …
Well Done!"

Tour has always been about spreading the Word and growing Christ’s Kingdom, and when you do those two things, there is no better feeling… except perhaps hearing the words “Well Done” at the end of our Earthly journey.

After the concert the youth were split up into their host homes and one particularly large group of boys cheered at the prospect of a great night because about 10 of them were put together in what will surely turn out to be a great Fork Story environment.

*A (Not-so) Quick Note About Fork Stories*
Fork Stories are an ancient tour tradition. Every morning on the bus there is a period of time after the greeting designated to recount any “interesting” events that may have transpired since the group was together last. The group with the best story walks away with a professionally decorated piece of flatware and is the recipient of cheers and applause aplenty. So what makes a good Fork Story? Well I’m so glad you asked! The best way to delineate the term is to tell you what a Fork Story IS NOT. A fork story is NOT just a sequence of events! That would be a “Spoon Story” because it doesn’t have a point! Stories should be gripping, hilarious, and excite the listener. They should last no more than 4 minutes … otherwise it would be a Fork Narrative which immediately disqualifies the story from winning a fork! We would like to thank Sue Constantinides for providing the most comprehensive collection of forks we have ever seen! If you can think of a theme, there’s a fork for that!

Will New England supply yet another legendary Fork Story? Stay tuned! “And that’s the way the cookie crumbles” … Goodnight everybody.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

2017 Tour - Day 1 - New England!! (It’s A Favorite)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017
It was, I must say, one of the best departure mornings I have witnessed in all of my years on tour. The Gunther bus proudly (and punctually) pulled onto New Church Street and a wave of excitement and anticipation swept through the crowd. Something about the send off in the sanctuary alerts first timers and seasoned veterans alike that summer is finally upon us.

As everyone settled into their seats on the bus we were thrilled to learn that the bus tech had seen significant upgrades this year including outlets and wifi! Tom was particularly excited about the wireless microphone which would allow for in-seat interviews! That announcement was met with a collective groan, but moments later the mic would fail, and Tom was once again tethered to the front seat on the wired mic.

Each time we board the bus it is tradition to have a greeting led by two youth. Everyone’s names are put into the bag. Some claim fate decides the greeters, others suggest it’s luck, but this year the "Bag of Prophesy” as it was affectionately dubbed by the adults in the front of the bus will determine the greeters and the greeted. It was a quick ride to Baltimore to visit the Lovely Lane Museum, but that didn’t stop many youth from catching some quick ZZZ’s.

We spent the afternoon learning of the notable breaks in Methodism and enjoying the lovely, newly restored sanctuary (Yes there will be wordplay in the blog this year, stay tuned). After lunch we sang a few Wesleyan hymns in the chapel, accompanied by our very own Steve Kalnoske on a beautiful hand pumped organ. We said our goodbyes, boarded the bus, and with the "Terp Van" in tow, set out for Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

A few card games, playlists, and stories from previous tours later, we touched Down-in-town. After some recreational time a brief rehearsal prefaced a wonderful dinner prepared by loving hands at Central Presbyterian Church. From there it was straight into the first concert (which was a great success), and off to meet and greet our hosts!

That concludes day one of #CWSTOUR2017 I’m looking forward to keeping you all posted and attempting to fill the big shoes that were left by those who wrote the blog before me. "And that’s the way it is”… Goodnight everybody.