It’s been a great week in the Great Smoky Mountains. The weather has been nearly perfect, with no rain and temperatures mostly in the 70s. The size of our group has felt ideal for this experience. There are a lot of things to celebrate from our church‘s Smoky Mountain Retreat. But two of my personal highlights would be the “Clunks and Dunks” we’ve gotten to experience.
Don’t ask me why, but we call our retreat-specific small groups Clunks (this has been a Smoky Mountain Retreat tradition for several years now). This year the Clunks carried even more weight than usual because of COVID precautions. We tried to develop a system that would firewall trip participants from virus transmission. So we used Clunks to figure out transportation, accommodation, meals, clean-up, and spiritual dialogue. And honestly, I think it made the Clunks even more special than usual! There were five men in my Clunk this year: Kyle, Nick, Cam, Luke, and me.
We were an eclectic group. Two students, two on staff with H2O, and one working as a school-teacher and involved with the “City” side of H2O. I’ve been following Jesus for decades; Kyle just decided to follow Jesus this week. I really enjoyed the chance to bond with this group, though. Even when we were crying while cutting onions and trying to muddle our way through cooking up a chili recipe for a community meal, we enjoyed each other’s company and worked well as a team.
As for the “Dunks” we got to experience in Tennessee, we got to finish our week together with baptizing two of the trip participants. Kyle and Danny both felt like God was leading them to make this public declaration of their decision to follow Jesus. So we went down to the Little Pigeon River yesterday afternoon and pulled together an informal baptism celebration. The hot sun and the cold water made the experience extra-memorable. Friends watched from the rocks on the riverbank.
We stumbled on slippery rocks as we waded to the middle of the stream. Which seems like a metaphor. Still, we made it. We said “Because of your faith in Jesus, we now baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!” And then we dunked them into the water.
Afterwards, we celebrated like it was their birthdays: a celebration of spiritual life. Some people swam to nearby rocks and jumped into an eight-foot pool in the stream. Other people just talked and smiled on the shore. When we went back to the camp where we’re staying, we even had balloons and cupcakes.
I’m thankful for the Clunks and Dunks we’ve gotten to experience in the Great Smoky Mountains. I pray we can build on the momentum of this week as we head back to Northeast Ohio.