We who have had the immense pleasure of being College Conference Volunteers (CCVs) at a Higher Things Conference have been blessed by God to make some of our sweetest, most cherished memories and closest friends at those times. And oh…the pain of Friday afternoon at a Higher Things conference!
On Monday, everything is exciting. There is work to be done and new people to meet. It’s Higher Things! We are preparing to receive Christ the next day with hundreds of new siblings in Christ whom we’ve never met before. And boy, do we prepare! Unload the truck, inventory the merchandise, fold, stack, lift. Unpack big Jesus and little Jesus, hang them, hang the banners, dress the altar. Fill the bags and organize them into neat, lovely rows, like presents under a giant Christmas tree. The guests arrive tomorrow and because Christ loved us first, we are happier to prepare and to give to them more than we are to receive. Tour the campus so we are ready to lead, learn the technology so we can aid the teachers and Pastors. A CCV never complains because it’s Higher Things week and we couldn’t be more excited to see the chapel decked out in green and catch a glimpse of the hymns in the worship book. We hear things like, “That’s your favorite hymn too?!” and “We’re going to be best friends!” And yes, we probably will be.
Tuesday brings the guests! We are at our stations, ready to hand out the neatly lined bags with smiles on our faces-ready to direct traffic under a blazing hot sun. Finally, in the early afternoon, everyone has arrived. The ladies have helped prepare the elements and the gentlemen will usher. We’ve been waiting patiently, but anxiously, for the first hymn to begin. In all of its glory, the Gospel is declared and Christ Himself is received in the ears and on the lips. We are forgiven and ready for the rest of the week. Tuesday brings the first plenary, break-outs, walking, and please grab those waters! We move fast because pastors are anxious for their lessons to be well-prepared and we are more than happy to help them. Then the conference-goers find their places in a chair, on the floor, along the walls, and we have one simple, but important message for them: “DON’T FORGET YOUR EVALUATIONS!” Tuesday cannot end without an evening of fun. We set up, we help, we laugh a lot. Finally, we pray compline together, and over the next few days, we pray it again and again, creating perhaps the most memorable moments of this special week. And then it’s back to the dorms for a little sleep, but only after we unwind for just a few short…hours. And we think back to registration and it seems so long ago. Those new acquaintances from yesterday are old friends by now.
Wednesday morning is early. Grab some coffee and let’s get to work. The first thing to do is to organize the day. We divide up break-out sessions and tasks: Some of us will help at the information and merchandise table, someone might even help a lost pastor or two. We leave chapel early to help direct traffic and put up all of those break-out signs. We are always ahead of the crowd, always ready to lead. We hurry to the break-outs when our jobs are done and learn and receive and take notes. And all along the way to and from we talk and we share and we realize this is probably the best week of our lives. By Wednesday night we are exhausted but now we’ve had a chance to get to know not just a few but all of our fellow CCVs. We only go to bed once we’ve laughed until our sides ache. And then we calm down, and some of us go to bed-some do. Wednesday is the night for the long, wonderful, heart-to-heart conversations.
Thursday we sing our favorite hymns with even more fervor next to our bosom buddies who now know our struggles, our hopes, our pain and our joy. And we shed not a few tears because God’s Grace is so good in Christ and in our friends…well the girls do, anyway. And someone always says, “Guys, we’ve got to all be at the same conference next year.”
And so comes Friday. The closing Divine Service is bittersweet. We receive Christ’s Body and Blood with our sisters and brothers who have become so very special to us and with them we are forgiven. And we think of leaving in a few hours. But there isn’t time to be sad! Everything must be taken down, counted, organized, and packed. We keep working, we keep laughing, we keep hoping there is another task to prevent us from leaving just yet. But finally it is time.
We stay close for a while after the conference, but slowly life takes over again. And that conference becomes such a great memory but those details get blurry. And soon, it’s time for another conference and of course we can’t all be there. And another. And we haven’t seen each other in a few years. And then the beautiful part comes! We see one of our old CCV mates at a church we’re visiting or at another conference or wherever! And suddenly we’re talking as if we had just taken down the last parament. And that’s when we remember that we will always be together. For eternity. It doesn’t matter if it’s in this life or the next. We meet at the Altar together each Sunday, we hear the same Christ preached from the pulpit. We will be best friends, sisters and brothers, along with all believers in Christ, forever. And Christ is our host who prepares that “conference” and the rejoicing and singing will never end.
Kate Olson is a member of Mount Hope Lutheran Church in Casper, Wyoming, and teaches 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade at Mount Hope Lutheran School.