Three years ago my family took a trip to Fort Wayne, Indiana. We thought we would listen to some good music, hear some interesting speakers, meet some new people, and then head home. We had no idea that it would be the birth of long-lasting, life-giving friendships.
We were all excited and a little nervous about a this new adventure called the Lion and Lamb Festival. Rachel Held Evans, whose book had just moved me to multiple tears, laughs, and thoughts, was the keynote speaker. I was preparing to be a speaker myself, the first time I had ever been in a “program” outside a church. It was an exciting time, and I had no idea what to expect. The first Lion and Lamb Festival was attended by a couple hundred people. It wasn’t a huge event, but I had no idea the kind of impact it would have on my life.
With the advantage of hindsight, I now see that first weekend in Fort Wayne as one of the more significant events of my life. In 2013 my blog was starting to gain new traction. A couple of viral posts, and the a RT by Rachel Held Evans herself had given me a platform I had not expected when I started this blog in 2008. At the same time, I was an associate pastor. I was happy with the work I was doing and enjoyed the extra family time the position allowed, but not preaching every week was hurting me. I was struggling with finding my own voice and mourned the loss of being able to cast a vision for a church. My blog and a new podcast called Pulpit Fiction became creative outlets that fed my spirit and my intellect.
At the Festival I was able not just meet Rachel Held Evans, but sit down and talk to her about blogging, writing, travel, and football. I got to know her a little, and learn from her. I met musicians, and connected with amazing talented people like Heatherlyn and Amy Cox who have since come to my home to share their music with my friends and family. My own family met another family with two daughters at similar ages. Despite meeting at a place hundreds of miles from both of our homes, we have since gotten together several more times.
I have gained much from the Lion and Lamb Festival, but the greatest thing I have gained is friendship. From that first summer weekend in 2013, I have built relationships that have led not only to friendships, but expanded ministries. We gathered in the name of Peace, Justice, and Love, and those things have lived on long after we went home that first weekend. While at the Lion and Lamb Festival I had a vision. From the moment I walked on the grounds I thought to myself, “we need to do this is Illinois.”
Now, two years later, The Lion and Lamb Festival is coming to Illinois. Last year I started as a pastor of a church that owns a campground. The first thing I thought when I saw the camp was, “I wonder if we could do Lion and Lamb here.” For the last year we’ve been planning, gathering partners, searching for funding, contacting musicians, artists, and activists. I have shared the vision that was cast from Fort Wayne years ago. This weekend it will take shape at Camp Milan Retreat Center. We have an amazing day planned. Musicians, artists, and speakers are coming to share their stories and their songs. I don’t know who is going to come, but I’ve been praying about this day for a long time now. I’m praying that more relationships will be built. More people will be inspired by stories of justice. More people will be motivated by the power of music. More people will be know God’s love that is active in the world.
There are still some final loose ends to tie up. The preparation is going to build to a fever pitch in the next 48 hours, but I’m ready. I’m ready for the Spirit to move through Camp Milan. I’m ready for God to do big things