The portal to a strange, new world
Just like you never forget your first kiss, your first tricycle, or your first car, you never forget the first time you attended Children's Pastors' Conference.
I recently watched the highlight video from my very first CPC back in 2003 and the memories and feelings of that week still churn within me. It was as though I had stepped onto the surface of another planet in a another galaxy, surrounded by fellow astronauts who were either seasoned (but no less excited) explorers or those who, like me, were lost and amazed at the same time.
Of course, it didn't help that my first activity was the church tour and that the first church we toured was Saddleback Church! I knew about big churches--I used to attend a mega-church--but to discover that my current home church could fit comfortably within the "footprint" of just their children's building with room to spare put a whole new perspective on what was possible. The other churches were no less impressive, but the two lessons I took away from the church tours were 1) We may not have the money to do that, but we certainly have the creativity to do this, and 2) The problems that kidmins face are the same everywhere, only the scale is different.
By the time we returned to the Town and Country Resort, I felt I had successfully acclimated to this strange, new world. And then I entered the Resource Center...
I'm not sure if I actually did this, but I felt as though I was standing there, my jaw open, unable to breath for several moments. It was like a carnival had landed on the planet. Vendors and providers of every size lined up in row after colorful row. Resources I had never known were available called my name. Many of the booths were staffed by people whose names I had only seen on the covers of books or cd's. The experts were right there...and I could actually talk to them! As the week went by, the Resource Center was the place to hang out. I didn't have to buy anything (although I did), I could just soak it all in, ask questions, and get ideas.
To be perfectly honest, the rest of the week is kind of blurry in spots. Not that it wasn't excellent--it was phenomenal--but it was so BIG that my mind has a hard time summarizing the experience. I remember during the general sessions that I never laughed so hard or wept so much as I did during the music, the skits, and the messages. The workshops were great and I still refer back to my notes from time to time. The big amusement park party was great. While I chose not to risk severe injury in some of the games, the pure fun (and great food!) made it a night to remember. And, of course, the opportunity to meet so many co-laborers for children, men and women who made me feel for the first time that I was not alone in my own struggles. I kept in touch with many of them...and many I confess, I have lost touch with. But their faces are also part of my memories.
The most interesting observation about my experience at Children's Pastors' Conference is this: the thoughts and feelings have never changed. I will be attending my 7th CPC in San Diego (not in a row) and every year, I still have that same "frontier planet" excitement. Oh, sure, I'm one of the seasoned veterans now. I can make my way around the resort without feeling like I'm lost. I'm a little more selective about what I look at in the Resource Center (being perpetually broke helps!). But I still feel every single emotion of the previous year come out for a good scrubbing at the first general session. I still feel the warmth of handshakes and hugs from colleagues new and returning. And I still get a lump in my throat during the last general session, knowing that it's time to head back to earth.
Because my ministry situation has changed (at this writing, I'm no longer the Children's Pastor at my church), I don't know if the 2012 CPC will be my last or not. But regardless, I'll never forget my first in 2003. Or my second (04), third (07), fourth (08), fifth (10), or sixth (11). Come to CPC...you'll never forget either!