Memory takes me back to a July afternoon twenty years ago at a church camp near Charlevoix, Michigan. A quick check of the Internet shows that Charlevoix Family Camp is still hosting evangelistic services and youth camping programs this summer. (I hope they continue.) But my memory is of a long-past meeting in that place, when my wife Judy led singing and Oral Withrow was the evangelist. Though both have now died, I still picture them vividly in my mind.

Judy was a vivacious woman with gleaming blue eyes who loved to lead congregational singing. Oral was a balding fellow with a cherubic smile and ready wit, whose sermons captivated our attention with their down-to-earth practicality. As I recall, they led two worship services each day in the campground auditorium, where dozens of campers and commuters from northern Michigan gathered to sing and pray.

What I remember most poignantly was the spirit of the little community that gathered on the grounds that week. Walking along the sandy road past clapboard cottages and billowing nylon tents, I struck up conversations with an amazing variety of church people. We talked about books we were reading. (I lent a copy of The Spiritual Life, by Evelyn Underhill, to Oral’s wife, Laura.) We talked about the natural beauty of the place. (A couple took Judy boating on Lake Michigan to search for Petoskey stones.) And we dreamed of the future.

It was a community so united by a common faith that we laid aside our differences (political and otherwise) for a weekend of renewal.

This was before the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Before the nuclear accident at Fukushima. Before so many things that shape our identity today. It was exhilarating to dream of the future then, and now it is comforting to remember when we allowed ourselves to come together.