A Place for Change

When I received word of Naramata Centre closing a year-and-a-half ago, I was stunned.

Full stop. Stunned.

It was hard to accept that a place that had been such a part of who I was, who I am, and who I hope to be, could close. If it failed, could I? If this place, this holy ground that was so integral in my own unfolding, and to which I attribute so much of how I operate in this world - professionally, personally, and spiritually - could appear to no longer be viable, what then of me?

It was a tough pill to swallow, and I guess, to be honest, I went into my own deluded sense of denial, and refused to swallow it. When I joined the Naramata Centre Society board last year, it was from a place of stubborn, self-driven ego and desperation, thinking that perhaps I could make a difference, that I could help Naramata Centre find its place again in a world so seemingly desperate for the very things it has always offered.

This past year, I have learned an incredible amount about Naramata Centre, far beyond what I knew of it before. I have learned that what I have gained from the Centre is only a miniscule portion of what the collective "we" have gained from it during its almost 70 years of operation. I have learned that my sadness and loss, when hearing of its closing, was shared with hundreds and thousands of others, who experienced their own versions of loss. I have learned that it is not just me who wants a Naramata Centre for the world, but many.

But I have also learned how complicated that desire is. I have learned the impact of aging infrastructure and septic systems. I have learned the reality of maintaining 22 acres of land. I have learned the distance between what you want, and what you are able to attain, can sometimes be completely frustrating to navigate. I have learned that there is no shortage of ideas out there for what the Centre could be, each one exciting and overwhelming at the same time, with complicated implications for the whole. I have learned that the time it takes to mull, and research, and decide, is time that comes at the expense of family, friends, work and self.

I have also learned that despite all of this, there are an incredible number of people who are prepared to try. People yearning to help. Excited to engage. Willing to step up and step in. Hopeful that their Naramata Centre may find its place in this world again. 

This Summer - a sense of newness

My week at Naramata this summer was so important for me. It was to be a litmus test of a year's worth of hard work by the board. It was to be an experiment, and I was going to watch it first hand, recognizing that it was going to be a different experience for all those who came to participate in it. 

And what I saw made me so happy! Our week at the Centre was full of what I have always loved about my experiences there, yet immersed in a sense of newness. It was a simple week, with two programs being offered, and around 60 people staying on site. There was a sense of ease about the week, with all folks - new and old - sharing in a collective sense of care for both the place and each other.

The usual events (waterslides, campfire, a few dance parties, potlucks) occurred, but they were driven by participants, and not provided by anyone other than ourselves. If these events didn't happen, it was as though they weren't meant to be, and that was okay. And the new folks, those who braved coming to a new place they had never been to, had such a fresh and open perspective.  I can't emphasize enough how their eyes helped me to see what an amazing place Naramata Centre is. 

It also dawned on me this year, that my oldest daughter is the same age I was when I came to Naramata Centre for the first time. I was struck by how fortunate I have been for the gifts, talents, skills and experiences this place shared with me, and how truly hopeful I am that she and her sisters will be blessed with their own experiences of this place during their lifetimes, as well. 

Heading into the fall, there is an incredible amount of work to be done to make this hope viable. There will be many tough decisions and conversations to have, not only as a board, but as a broad collective of souls who care so deeply for the Centre. Conversations about buildings, land, septic systems and finances. But with what I witnessed this summer, and heard in so many conversations, I am filled with a renewed sense of determination to see the work through, and allow this place, and the people it impacts, to experience and practice the change we all wish to see in the world. 

With gratitude and hope, 

Jeremy Church 

(With thanks to Keri Wehlander for the photographs)