I come from the kind of family who went to church, even on vacation. When we got groceries, before we took them back to the beach house or the hotel, we drove by the Lutheran church to see when they offered Sunday services.
Taking our religion with us on vacation this way can be instructive. For one thing, it gives the grown-ups an opportunity to model good behavior. I took my parents’ declarations of the importance of faith seriously since they went to church every week, even while on vacation.
And even if we don’t have children, we can learn from other congregations. We can find great music or other worship ideas that we might not have come across otherwise. We can see how other congregations treat visitors.
But going to a different church is not the only way to stay faithful to our religious practices while far away from home congregations.
I have happy memories of being at campgrounds far from civilization. If it was summer, there might be an ecumenical service at the fire circle or amphitheater. I so loved those experiences that I applied to be a worker or volunteer in the program that took those worship services to the national parks – one of many jobs I did not get.
Occasionally, we’d find ourselves in campsites with no program, and we’d create our own. We would create the worship service and then we’d find a place to worship. When my sister and I got older, we had the opportunity to be in charge.
My sister is now grown with a child of her own, and yet, these worship services have stuck with us. Recently, I was on vacation with all three generations of our nuclear family, and we created a worship service for Easter. Sure, we could have found other congregations’ services. But it was meaningful to create our own – and it gave us an opportunity to transmit some family memories to my nephew.
In 2005, I traveled to France with my mother and father, and while we didn’t find any Lutheran churches, we did go to a variety of cathedrals. Each day we’d head off for a different village, and each village had its own cathedral. My mother, a classical musician, inspected the organ of each cathedral, and at one stop, the local organist asked her to play. I loved seeing each cathedral and marveling in the beauty of them all. While we never attended a service, I remember the experience as profoundly spiritual.
I had a similar experience with a friend in London. We went to all the places of worship that have been so significant to the English history and literature that we both love. Occasionally, we’d stay for a service; we were both partial to the beautiful evening services. That trip, too, took on a spiritual hue, even as we went to all the sightseeing high points.
Of course, in some ways, taking a vacation from church could be just as profound. Where do we find God when we’re out in the world? Will God have a better opportunity to speak when we’re away from our routines and our regular world?
We have the opportunities for spiritual vacations of more traditional types too. Many church camps now offer opportunities for adults, and some offer them year-round. We can go to conferences that give us an opportunity to dive into a topic or a theme. We can do a mission trip where we help others who need our assistance.
Most of us yearn for vacations that will leave us refreshed and restored, ready to come back to our regular lives with a sense of renewal. As we plan our summer vacations, we should plan to give attention to the spiritual side of ourselves, a side that can be just as desperately in need of the benefits of a vacation as any other aspect of our lives.