This Sunday through Tuesday I will be attending the 31st session of the Bobs Lake Gang. Our name doesn't say much for our imaginations, but hey, we're guys, and we're pastors, so who expects imagination?
In October 1992, a Canadian pastor friend of mine, Rev. Dr. Orville James, had the idea of starting a small pastors' group to meet on retreat at his cottage on Bobs Lake in Ontario. We were joined by Bob Ripley, whose star was just rising. We talked, prayed, smoked cigars, read scripture, played air guitar, repeated Monty Python scripts, did dishes, prayed some more, and failed to shower and shave.
On Monday night, we lay on the floor in the dark and listened to the Blue Jays play their first World Series. It was a tiny old AM radio, and the woodstove was on to keep us warm.
We met again in the spring, and three more pastors joined us, Drew and Andrew and Orville's brother John. Or did Andrew come the next time? Or was John there the first time? We've been going long enough to need an historian.
Since then we've added new members, three of them, and we've had vacancies and visitors along the way, but there's no question that we have forged ourselves into something; just what that something is I am not sure I want to know.
We are all Canadian pastors, mainline denominations, United and Anglican, except for me, a Dutch Calvinist from the States (though I am a dual citizen, and a subject of Elizabetha Regina and her heirs-by-law). I used to say that they wanted me in so that I could buy the single-malt Scotch at the Duty Free at the border. Then my wife and I bought the cottage next door to Orville's, and if they kicked me out I could just go up any and blast my radio like at General Noriega. And now some of the other guys are bringing the Scotch.
Fifteen years, now, or 31 sessions, without a break. We're the only group we know to have endured so long. Orville is the leader, and the rest of us have different roles to play. Andrew makes breakfast, Ripley cooks a formal dinner on Monday night (despite our lack of shaving and showering). John and I fight over the control of the coffee. We've been fighting over the coffee for years. It's what we do.
Sunday night we kick back and let loose. We report the news, and we tell the stories that pastors never dare tell anyone else but pastors. I always try to have a long joke ready. Early on I told the one about the Lutheran pastor who wakes up in hell. It remains the unbeatable standard, like Johnny Vander Meer's back-to-back no-hitters.
Monday, after breakfast, we spend all morning in scripture and prayer. We use the Anglican service for morning prayer, and whatever lessons that come up in the lectionary. We try to do that sitting outside on the deck above the lake, if it's not too cold. It's never too cold for me; I love to wrap myself in blankets like a sachem and talk about the Eternal, and then talk to the Eternal.
Soup and sandwiches for lunch, then we split up for exercise and naps and conversations, and golf or hiking or canoing on the bright, cold lake. Monday dinner is nice with napkins and wine. Monday night, the talk is quieter and calmer.
Tuesday morning, prayers and scripture again, but less intense. A quick lunch and then off home.
We have prayed each other through many difficulties. We have prayed each other through broken marriages and tough times in the ministry. Wandering children and troublesome staffs. Clergy stuff. We challenge and support each other. We probably should use more soap.