February 2010

[Please be sure to click on and read “comments” for information re: the October 15, 2012 reunion! ]


I’ve written previous entries about the Spanish Castle Youth Center, that ecumenically sponsored drop-in center that welcomed teenagers some 40 years ago in the Bon Air suburb of Richmond, Va. My first mention of the Castle and its “kids” was written with the hope that someone from those days would Google the place and find their way here. Then we could re-connect and maybe even plan a reunion of sorts in Richmond on some summer weekend.

So, I wrote and nothing happened. Sigh. Nice try.

Then Stan Kittrell, one of the teens who frequented the old house as the 1970s dawned, had something of the same hope, but used a Facebook group to gather the troops, and it’s worked! In fact, some 65 alums of the place are now in the group, catching up with one another after all these many, many years. That large and still-growing group offers evidence that the ministry (subtle as it was) was effective in 1) providing a safe and welcoming place for local teens, 2) building friendships among a diverse constituency of youth, 3) offering outlets for creative activities such as music, drama, and art, as well as recreation and conversation, and 4) providing opportunities for positive contact with adult volunteers who cared enough to listen, guide, and advise when asked.

I’ve scanned several pictures to share on the group site, a visual chronicle of the five or six years the Castle survived the suspicions of the neighborhood and the sabotage of some teens whose poor choices threatened the house on more than one occasion. As those former teens share their stories (most of them are in their early to mid-50s now), most are writing about how much the place meant to them in those years of fragile adolescence. Oh, there are some references to some of the things we adult advisors warned and worried about back then. But mostly the entries reflect on good memories, once and lasting friendships, some difficult times survived, and even lessons learned.

I’m assuming it’s more than nostalgia (though I admit I do take some comfort in that lap now and then). I think this cyber-reunion of Spanish Castle folk is a celebration of friendships, a way of keeping in touch with what shaped us all then and in intervening years, and maybe even the rekindling of hope that there is still something young yet to be discovered in us. Something exuberant. Something rebellious. Something playful.

The Castle concept may be over forty years old now, but there’s not a neighborhood that couldn’t use one now.


If we wish one another a Happy Advent,
a Merry Christmas, and a surprising Epiphany,
what greeting do we pass to one another at Lent?
I used to suggest that we say,
“Have a miserable Lent.”
And why not?
The root of the word means “mercy,”
as in “Lord, have mercy on me.”
Much of the music in Lent is in the minor key,
we dust our foreheads with ashes,
we ban “alleluias” until Easter morning,
we murmur about sacrifice,
we whisper of self-examination, rather reluctantly call for repentance,
and today, we even speak of the devil!

No wonder we Protestants seemed content
to let the Catholics have Lent to themselves for so long!
We were glad to just let Easter creep up one spring morning
and sing “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.”
Not having paid much attention to what he was rising from,
we may have missed the point much of the time,
but we dressed up in our Easter finery anyway and decorated eggs.

Then something happened, liturgically-speaking.
Maybe it was the movement of the Holy Spirit
amid the brokenness of the Church,
a wind that blew so hard that we separated sisters and brothers
had to huddle closer together for our own protection against the cold world
and we recognized that we had more in common than we thought,
and that one of the things we had in common was
our history,
our story.
God’s story, really.
The story of wandering Arameans,
of patriarchs and matriarchs of faith,
of covenants new and everlasting,
of old psalms and new songs,
of prophets and apostles,
of Jesus Christ, teacher and Logos, savior and eternal presence.

And it seemed walking the Lenten path together
gave us time to think about that story.

So eventually,
and I’m making a big leap here,
Presbyterians started taking Lent
as seriously as our more liturgical brothers and sisters,
and we found that, like good medicine,
we may not like the taste of it,
but it does us good.

For one thing, Lent changes our pace; we slow down a bit.
Unlike Advent,
this is not a time to sprint through the busyness of shopping “daze,”
a cluster of social obligations and the general pre-Christmas rush.
No, Lent is quieter, more reflective,
time our lives use for a gentle fine tuning,
that faith might find refreshment.
Lent was once a time for converts to prepare for their baptisms,
to know what deep waters they were about to enter.
Today, the season is more our opportunity to sense the mystery of the faith,
to pause long enough to hear our own hearts beat in God’s rhythm,
to pay closer attention to the path of Jesus heading toward the cross,
and to realign ourselves to the wider community of faith.

Have a grace-filled Lent!