We're here to talk about the wild, ridiculous love and grace of Jesus. So come along for the ride, and take time today to laugh, love & forgive. Never regret anything that makes you smile. Don't label people & focus on the positive. And enjoy EVERY sandwich!
It's sometimes difficult to believe how many trips, retreats and conferences I took part in over my 28 years in youth ministry. There is something special about getting away together that bonds a group in a way no "group building exercise" could ever do. While the list of places we traveled to is quite long, there were only a few places we returned to over and over again; places that became iconic to the groups I served. Quaker Lake Camp, New York City and Walt Disney World were among our favorites. But no place received more visits from me, as a youth and as a youth pastor, than Myrtle Beach, SC. We stayed in a variety of places over the years, mostly in North Myrtle Beach; Camp Pla-Mor, ThePonderosa Campground, the Betsy B, The Spinnaker and others. We even took a "Mystery Trip" from Kissimmee to downtown Myrtle Beach one weekend, spending more time in the vans than we did at the beach! No matter where or how long we stayed, there were always two constants about MB- the Atlantic Ocean and the Myrtle Beach Pavilion!
My relationship with the Pavilion goes back to my childhood, when my family would camp at Lake Arrowhead or The Ponderosa for a week or two each summer, and one of the highlights of the trip was traveling downtown one night to visit the Pavilion. Actually, the term "Pavilion" came to mean much more to us than the actual building (with its' arcade games, food, and magic mirrors) and amusement park. It meant everything in downtown Myrtle Beach. The T-shirt shops, the arcades, Castle Dracula, the Gay Dolphin (for years billed as the "worlds' largest gift shop") and the miniature golf courses were all part of the Pavilion in our thought process. And every year we could not wait to go! I rode my first roller coaster at the amusement park; I played "Pong" for the first time at the arcade; I made stupid jokes with my friends about the Gay Dolphin; and I walked the boardwalk, looking at the moon and the stars and dreaming of romance and the future. The passing of the years and my becoming a youth minister changed almost none of that. The rides still seemed cheesy, the arcades fell a little behind the times and the Gay Dolphin lost its' luster, but still the Pavilion called to us all. Each summer we were at the beach major planning went into which night we would go to The Pavilion. Part of the allure of the place (most of it, in my case) was simply watching the people, wandering around the park, the stores and cruising on Ocean Blvd. Our teens were usually quite normal, so if they were going to be in contact with that many other people their age, they wanted to look GOOD! Wardrobes were planned, hair was done, showers were taken all in preparation for that one night. In later years there was even a dance club for those 17 and under called The Magic Attic, and some would partake of that excitement. I remember on one of the earliest youth trips with New Garden taking Kathryn Burris, Beth Edgerton and Terri Johnson to Castle Dracula, only to have the "monsters" try to pick them up! I remember some of the guys from Springfield falling in love about every 5 minutes with some beauties they had spotted by the Swiss Bobs ("Do you wanna' go faster? Do you all wanna' go faster? SWISS BOB!"). I remember taking Jim Fry from Kissimmee to get a hot dog at the Corner Bar on the beach and getting him hooked on chili and slaw footlongs. I remember students going into the t-shirt shops to buy shirts featuring their favs, just like I had done when buying Beach Boys and Chicago shirts years before. But mostly I remember walking around, seeing the students I loved with huge smiles on their faces as they ran from ride to ride or from game to game, knowing EXACTLY how they felt because I had felt the same things!
I was last at Myrtle Beach in July, 2004, with a group from Tampa, and we once again visited the Pavilion. The summer of 2006 wound up being the final year of the place, as much of downtown Myrtle Beach was sold so developers could build high rise condos. Marilyn and Will got to see it one more time before it was leveled; I am left with hundreds of great memories. And as always, the memories have less to do with the place than with the people I shared them with. I treasure both. Rest assured, as we go through the Springfield, Kissimmee and Tampa years, there will be many more MB stories to tell here.
One final story- about 6 months ago I walked into our local Papa John's Pizza to pick up an order, and while waiting another customer entered. She was wearing a bright yellow t-shirt that said Myrtle Beach Pavilion: The Final Summer 2006. I asked her about it, and she said she had been there for a family reunion and had seen the beginning of the destruction. She left, and as a thousand memories flooded my mind, I shed a tear or two for the old place right there in Papa John's. I found myself praying, once again, that all of these stories and memories, from all of the times and places, have had the same kind of impact on the people I was in ministry to and with as they have had on me. Thanks again, God, for the amazing lives you have allowed me to share in!