My family spent two weeks at Le Pas Opton (LPO), a Christian holiday camp in France.
We were there because I was speaking one week; I don’t suppose we would have thought to book an explicitly Christian holiday otherwise.
A few days before we went, I found myself in London with a meeting canceled. So I met up with an old friend, Lincoln Harvey, who teaches doctrine at St. Mellitus College.
We talked about many things, including his excellent book, “A Brief Theology of Sport.”
The argument of the book is, to me, recognizably Augustinian: sport, for Lincoln, is the paradigmatic wholly secular pursuit, and as such is a profound mark of the graciousness of God’s creative activity.
That is, in playing sport, we are not serving any higher end. The game ends with winners and losers, but nothing further results; the playing of the game has no purpose beyond itself. Sport is, fundamentally, gratuitous.
This makes sport fundamentally secular (in the Augustinian sense): It serves no purpose beyond itself. It also makes sport gratuitous in another sense: sport is an indicator of God’s grace in creation.
That we can spend time playing and watching sport, engaging in activity that is purposeless, is a demonstration that in creation we have, and can trust that we have, all that we need and more.
I had not thought about what might make a holiday “Christian” before arriving at LPO.
There was a full program: morning activities for everyone, an early evening celebration, a wide range of optional afternoon and evening events. The program was all very optional and geared to the fun.
The emphasis was on the gratuitous nature of holidaying: We were there, essentially, to do those things that had no purpose beyond rest and enjoyment.
I had prepared some talks on prayer and had planned to run a catchphrase: “no guilt trips – we’re on holiday!” through them; this, it turned out, fitted the context perfectly.
The organizers worked to create a place for people to come and rest and enjoy – and if they wanted to take in a bit of Bible teaching or join in a worship session, they were welcome to, but it was neither expected nor required.
Arriving with Lincoln’s reflections on sport in my head, I quickly realized that this fitted my unformed idea of what a “Christian holiday” should be perfectly.
God is good, and so there is time and space to rest and enjoy. There is no need to connect holiday with purpose; trusting in God, we can dare to take time and space to relax, to rest, to enjoy.
Kingdom living includes space for recreation as well as its more fundamental space for re-creation.
To make sports, for example, the end of life is to miss God’s great purposes, of course, but to construct an account of life which has no space for sports is to miss God’s great goodness just as thoroughly.
The event on the program that stood out to me when I glanced through it was an afternoon session: supervised play for toddlers, with parents given time to relax; it instantiated this vision perfectly.
The role of the site, and the role of the site team, was to do whatever was necessary to make space for rest and enjoyment for the guests because when it comes to holidaying, that is what kingdom living looks like.
Three things struck me about the guests I met, each testimony to how well the organizers had worked to make this vision live and sing.
First, the number of guests who came back year after year. Clearly, people found something at LPO that worked for them as holiday.
Second, the number of guests who were in Christian leadership of one form or another. As someone who is in danger of being “professionally Christian,” I know how much I want to be away from institutional church stuff on holiday. To create a place that church leaders want to come to is impressive.
Third, the proportion of children with some sort of disability or special needs on site was very high, even only counting those with visible disabilities or special needs (and one or two whose parents or care-givers chose to talk to me about their child). And these families were often the ones who came back year after year.
If you create a space where disabled and disadvantaged children (and their care-givers) are welcomed and celebrated and comfortable, then, in my theology, you are extraordinarily close to the Kingdom of God.
Maybe we will go back, as guests or by invitation. If we do or if we don’t, Le Pas Opton will stay in my memory as a place that impressively lives out a vision of what a genuinely “Christian” holiday can and should be.
Holiday is like Sabbath and jubilee (and, differently, tithing): We can do it, despite all our needs and all the needs of the world, because we trust in the goodness of God.
Stephen Holmes is a Baptist minister, presently employed as senior lecturer in Theology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. A version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @SteveRHolmes.