Spiritual Life Story by Heather Mason Murray

Spiritual Life Story by Heather Mason Murray

February 9, 2021|Spiritual Life Stories

Ziontario

by

Heather Mason Murray

There is a magical place where my family has the privilege of spending time together every summer. It’s the kind of place that lets you leave the hustle and bustle of the big city behind. A place where you can feel relief. The energy shifts at the welcoming entrance to the 300-acre Ziontario campgrounds in the rolling hills of Southern Ontario. This gorgeous piece of land is surrounded by magnificent trees, creeks and cedar paths and it hosts a natural swimming pond, where I was baptized as a girl, by my great-uncle. The many nature trails connect different areas, and my father, at 86, still tends these trails, contributing in his perfect way as a steward of the land….if I can learn one tenth of his knowledge of nature, I would consider myself fortunate. If you’re lucky, you can catch a glimpse of deer, and hear the coyotes talking to each other in the evenings. When I was a child, going there felt like coming home. You know that feeling of missing something and when it’s finally there, everything is right with the world again? Ziontario was a place where everyone automatically accepted the weird, awkward kid I was. As an adult I feel the same way about the place, with the added experience of knowing that the energy is different. It’s different in that place. It raises vibrations, this sacred land that has a cross of ley lines. There are spirits there that encourage and observe like no other place I’ve been. But as a child, I mostly just felt safe and loved.

It was during one of those childhood summers that I encountered something pretty awesome, though I wouldn’t realize what exactly until years later, when I was an adult.

The denomination we were members of, Community of Christ, owns Ziontario, and the family camps held there every summer are called Reunions. Reunion encompass events that our family looked forward to so much, we kept the mimeographed handout of the whole camp schedule on the fridge and referred to it constantly. Reunion would mean classes in the great outdoors, and the fun of camping out, some of us in tents, and some of us in trailers. One family stayed in a converted bus I thought was the coolest thing ever. They say that when Ziontario was first formed, as they were clearing spaces on the ring road, that the areas for campsites just appeared, as if angels helped the people know where to set up campsites and buildings. The spots were divinely inspired, the work led by these angelic beings. I didn’t know anything about that then, I just knew I was in for a week of fun.

Every campsite during Reunion seemed its own little world. Swim suits and towels were strung out on clothes lines to dry, kids laughed while playing outside with each other, different cooking smells emanated from each campsite as makeshift rainproof outdoor kitchens were constructed for the week. A general sense of well-being was everywhere. This was my first taste of community, and I loved it. I especially loved that most of my cousins and aunts and uncles were there too. I thought of them as part of my tribe. Mornings began at a picnic table, my brothers and I munching out of those neat little cereal boxes you can eat out of, then rushing off to classes on the hill. Parents would have coffee together in the main building and attend adult classes, which to me seemed really boring. I felt sorry for them that they didn’t get to do exciting things, like sing and make crafts and play games like me.  

Lunch was always at the trailer, followed by an hour of quiet time, which was hard for an active kid like me. But when that hour was over, we got to do sports, like baseball or swimming. It was the best! Adults would play with us! For dinner, sometimes we would all eat in the main building, all of us! Then it was back up the hill for more classes. Then, my favourite: campfire in the main building, singing for an hour. As the stars rose, we’d close the night with canteen, running for the concession booth and buying ice cream. We would eat and laugh and joke around together until our parents dragged us back to our campsite for lights out at 10:00 p.m.

As I say, community. Everyone was nice, everyone had smiles on their faces, and everyone was having fun together. At least that’s what I remember. As an adult, bringing my kids to Ziontario, I quickly figured out that the adults do a whole lot of work to make the week run smoothly, and that’s exactly how it should be. For years I led the music classes for the kids, changing up the lyrics of popular songs to push the envelope and to keep things current and interesting for kids to sing. Such a fun, positive experience for families but especially for the kids.

One year, I’m thinking I was about 8, so it would have been 1978, I was of course the last one to leave classes on the hill. Just taking my time, by myself, that’s how I liked it. I loved being alone, although I never felt alone. I was perfectly happy just doing things by myself. On that day, I was distracted, looking at the plants growing in the woods, surrounding the path that leads to the main building and the campsites. The “old old path” we call it, named after the hymn we’d sing as we walked it. (I always wondered who was there before me, singing that same hymn). Anyway, on that day I was fascinated by how everything would grow on its own, even though I wasn’t there all year to watch it. How did this happen, I wondered? Who planted all the huge trees? And as I looked into the surrounding woods, I could see rays of sunshine pouring down through the forest canopy onto the white trilliums scattered at the base of all the trees. It was so beautiful, I just stood there enjoying how that made me feel. This must be what heaven is like, I thought.  

While standing there, I started to notice groups of people, adults and children, were walking towards me from either side of the path, from the woods. I didn’t recognize anyone, and that didn’t matter, I was in a safe place, enjoying the feeling of nature. I just accepted that all of a sudden there were people where there hadn’t been a second ago. Like a dream, you just go with it and don’t question anything. The people were happy and smiling and every one of them took the time to give me a nod, talk to me or just put their attention on me like I was important. They were beautiful, and I was fascinated that they had any interest in me. I mean I was just a kid, going about the business of being a kid, I wasn’t special or anything. Most said hello like they knew me, one patted me on the back, and asked me how I was enjoying the woods. I gave the expected responses, then asked where they were going. I was told they were going to a meeting at the top of the hill. That meant they were headed toward the landing beside the children’s building, a place marked by a huge cross at the top of a hill, overlooking a magnificent view of all the different shades of greens and browns, in the trees, in the grass, in the many plants and shrubs that somehow grew exactly in the right places. It’s a perfectly breathtaking view. I think if I were to pick the perfect spot in Ziontario, it would be here.

I didn’t remember any meetings on the schedule. Didn’t everyone know it was lunch time? Oh no, I was going to be late for lunch! I was asked if I wanted to go with them to the meeting at the top of the hill, and I had to say no thank you, I had to get back to the trailer, my mom would be waiting for me.  

Years later, when it was revealed to me as an adult that people had reported seeing angelic beings on the grounds of Ziontario, my mom asked me if I had seen anyone I didn’t know. I then told her of my experience in the woods, and had confirmation of my angelic friends’ presence.  

Looking back, I think now that if I had only known as a child what I was experiencing, I would have gone with them to that meeting on the hill. I would have asked questions. I would have paid more attention.

I do believe Ziontario is heaven on earth. I’ve had confirmation of it, even if our friends just come by to visit now and then.

And God watched over…the 3 sided shower

And God watched over…the 3 sided shower

November 9, 2020

Dave Snell generously offered a few ‘historical’ memories that many of us will fondly remember. This is a  contribution from him. Elizabeth and George Brett! Thank you Dave!

“I was part of the early organizing at Ziontario, and served as a camp
counselor at the very first Sr High camp held there in 1967. Elizabeth
and George Brett organized the camp. We slept in tents. Mine was located
where the big washrooms are now located. There were no washrooms built yet.
We, some of the camp staff, built an open-air shower. It had 3 sides and a hose
supported over your head for water. A person stood guard just to make sure no one was back in the trees to get a “look”.

The first reunions held there were located in a field by the barn. It has since been reforested. Everyone brought their trailer to live in. The services were held on the upper floor of the barn. When it rained the field became a mud hole. Needless to say, rubber boots were a must. But the memories are still in my mind about the relationships built.

Soon it was decided to build the circular ring road up on the hill. For the next 3 years, we had “work” reunions. Many projects were completed at these reunions. At the first one, I along with 3 other men, undertook to walk all the fence lines and remove “all” the barbed wire that had been used for fencing. This was seen as a hazard for the campgrounds. This included down and along the river through the swamp area. Others built the privies or began on some of the buildings. At the final work reunion, we finished the “main” building there now. The grounds have become what they are now through the dedication and hard work, both physical, mental, and spiritual of so many people.

David Snell

*Dave, are you sure about 1967?? 

Retreat Centre – Ziontario

Retreat Centre – Ziontario

Nestled near the back of this beautiful 300 acre wood, boasting scenic delights such as the beautiful Saugeen River, open fields and grounds, a pond, and many beautifully planned and carefully designed trails and pathways is the campground and retreat location of Ziontario.

Located just 10 minutes from Flesherton, north of Priceville off Highway 4, is a relatively unknown property that few are aware of.

Entering from a quiet, country gravel road, you’re already on the grounds’ property. The roadway meanders around, through the welcoming brushy archway, continuing on past the quaint, picturesque seasonal camping located close to the river, until you reach that hill – the hill, that for many, still conjures up some of the most exciting and wonderful childhood, and adult memories and experiences. Once up the hill, you enter the Ring Road, which is only one way, so to the right you go.

The sight, and feelings that stir upon entering the camp grounds, is always those of excitement, and anticipation of all that awaits.

The year 2020 will be remembered for many things, but all of those who count on time spent at Ziontario, won’t soon forget the year the grounds remained only a memory – lost time rekindling friendships; enjoying meals together that tantalize and delight the taste buds; enriching lives through spiritual growth and discovery; and of course, missing out on the last beloved activity of each day….Canteen 😉

Here’s to 2021! Ziontario, here we come 💕💘

*We are looking for ‘the good ol days’ stories surrounding time spent at Ziontario, and at the moment we’d especially appreciate stories from the very first years spent up at the entrance/farmhouse area. Pictures and stories or even just snippets of memories would be a wonderful and welcome addition.

Please submit to carolmarie@awakeningspirituality.ca

**Note that all submissions are accepted and it is understood by all parties that all submissions can be published and freely used on and throughout the Awakening Spirituality website and social media. All submissions will imply acknowledgement of these permissions.

In The Beginning, God created…

In The Beginning, God created…

In the earliest years, there were only ‘rumours’ of the possibility of the church purchasing the grounds that would provide a retreat area for those branches within the relatively local area. Then one day, rumours turned to actual truth and the real excitement began – planning and building what is now known as the beautifully picturesque – Ziontario. Once the property was purchased and keys handed over, it was time for the work to begin. The campgrounds began at the location which is now filled with pine trees. With the original entrance being along the fenced and beautifully treed driveway, campers, along with their tents, trailers, sleeping bags, and bug spray, entered. In a flurry of excitement and anticipation, the area along the front of the property began to fill. Men, women, and children came from all over to help build what was envisioned to be their campground, to hold reunions for different districts to camp and share in worship with each other. Of course, lines began to cross, children began to ‘know’ which reunion they wanted to attend, and countless friendships sprouted. No one could have ever envisioned just what that campground would someday become.

The buzz and hum, rumble and roar from a wide variety of equipment began. Outhouses and outdoor showers were built, roads planned and gravel laid. There must have been water supplied from the well that supplied the farm – surely there was some form of running water somewhere…

The barn made for a wonderful hangout for the youth – along with the bats! Yes, fun was enjoyed by all once the bats woke up and came out to play! Alas,nary a hair was lost to a single bat!! All were truly blessed!!

The pond would have been a fun hangout also, except it was the pond of forbidden ‘unsupervised’ partaking  – an opportunity that would have been fraught with the most delightful of adventures  – so, of course, we obeyed and didn’t dare stray from that early campground area……. No hanging out down there…..  Of course, it was due to the risk of someone being foolish enough to get in the water, unsupervised, and drown. Yes, that was it… The barn was safely unsupervised with mounds of hay everywhere. That was definitely the better choice!😉😇 All kidding aside, it was a time of phenomenal bonding, creating friendships that would last a lifetime.

As adults from a variety of locations were working alongside and getting to know each other, new friendships were made. The children on the other hand were, yes, getting to know each other as well, all the while taking in and paying acutely close attention to the late-night antics carried out by their parents. If, after curfew they didn’t learn the lessons of adult social mischief from their own well mannered, upstanding parents, it was from the misfit parents of their friends! Lessons were brilliantly, albeit highly unanticipatedly (yes, that’s a word) taught and diligently mastered, continuing and thus splendidly instilling all of THE most necessary rituals and traditions ever known to church members. All were healthy, fundamental, and supremely indispensable Christian based shenanigans that created the magnificent mosaic of memories carried by those ‘early settler’ children today. Thank heavens for no covid back then! What ever would have happened when campers awoke on any given morning, only to find that, if they wanted toilet paper, they would have to gather what they’d need along the way to the washrooms – from some poor innocent victim of the previous night’s toilet paper raid! Once wrapped around trailers, picnic tables, and the likes, toilet paper just isn’t quite the same after that.

*We are looking for ‘the good ol days’ stories surrounding time spent at Ziontario, and at the moment we’d especially appreciate stories from the very first years spent up at the entrance/farmhouse area. Pictures and stories or even just snippets of memories would be a wonderful and welcome addition.

Please submit to carolmarie@awakeningspirituality.ca

**Note that all submissions are accepted and it is understood by both/all parties that all submissions can be published and freely used on and throughout the Awakening Spirituality website and social media. All submissions will imply acknowledgment of these permissions.