My daughter is home from a week of church camp, and she is glowing, and it’s not from the extra layer of dirt and sun that is coating her body. She’s been rejuvenated.
Camp is her wellspring. She draws on this one week away for the rest of the year. Camp sets her spiritual and moral compass in the right direction, it puts her on square footing and it restores her soul.
Now, you could say that all camps do this at some level. There is something crucial about putting kids in nature with other kids and taking away video games, phone, televisions, and all electronics. There is something crucial about allowing them to form relationships and take responsibilities without parents present. There is something crucial about letting them experience a canoe ride and a high ropes course, and allowing them to see that they are braver than they thought. There is something crucial about creating a community where people are intentionally inclusive and welcoming. — Where it’s cool to say “hi” to strangers or ask if you can help, or stand on chairs and sing silly songs, and have campfires and lose track of the days. Most good camps provide this kind of experience.
But Church Camp is different. I’m not talking about the emotionally charged camps that require alter calls at the end of the week and ask kids to reflect on their sinfulness. I’m not talking about camps that take advantage of kid’s emotions and make them question their salvation. I’m talking about camps couched in the Reformed Tradition that use scripture, discussion, worship, communion, and community to build a lasting relationship with Jesus Christ. It was at church camp where I was given a Bible and a devotional time. It was under an oak tree at Camp Stronghold in Oregon, Illinois that I first felt the presence of God. It was the older kids, the camp counselors and the adults who came along who would sit beside me on a rock and share their faith with me and ask me about my own. There was something powerful about being prayed for and praying for others. – When you are 12 years old, you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about praying for others, or knowing that you are being prayed for.
This Sunday, the lectionary is on Jesus giving all of these illustrations about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is like a pearl in a field, a mustard seed, yeast, a treasure. I’m not entirely sure I understand all that Jesus was saying in this passage, and frankly I think the disciples were confused too. But here is what I do understand, mustard seeds, once planted became unmanageable and out of a control. The results of that little seed can spread like wild-fire. One week away for an impressionable kid with other adults who testify to their faith and encourage them to do the same, can be more of an impact than any overture before the General Assembly. When we give kids time in sun and with the Son, their faith is like uncovered yeast on a sun porch. It expands and grows in surprising ways.
Around the country Presbyterian church camps are running out of funds and Presbyteries are having to make difficult decisions as to whether or not they should be sold. The reasons for these hard discussions are multi-faceted.
Kids have so many choices throughout the summer, and the checkbook only goes so far, so if it’s not a “need,” the decision to go to camp, can quickly go to a “want.” Further, denominations are dwindling and Presbytery funds are declining, so are our camps.
After the last General Assembly gathering in Detroit, a parishioner asked, “When is the Presbyterian Church going to focus their General Assemblies on growing disciples and faith formation?” I thought it was a valid question. Although I’m sure much of what was never mentioned in the press about G.A. was focused on discipleship and faith formation. But never the less, I wish we spent as much talking about providing opportunities for our kids and adults to plant seeds of faith than we do talking about language and procedure. I wish we spent as much time praying for each other and looking for the pearl in the field than we do tossing the field out all together. I wish we adults could remember camp. I wish we could some how encapsulate the inclusivity, hospitality and the community of camp in our worship services on Sunday morning and in our church community throughout the week. I wish the Holy Spirit that shows up at camp, showed up at Presbytery and session meetings.
I know camp doesn’t fix everything. Experiences like camp and mission trips are times set apart, and we can’t stay on the mountain top forever. But, it would be good to go back there from time to time, either mentally or physically and remember, and be restored.