Wednesday, June 9, 2010


I was recently reading a back issue of The Lutheran and the cover article was about summer camp. Outdoor ministry is a big deal in the ELCA, but camp, in general, has probably been one of the top 3 spiritually formative forces in my life.

My mom and I went to a mother/daughter overnight at Camp Mundo Vista (World View) in Sophia, NC when I was in third grade. I went there with other GAs (Girls in Action) for a week in the summers 1991, 1992 and 1993. In the summers of 1996 and 1997, I was a counselor there, with my lips pinched shut about my age because of how close it was to some of the campers. Being a counselor meant a week or so of staff training and then eight weeks or so of campers.

For a dramatic and deeply faithful girl, CMV saved me from the cynicism of my fellow teens. CMW is sponsored by the Women's Missionary Union of North Carolina (the women's branch of the Southern Baptist Church- sort of). Since my family did not attend a Baptist church, I was asked not to mention the Episcopal Church that we attended.

As a counselor, I jumped in a pool with my last pair of clean clothes on for a fundraiser. I sang on trails. I timed showers. I ran races. I supervised camp chores. I sprinted for inhalers and skidded through gravel to smack out the flames on the head of girl whose hair caught on fire. I prayed alone. I prayed in groups. I prayed for groups. I heard my first tales of incest and reported them. I consoled. I carried.

In 2001 and 2002, I worked for Agape + Kure Beach ministries in Fuquay-Varina, NC. Two weeks of staff training, 9-10 weeks of day camp or campfirmation or servant events (teens going to do service projects). It was through AKB that I worked in NYC in the summer of 2002 for Lutheran Disaster Response leading day camps in churches with kids affected by 9/11/01.
Older at the time, AKB gave me the opportunity to sort out what I believed and to integrate by newly beloved Lutheran affiliation with my deeply rooted Baptist notions of the Great Commission.

Camp, specifically church camp, made a space for me to be creative in and with the Spirit of God. Through my camp life, I realized that not only is God not limited to the church building, but God is specifically not limited to buildings, Sunday morning or to the ordained.

In 3 years of campering and 4 years of counseling, I met: kids with parents in prison, kids whose parents were divorced, kids who were victims of domestic violence and incest, kids with scoliosis, kids from Russia affected by Cherynobl, kids who doubted, kids who were grieving, girls who got their first period at camp, people my age who had never been to a farm, people my age who had never done what I thought was normal, people my age who had done things that I thought was abnormal, kids who were in foster care, kids who were in children's home and knew they probably would never be adopted, kids who asked about dinosaurs/virgin births/forgiveness/water into wine/resurrection/evolution without trepidation, and it goes on....

Camp smells like hairspray, perfume, bug spray, sweat, chlorine, kool-aid, canned gravy, sweet tea, iceberg lettuce, mold, dirt, pine needles, wet wood, grass, Pine-Sol, dust, chicken fingers, dandelions, fresh paint, plastic mattress covers and bodies.

Camp sounds like kids singing, shouting, slamming doors, running, laughing, splashing, and trying to sneak by with something.

Because of camp:
1) I have a much more relaxed attitude about worship.
2) I have a reduced sense of panic when things don't go as planned.
3) I believe pastors should be connected to all ages in a church.
4) I am very aware that I am not in control.
5) I can entertain a large group of people on short notice with little fear.
6) I believe God holds all of creation in hope and love.

There is a great irony to the fact that Camp Mundo Vista was so formative to me and, yet, is part of an organization that would not recognize me as a pastor.

However, rather than see that as a mark against them, I see it as a sign of God's work, openness and ability to transform us wherever we are and move us to where God wants us to be. Without even realizing it, I would say that a huge percentage of what I do is based on lessons that I learned at camp.

I would not be where I am today. I would not be the Christian I am today. I could not be the pastor I am today... without camp.

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