Our eldest boys have just returned from camp. They’ve been away (excepting Saturday nights) for two and a half weeks, first at the Ed Bryant Scout Reservation (thanks, Troop 333!), then at The Island at Covenant Point (thanks, Grandma Barbara!), and last at Camp Fire (thanks, Michelle!) at Paradise Park.
Roger Bennet and Jules Shell write in Camp Camp: Where Fantasy Island Meets Lord Of The Flies:
The more interviews we held, the more we were staggered by the sheer breadth of impact the institution of camp has had on our generation. We began to understand that every camp is a unique compressed world with its own rhythm and traditions. Camp is also enhanced with more ritual than your average Shriner Temple. The variations between these worlds were vast, effectively making the choice of camp a life-changing decision… The critical element that set summer camp apart from high school and college, and that shaped so many lives, is that it was expressly designed to make sure that everyone became part of a community, at a time when traditional pillars of community?clubs, places of worship, and even bowling leagues?were all in sharp decline.
(An interview with Bennet is here: NPR: Are you ready for summer? Camp, that is.)
Summer camp is not really about recreation, but about learning the practices of the group–not affluenza, but apprenticeship. For me, Covenant Point was where I learned to love creation and its Lord, and to see his character and presence in the counselors & campers there. So I asked our boys, “At each of these camps, what did you learn? What did you practice?”
At Ed Bryant, the older boys are in charge of running the show; they, not the adults, are the leaders. (Adult leaders warn new parents that some outings may look chaotic!) If the senior Scouts don’t take care of something, well, then it doesn’t get taken care of. The younger boys are expected to learn everything from them and to be able to take over when the old ones graduate. The Boy Scouts, said my boys, practiced being prepared, not just for putting up a tent or giving first aid, but for being young men in the community of their elders, and for being leaders.
On the Island, every timepiece was confiscated, no daily schedule was given, and breakfast was brought in daily by boat at unpredictable times. There is no running water. There were physical challenges and deep discussions in Devo (devotions). There were no clocks, only time. The Island, they said, was where you could break your attachments to the things you were used to, and start to consider who you really are.
Camp Fire is a local para-church affair, put on by local volunteers, with high school youth serving as counselors and mentors for 8-12 year-old’s in a four day marathon of games, Biblical teaching, Christian worship, and prayer. The kids learn to listen to God and to pray for one another, sometimes weeping or speaking in tongues, sometimes speaking out what they hear God saying to them for one of their fellow campers. They learn to pay attention, to engage with God joyfully and deeply, but also to step back from emotional intensity and take stock of what is happening in such moments. They learn the gifts and tools that are at their disposal for doing the relational work to the Kingdom of God. They consider how they each might be called to honor those gifts and put them to proper use. Camp Fire, they said, was all about engaging in intercession with a whole heart.
And I am thankful, with my whole heart, that my kids have had the chance to be there.