In Lay Terms

Random Ramblings From a Church Nerd

Monday, July 23, 2007

Camp Days (or, Going Back, Part 2)

I left my parent’s home on Sunday to head to the camp where I worked. I’ve been talking about this quite a bit lately, but the week finally came where I was going to be volunteering with a week of Fine Arts Camp. The Fine Arts program was set up by some friends of mine, who were also former staff at this camp.

For those of you who are not Lutheran (and for those of you who don’t realize this), I should explain that Lutherans have a thing for camping. We have a huge camping network throughout the United States. All camps are unique in governance and programming, but they are mutually supported and promoted by the ELCA. For example, this spring, one of my camps main rivals for doing trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area was badly burned in a wild fire. Prayers, money, and support poured in from others from all around Minnesota and the whole ELCA. Camping Ministry is one of the cultural aspects of Lutheranism in the United States. It’s just something we do.

Anyway, I was returning for the first substantial visit since I had stopped working there in 1999. I had been there for a half of a day on a few occasions, but I was never there long enough to participate in any of the programs. There were several reasons for this. First, by the time I stopped working at the camps, I was a bit burned out. Camping is a very high-energy job. You are “on” for about 22 hours per day. By the end of the summer, you get very tired. After four summers, I had given all I could. Another reason was that I wanted to be respectful of those who were doing my job after me. I didn’t want to be one of those former program coordinators who criticizes his successors.

I was invited to be a part of this week along with about a dozen other volunteers. At one point, it looked like we might outnumber the kids! In the end, there were 20 kids, three counselors, and us volunteers. We all have very small job descriptions. I helped with some drama and movement exercises in the afternoon each day, but other than that, I really didn’t have a lot of responsibility. It was the same way for many of the other volunteers. We would spend days being calm. We would watch and participate in the other activities, while trying not to be too intrusive.

I think the most difficult part for me is the urge to evaluate. I’m a program person, so I am constantly seeing what is good and what could be improved. I may be biased, but I think that we did quite well as a staff. I had heard from friends who went after I did that the staff has not always been so stellar since I left. The energy level was low. They were there for their own personal relationship with Jesus, instead of helping foster the faith of the campers. This made me leery about just sitting and watching a bad campfire or a bad worship.

However, I have to say, this staff was stellar! The program staff was excellent! They taught songs better than I have ever seen them taught (even from when I worked there). The camp was cleaner than I had seen it for a long time. They were also tireless. They spent late nights working on the next day or the next week. They wanted to write up song cards for many of the more “wordy” songs. When we wanted to teach some songs as a part of the drama component, they immediately started singing it at worship and at campfire. I was very impressed.

I decided that since I couldn’t stop evaluating, that I must share my findings. Often, working at a camp is a rather thankless job. I wanted to make sure that this staff knew that they were doing wonderful work to present a cohesive message of God’s call in our lives.

The program coordinator (the position I once held) grew up at camp, quite literally. Her father was the site manager during most of her childhood and youth. I think her love of the place and of the people she encountered there motivated her to work as hard as she could to make it a faithful place for others.

I have a goal to write letters to this staff to let them know that I think they are doing good work. They need to hear this so they do not burn out, as I did. Being a summer camp staff member doesn’t fit well into a cost/benefit analysis. I’m hoping that my encouragement will help to make their summer worth all the effort they are putting into this place and this ministry.

For many people, me included, camp is what the Celtics would call a “thin place” where our mundane lives on earth and the glory of God are incredibly close. I’m glad to have the opportunity to continue to contribute to the ongoing ministry of my camp.

I’ll end with our camp cheer:

It’s great to be alive in God’s great north woods!


Blogger LoieJ said...

Your posting made my heart sing. I got through my vacuuming on a cloud of joy. Praise God. I can't really post here some of the things I am thinking, but you maybe observed and maybe were "told" that certain "changes" at camp were welcomed by staff. I'm not surprised that the program boss at camp is doing a fine job.

Regarding energy: well back in your day, there was good energy and good music. A couple of years ago, the staff provided the Sunday music at the church and they looked like they were going to fall asleep. So much so, that I actually told somebody on staff that I didn't think that they were good advertising for Camp. Well, apparently they stay up late on Sat. night watching videos. Not a good excuse, if you ask me, but probably true.

Ask our joyous mutual friend if she would like to see some pix of family; I'll send them to her.

5:40 PM  

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