Next week I will be serving as chaplain at Bear Creek Camp, our local Lutheran camp in the Pocono Mountains (western area near Wilkes-Barre). Many of St. Andrew's children and youth were there earlier in the summer, a couple of our young adults serve on summer staff there, and there will be a significant number of St. Andrew's children and youth who will be there next week with me as well. I have been very fortunate through the years to have the opportunity to serve at Bear Creek as well as a number of other church camps and retreat centers. I always look forward to spending time in the beauty of God's creation leading, teaching, worshiping, learning, playing, and serving outdoors. In fact, I don't just look forward to this time. I treasure it and long for it. And over time, I have really come to appreciate what our church camps do for youth, families, and the whole church. Here are some reasons why:
1. There is a profound sense of gratitude. Most of our camps are located in places of tremendous natural beauty, with Bear Creek certainly being no exception. The camp serves as a reminder, especially to those who live in urban and suburban environments, of just how beautiful God's creation is. It's hard not to give thanks in such a place as we are drawn out of ourselves and drawn toward the awesomeness of our Creator.
2. There is a climate of community. Shared meals, group building exercises, trust challenges, high and low rope courses, an overnight hike, a campfire, a raft trip down the river, and a dance are all things at Bear Creek that foster and strengthen a sense of community. We are reminded that we are part of a much larger community as the family of God. Children and youth who might feel much more alone on the homefront often feel a level of acceptance and encouragement at camp that makes it easier for them to see themselves as beloved children of God. We live in a time where virtual (electronic) community is easy to find but real live human community (warts and all) is more difficult to discover. Maybe this is why friendships made at camp sometimes have a transforming power.
3. There is faith that is nurtured and shared. Young adults as examples of faith (not just pastors and parents), very different kinds of worship experiences, and encouraged faith sharing makes a big difference. In the words of one first time Junior High camper, "I like the people at church but church was never this cool!" There's nothing that grows faith like having the chance to share it. And that is why church camp is so important, not just to the folks that come but to the whole church, as our church camps nurture a vibrant faith that gets passed down from generation to generation inspiring not only future generations of campers and counselors but future generations of pastors, teachers, and servants of the whole church.
I would be curious to know if any of you can say that camp has changed your life. It is one of the primary influences in hearing my call to serve as a pastor. Others have made occupational decisions as a result of camp, made long time friends, and discovered new hobbies and interests. I know several people who met their future spouses at church camp. Do any of you have a story? I would love to hear it.
By the way, emergency pastoral coverage will be available during my absence and I will still be at St. Andrew's for Sunday worship for the remainder of the summer. I have been so grateful to those of you who have joined us for worship and especially those of you who have given of your time and talents to bless us in worship and fellowship after church. A special word of thanks to Soulful Strings who led us in worship last Sunday.
Blessings to you and may you find much needed rest and renewal in the weeks ahead. See you in church!