If you didn’t already know I have a passion for summer camp and outdoor ministry. This isn’t because I grew up going to camp from the age of 5, always dreaming of one day being a counselor or camp director. I was not your typical first time camper. The first time I went to summer camp I was 14 and was forced by my parents to attend Confirmation Camp (our church conference would do a week long camp that was the week between staff training and the first week of summer camp). Looking back now I do not really recall why I didn’t want to go; I just did not. I even hid the paperwork from my parents at one point. However, as my dad recalls, within five minutes of arriving for camp I asked my parents why they were still there. By the end of that week all I wanted was to go back for another week of camp that summer. I was so disappointed when it didn’t work out for me to go back that summer (I had to watch my younger brother), but I did happen to be pen pals with a few people I had met.
The next summer I was able to go back multiple weeks, including one last round of confirmation camp, and two weeks of summer camp. It was during my first week of “real” summer camp that camp became more than just this awesome place where I felt welcomed, accepted, and loved for who I was. It was that week that I happened to become buddies with another first time camper who was 6 years old and who was feeling a bit homesick and unsure about this whole camp thing. Even though we were different ages we became friends and it was through that experience of accompanying her through that week of camp that I started to really discern a call to youth/outdoor ministry.
Another experience from that summer that always comes to mind for me when I think about how camp shaped me is when I arrived for the last week of camp. My brother happened to be attending camp for the first time that week and we stopped at his cabin to get him settled in and I decided to walk down to my cabin and as I was walking down some of the friends I had made earlier in the summer along with some of the counselors came running out of the cabin to greet me and welcome me back to camp. It is one of those moments that is hard to put words to. After seeing that welcome my dad said something along the lines of “Wow now I know why you wanted to come back so badly.” That warm welcome made an impression on me and my parents, and it helped them understand that there was something special about this place and the friends I had made there. The following summer I was able to be an LIT and spend three weeks at camp. I then was privileged to work at Vanderkamp for 4 summers, trying to share the love and welcome I had experienced there to all the campers I had the privilege of knowing.
After those four summers on staff I took some time away from camp, the quick turnaround of end of camp back to college was wearing on me and I wanted to start my senior year a little more refreshed. I didn’t end up getting back to camp until I moved to Idaho and got to take youth on a fall retreat to Luther Heights. That weekend I realized how much I had missed camp without realizing it. It didn’t matter that this was a totally different camp in a totally different location, it was still camp. I felt like I was home again after being away for a while. For me the feeling camp creates is one of those things that is hard to fully put into words. There is just something about most camps, that creates an accepting and affirming space to just be.
A special atmosphere that makes camp a special, sacred place. Camp has been a special place for me and if camp has been a special place for you I would love to hear about it sometime!