This post was first published at firstthird.org
As a new year dawns, the weather is frigid in the upper Midwest. Schools are cancelled in several states due to extreme cold, and the warnings say things like, “Skin will freeze within 5-10 minutes.” Seriously, my skin is going to freeze?! The trip to the mailbox reminds me of a Jack London story. Bundling up with five layers complete with ski goggles, I make the 75-foot trek through -55 degree wind chills, fearing that I am risking my life for a few credit card offers and an Eddie Bauer catalog. Fortune smiles upon me: the summer camp brochures have arrived! Nothing cuts through the frostbite so much as anticipation of camp. I may not be able to set foot outside for fear of losing fingers or nose, but the pictures of laughing children, campfires, green grass, and flowing streams infuse me with hope: summer is coming!
As we enter the season of the church year known as Epiphany, we reflect on the ways Christ is made known to the world. I talk a lot about Christ and write a lot about theology, but the academic rigor seldom translates into a revelatory event or process that I could describe as an epiphany. When I talk about my faith, I do not refer to my experiences in the classroom so much as my experiences at summer camp or on retreat. These experiences of “epiphany” are when Christ’s presence was made known to me through the power of the Holy Spirit in new and unexpected ways. I refer to them as Paul referred to his Damascus road experience (1 Cor. 15:8, Gal 1:15-17) and Peter to his experience on the mountaintop (2 Pet. 1:16-18). Research shows that I am not unique. Camp experiences provide significant and lasting positive life outcomes (1), and intentionally programmed group wilderness experiences are proven to be looked back on as “significant life events” decades later (2). Critics claim that camp builds an artificial and temporary “spiritual high” that quickly fades after the experience, but they are not looking at it in terms of Epiphany. Camp is not about a spiritual high but rather about making Christ known, about providing space for the Holy Spirit to move in new and often unexpected ways. The excitement and positive energy of camp may wear off, but the faith formation leads to lives of discipleship, and the faith experiences serve as markers that can help redirect young people as they navigate their spiritual journey.
For camp directors, the time of eager anticipation has begun. The brochures are out and camper registrations are coming in. In the meantime, potential summer staff members eager to serve God and minister with young people are joining the excitement. This summer, intentional Christian communities will form and transformational faith experiences will happen at camps across the country. Present and future leaders of Christ’s church will discover their specific callings as disciples devoted to new ministries that the rest of us have not even considered. Individuals suffering in difficult life circumstances will hear and experience for the first time in their lives that they are beloved children of God. Families will strengthen their bonds of love and fellowship as faith is passed across generations, from parents or grandparents to their children and from the young campers back to their parents.
In the midst of a bitter winter with no end in sight, now is the time to proclaim with confidence that the cold will not endure! Youth ministers and pastors, now is the time to sign your group up for a summer adventure experience at your local camp, or travel together to hike the mountains or canoe the backcountry. Parents, sign your children up for an outstanding faith-forming experience at one of our Christian camps AND register your entire family for family camp, which will be a cheaper, less stressful, and more positive experience than any other family vacation you can plan. Young adults and those young at heart, hundreds of camps are now looking for staff members like you, and the summer staff experience has the potential to be one of the most influential of your entire life (it certainly was for me)! Believe the good news: Summer is Coming!
Find Lutheran camps at lomnetwork.org.
Find Presbyterian camps at pccca.net.
Find ACA accredited camps at acacamps.org.
1) American Camp Association. “Directions: Youth Development Outcomes of the Camp Experience.” Martinville, IN: Author, 2005. http://www.acacamps.org/sites/default/files/images/research/directions.pdf
2) Brad Daniel. “The Life Significance of a Spiritually Oriented, Outward Bound-Type Wilderness Expedition.” Journal of Experiential Education 29 (2007): 286-389.