Connections are important. Life depends on them. The nature of matter, from the subatomic to the cosmic, depends on them. Our brains depend on them. We’ll run with that example because I think brains are fascinating. You have probably heard about neurons and the important connections between them. As we gain experience doing certain things, specific connections are strengthened and those things become easier for our brain to do. That is why practice works. The catch phrase for this is, “neurons that fire together wire together.” What is most fascinating to me is that the connections are not limited to neurons or confined inside our skulls. The field of Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) offers insight into how our minds are connected to and dependent on other minds. The relationships that we form actually change the physical makeup of our brains. The human brain does not exist on its own. It must be connected through relationship with other minds in order to function. Those with whom we choose to be in relationship and those who reach out relationally to us affect who we are at a biological and chemical level. Whoa!
God created humans for connection. We exist in relationship to one another as God exists in relationship with God’s self in Trinity and reaches out to humanity in relationship. We cannot be Christians on our own and apart from Christian community. To do so would be to deny who we are as human beings and who Christ calls us to be. In the Gospel of John, Christ prays that we might be one (John 17:20-23). He gives a vision of us connected to each other and to him as branches are grafted on to a vine. He also commands us to love one another like he has loved us. That’s intents (sorry, camp joke).
Camp is all about connection. We connect people to each other. We connect people to creation. We connect people to God. These connections affect who these people are and understand themselves to be.
Sometimes, camps operate as if they had enough connections within their own boundaries. When people behave this way, we call them narcissists or sociopaths. When groups of people behave this way, we call them cults or secret societies. The Church does not behave this way. Camps cannot operate this way. Individual camps must be connected to ministries outside of their boundaries, especially congregations. Failure to do so is akin to the eye saying to the hand, “I have no need of you” (1 Cor. 12:21).
Camps also need connection with one another. The simple truth is that we are stronger together. We need one another. Camping professionals have realized this throughout the history of camping, and that is why we have strong organizations like the American Camp Association (ACA) and the Christian Camp and Conference Association (CCCA).
Denominational lines have fractured the Christian church and emphasized disunity. I grew up Lutheran, and I know that Lutherans LOVE being Lutheran. It is wonderful to have a distinctive voice, but this voice is only valuable if it is in conversation with others. Experience tells me that many Lutherans prefer to talk to themselves. The momentum of the 20thcentury ecumenical movement seems to have lost steam and even reversed course. Ecumenism is not dead and denominational boundaries are not insurmountable. Indeed, these boundaries must continually be broken down, even as some seek to reinforce them. Camp is a place where ecumenism continues to thrive, and this is one area in which outdoor ministry can be a catalyst for the larger Church.
There is a group of dedicated individuals nurturing deeper connections among Christian outdoor ministries. They have appropriately called themselves Outdoor Ministries Connection (OMC), and they intentionally reach across denominational lines. Outdoor Ministries Connection is a way for my own tribe, represented by Lutheran Outdoor Ministries, to share in genuine conversation and collaboration with other outdoor ministry organizations. Through this process, we ourselves grow and develop, as the brain does in relation to others, as the Body of Christ does in relationship with its members.
I recently returned from a gathering of the Outdoor Ministries Connection group that brought together people from outdoor ministry organizations representing eight different denominations. There was a lot of energy in this group as we worshiped together, enjoyed Christian fellowship, and discussed ways to connect. Some of the methods of collaboration include training and coaching outdoor ministry professionals, expanding the research of Christian outdoor ministries, and more effectively spreading the word about Christian camping among congregations and families. The group also developed a vision for a large-scale gathering of outdoor ministry professionals in November 2019. I am excited about the work this group is doing, and I pray that it continues to bear fruit.
Individual camps cannot be insular and neither can denominational bodies. We are stronger together, and our ministry is more effective when we collaborate. We don’t want to be sociopaths. We want to be the Church.