We were created to be connected. It is right there in the second creation story, when God said human disconnection is NOT GOOD. We are hardwired to connect, to connect to God, to the natural world and to one another. Camp is perfectly designed to nurture these connections.
“The Lord God said, ‘It’s not good that the human is alone.“Genesis 2:18 CEB
In the introduction to his book faith formation in a secular age, Andrew Root describes a conversation with church leaders: “we were discussing faith as if it were only a natural and social reality. We talked about faith absent any language of transcendence or divine action. Here we were talking about ‘faith,’ and yet we had made no assertions about faith having anything to do with a realm beyond us, with a God who comes to us in death and resurrection, Spirit and transformation.” This is a conversation many ministry leaders have had. Root’s book and the books that follow (the pastor in a secular age, the congregation in a secular age) go on to describe the mindset of western culture, of secularity, that does not expect transcendence.
Abraham Maslow described transcendence as “the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature and to the cosmos.” We don’t expect to significantly or regularly connect to something greater than ourselves or the (apparently) rational world. And when we do connect to something beyond ourselves, the experience is seen as unusual at best, or even regarded with suspicion.
Connection to God
The camp setting offers an opportunity to expect transcendence. We expect God to show up. We wonder at the stars in the night sky and marvel at the vastness of the universe, and the God who created it. We build friendships and encounter someone different than ourselves and make real human connection. We feel the movement of the Holy Spirit in the midst of worship and play. The thing about transcendent experiences however, is that we cannot engineer them; we can only point them out when they happen.
I find that many people have had transcendent experiences – they might call them miracles or “God moments.” But people are often reluctant to name them because society as a whole is skeptical of such experiences, and even people of deep faith operate within the secular society that doesn’t expect transcendence.
Effective Camps are faith centered – we don’t just do a Bible study and then operate the rest of the day as if the scripture we just studied doesn’t have “anything to do with a realm beyond us,” to quote Root’s introduction again. Camp staff should be trained to be on the lookout for God at work, to offer testimony of their moments of transcendence, and to help campers articulate how God is at work in their lives. Such moments connect us to the Holy Trinity, but transcendent moments also connect us to the world God created, and the people around us.
Connection to Nature
For some of our guests at camp, it may be easier to engage transcendence through encounter with creation. We can see beauty in the world, complexity in creatures and habitats, and discover our place in this world through experiences of awe and wonder. I remember standing at a bend in a path on a mountain, overlooking a valley and a mountain lake, when our leader quoted Psalm 8 – “O, Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” I was having a transcendent moment (although I didn’t have that language at the time) of awe; my ministry director explicitly brought scripture into conversation with the experience. It was a formative moment in my own faith. I’d always felt an affinity for remote outdoor spaces, along with a sense of my own place in the cosmos. Now, this connectedness to nature was linked to the many people of faith who had come before me and to the God who created the spaces that speak to my soul.
Effective Camps are Unplugged – we intentionally take campers and guests out of their every day environments and plug them into an environment that is more outdoors and less on-line than they typically are. We disrupt their patterns to provide opportunities to encounter the natural world (and God and others) in new ways. When we are outside our comfort zone, growth happens.
People who spend time in nature are more likely to have social wellbeing. Creating connection to the rest of creation enhances our relatedness to one another. Or as the essaying Ross Gay writes, “a garden… shows us that no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you earn or stash or hoard or bunker up… you will never be self-sufficient or independent. Because nothing living is.” Connection to creation helps us understand our connectedness to everything.
Connection to others
Effective Camps are relational – As Christians, we worship a God who is community. Father – Son – Spirit. We were created to care for one another. With the gift of others, we get to engage practices like love, forgiveness, empathy, caregiving, and generosity. And I hope you’ve seen already that connectedness isn’t just about cultivating healthy human relationships. Connectedness is about a web of relationships that engage humans to get outside of ourselves, encounter others, encounter nature, and encounter God.
Camps are ideally suited to be playgrounds where campers can expect to encounter God, creation, and others. And if we steward these encounters well, they will take back into their day-to-day lives the expectation that God shows up, that we are a part of the natural world, and that human relationships are worthy investments of our time and emotional energy.