The American Camp Association will give you many reasons why your child should attend camp — developing independence, experiencing the outdoors, relaxing, getting unplugged and becoming better at making and keeping friends (these five particular reasons are listed on their website, acacamps.org.)
I agree with every single one of them, but think this list only begins to scratch the surface when it comes to faith-based camps.
This week we sent my oldest off to camp by herself for the first time. Of course, in anticipation, my husband and I had both been telling her about all of the fun things she could expect — canoeing, hiking, games, swimming, bunk beds, crafts, etc. But I realized one very important aspect we’d left out of our conversations when she saw “bible” on the packing list and asked with surprise:
“Why do I need my bible?!”
Yikes! This was the moment I realized that of all the wonderful camp stories I’d shared with her, I had left out the most important thing I had received in all my years of camp — a safe space for my faith to play out in new ways.
Camp does teach independence. It teaches children and teens to be adventurous and responsible. However, camp also offers us the perfect recipe for spiritual growth: intimate community with others, examining the stories of our traditions free from distractions of technology, enjoying the beauty of God’s creation and helping you to see and understand how God is at work in the lives of strangers who quickly become friends.
In my high school years I remember returning from camp with a changed outlook on my classmates.
At camp, the social hierarchy of the teenage world simply did not exist. In this cocoon of security, I’d learned from my bunkmates that everyone has a story, from the most popular kid in the school to the hurting social outcast. Hearing about and understanding the lives of my camp friends gave me a more open heart to hear and understand my classmates once the school year began again.
My camp friends who also attended the same high school as me ultimately became my closest allies in those years. We had walked upon holy ground together, seen each other without our regular daily armor of fashionable clothes, make up and attitudes.
We had also read Scripture together, talked about our faith struggles, prayed for one another and affirmed each others’ gifts. As the inevitable hardships of teen life unfolded, these were the friends I knew would love me no matter what.
Oh, to be able to go to camp again! I would so gladly pack a bag right now and leave my to-do lists behind for a week away, growing my faith in a new way with others on the same journey.
“Why do I need my bible?” my daughter asked.
“You’ll understand later.” I told her. Maybe a lot later, but one day, she will understand.
Rev. Kathy Wolf Reed serves as co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Auburn. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Journal for Preachers, The Christian Century, and Presbyterians Today.