I hesitate to write this post because I know that my words (even my very best words) will fall short of adequately describing the full impact and significance of Worship Arts Camp 2019. Nevertheless, here goes...
I spent the last week in the heart of the Michaux State Forest at Camp Penn. Camp Penn is one of a few United Methodist Church Camps in the Susquehanna Conference of the UMC. It is a beautiful place that is home to many varied forms of life; yes the biodiversity in this part of PA is incredible! Camp Penn is also directly across the street from an intersection with the Appalachian Trail; what an opportunity for the campers!
Mike (one of my fellow Camp Counselors) describes Camp Penn as "a thin space," and the other Camp Counselors agree. There is something about Camp Penn that makes it easier to be attentive to God; if there is a veil between heaven and earth the veil feels incredibly thin here. There is something special and sacred about Camp Penn that facilitates an openness to the presence and movement of the Spirit of God.
Is it creation's praise? With Such great biodiversity campers and staff find themselves surrounded by and immersed in all creation's great symphony of unending praise as all things praise God by being their authentic selves; tree frogs by singing by the pool, pine trees by stretching their branches over the commons where the children like to play, five-lined skinks by warming their bodies on the rocks nearby the cottages, and fireflies by lighting up the night. Is it creation's praise?
Or is it the fact that this place has been saturated by many thousands of prayers over the years? After all, generations of campers have come to experience and respond to the love of God in Jesus. Over the course of five days at Worship Camp, campers and counselors prayed together a minimum of about seven times each day; a total of about 35 communal prayers lifted during the week. Multiply that by 52 weeks in a year and that's abut 1800 prayers per year. Multiply that by the 73 years that Camp Penn has been a Church Camp and you come up with a total of about 132,000 prayers, and that's not to mention the many personal moments of prayer engaged in by the thousands of campers, counselors, and staff who have had the joy of experiencing church at Camp Penn. My point is, Camp Penn is SATURATED in prayer. Is that the reason why it feels like a thin space?
Is it creation's praise of God? Is it all of the prayers over the years? Is it simply a place chosen by God for this special purpose or is it something else or is it all of these variables rolled into one that make Camp Penn the holy space that it is?
I look forward to Worship Arts Camp at Camp Penn each year because each year I feel like I get to bear witness to an expression of church at its finest!
We are all gathered for the common purpose of worshiping God as we thank God for the love we have experienced in Jesus. Our days are saturated in prayer. With all of that biodiversity, we are surrounded by and immersed in an amazing chorus of praise; this always leaves me feeling inspired! We live as a community whose values are faith, hope, and love; that sounds like the Kingdom of God to me. We serve each other whether its holding a door open for the next person, taking turns to dish out the daily meals, or make sure the campers get their needed medications and such. Heartfelt conversations are had in which Campers and Counselors alike grow more deeply in love with Jesus. The love, peace, and sense of belonging in Jesus' name that is experienced by me every year for the week I get to serve as a Camp Counselor at Worship Arts Camp gives me hope for the church and it gives me hope for God's big picture vision of peace among people and peace between people and everything else that has life, because in a microcosmic way, we live it out there.
I'm an experience oriented individual but if I am to look at the numbers ever so briefly I have even more of a reason to appreciate my time at Church Camp.
In comparison to my regular rhythm serving the local church, at Camp I have five times more conversations with others that are of a spiritual nature as campers seek to discover how God is at work in their lives. At camp I have 10 times more experiences of community worship, as community worship experiences are held at the beginning and end of each day and there is at least one spiritual touch point in the middle of the day. At Camp I lead 6 times more small group studies, as there is at least one Bible study for the campers each day. At Camp my service ministry participation jumps 20 times higher than in a normal week because there are so many ways that I, the other counselors, and the campers can extend ourselves in service to each other every day.
In short, due to the communal living conditions during the week I feel like a more productive disciple of Jesus and pastor.
I believe that whether we're talking about Worship Arts Camp or another camp, and whether we are talking about Camp Penn, Wesley Forest, or another Church Camp location...church at its finest often finds expression in these places that have been set apart for this sacred purpose.
With my own eyes, I have seen a beautifully creative, kind hearted 13 year old young woman who struggles with depression and thoughts of suicide find the space of belonging that she needed through the community of campers, counselors, and staff who became with and for each other the beloved community of disciples.
With my own eyes, I have seen another young woman who is artistic and kind-hearted who struggles with body image and self-worth receive from her friends affirmations of her beauty and priceless worth in the eyes of God as each became for the other an expression of the beloved community of disciples.
With my own eyes, I have seen a highly intelligent, empathetic and caring 14 year old young man who struggles to fit in at school discover a community in which he was valued and loved for the gift of God that he is; again, because campers, counselors, and staff became with and for each other the beloved community of disciples.
With my own eyes, I have seen this beloved community of disciples provide the freedom for another very gifted young man (whom I feel will make a good Camp Counselor in a few years) to share how he has been wrestling with faith and doubt over some pretty big questions; and that while he may continue to wrestle with his faith in months to come, he has surely experienced the love of God in and through this beloved community of disciples at Camp.
We hiked the Appalachian Trail, we tromped through some streams, we prayed, we sang, we acted, we laughed, we cried, we expressed our God-given creativity, and we loved each other as Jesus has loved us. At Camp, we experienced the peace of God that surpasses all understanding and the love of God though it is too great to understand completely.
I want to bring this to a close with two thoughts:
First, that places like Camp Penn are special places that are worth continual investment by the church.
Second, that the beloved community of disciples does not have to be an experience that is limited to camp.
How will you work with the people who live near you to be an expression of the beloved community of disciples in your neck of the woods?