The following reflection by Melissa Florer-Bixler, pastor of Raleigh Mennonite Church, was shared following a week serving as camp pastor.
Last Sunday my son was picked for “hymn tag.” Each week in the summer someone stands up during worship and shares a song that has been important to them. We then sing the song together. And when my child was chosen to share his important song it was no surprise that the selection was something he heard around campfire at Friedenswald.
My son wasn’t the only person whose “hymn tag” brought up the importance of camp. The descriptions of different church member’s experiences of faith nurtured at camp reminded me of what I’d seen at Friedenswald as camp pastor a few months before: community, belonging, friendship, and love.
As we sang my child’s camp song I was reminded of the rich memories that were made this summer: popping popcorn in a giant kettle, learning to start a fire from flint, zooming down a giant slip’n’slide, squishing into lake mud.
But I also remembered the stories we shared, the stories of God’s love that led other people to follow after Jesus, people called from their lives who, sensing something different, something holy about this man from Nazareth. One of my favorite parts of sharing these stories with campers was asking the children what they heard in the stories. Together we wondered about what these stories could mean.
I remember the gasps as they discovered that Mary, the mother of God, was not too much older than them. I remember the curiosity of wondering what the angel Gabriel looked like. I remember asking together how we could imagine a world where God’s love ran free. I remember pausing to listen, smell, and look at the good creation given to us, to stop for a few minutes of silence and give thanks.
Woven into silliness, scavenger hunts, friendship bracelets, and Rice Krispies sculptures are the story of a place where we can make space for these questions, open ourselves up for praise, and make a way for God’s love to find its way back to us.
So much of this weaving happens among the camp staff, especially the counselors who hold together the fierce emotions of homesickness and desire for independence that come with being at camp for the first time. If there is a physical manifestation of the love of God, people who our campers want to be like, friends in whom they see God’s love echoing back, I suspect it is in these young people who spend their summer caring for our children.
I’m looking forward to seeing Friedenswald bubble up in our church and in our home, to see the space of love and freedom cultivated at camp continue to flow through our lives into the years to come.