Have you noticed the breeze lately? Extra rustling among the leaves, extra cooling across your summer skin? The calendar may try to explain this delightful phenomenon by telling you autumn is on the way, but the truth is this: All of Camp Friedenswald – its people, the woods, its non-human inhabitants – is breathing a sigh so deeply satisfied it’s twisting maple leaves in Vermont, tickling mountain goat chins in Montana, giving alligators goosebumps in the Everglades, and making Joshua trees whisper. It’s hard to believe that just a little over two months ago we introduced the summer staff. Now – 700 songs, 440 campers, 700 BBQ chicken meals, 70 swamp hikes, hundreds of trips down the slip n’ slide, and about a million popcorn kernels later* – camp staff got to take a much-deserved week-long break before gearing up for fall programs.
Another successful summer season in the books! Upon hearing reflections from year-round and summer staff regarding their various experiences over these past intense weeks, it’s clear once again that everyone at Camp is blessed to have the opportunity to touch so many lives. This is something we’ve mentioned before, but because it produces such continuous enrichment and growth, it bears repeating. Enabling and encouraging growth in others, we experience growth ourselves; a week to retreat and recharge provides space to fully realize just how much happened in such a relatively short period of time. So, beyond the BBQ chicken dinners, slip n’ slide, daily songs, games of Capture the Flag, and popcorn campfires, what from this summer will stay with Camp staff into the future, one small tessera set into the continuously evolving mosaic that is life-in-progress? We asked, and Camp staff graciously took the time to reflect and answer.
Witnessing strength, compassion, and understanding among campers is something that several summer staff mentioned as being an especially meaningful part of their summer camp experience. In the words of one of our summer staff members, “Spending a summer watching campers grow towards lives that are fuller, [we are] reminded of the great beauty and profound meaning that growth provides.” Another summer staff member referenced devotions during high school week as a memorable and impressive example of tolerance. As this staff member recalled, the group discussed challenging, potentially polarizing topics like terror, school shootings, and immigration without breaking into heated arguments – despite the presence of conflicting perspectives and the limited amount of time many of the campers had known each other.
It’s fulfilling to see Camp’s core values embraced and demonstrated among camp guests; in the above case, for example, we find the core values of peace, hospitality, and community in the campers’ peaceful interactions, earnest love for the world and for each other, and preservation of a hospitable, welcoming atmosphere. It’s also incredibly meaningful to be part of an organization that nurtures and promotes such important practices. For Program Director Naomi Leary, witnessing and being a part of the transformation one camper underwent within this comfortable, nurturing community is a favorite and especially touching summer memory. Similarly, according to a summer staff member, the special ability to “bring people together from far and near and provide opportunities for genuine interaction and relationship” – to create an incubating space for growth in individuals and community – is one of Camp’s greatest gifts.
Community: A complex concept that at its most basic involves togetherness. Encouraging community through facilitating relationships was consistently mentioned as something staff will remember from the 2018 summer season. Community creates comfort for one summer staff member, who shared the following:
“I have always found comfort here at Friedenswald and certainly have felt that again this summer. It has also been very meaningful to see others find their own comfort throughout the summer. From youth campers willing to lend a hand, to younger campers getting excited about friendship bracelets and singing at Quest, to Junior High campers caring deeply for one another, I have seen love extended in a peaceful way countless times this summer.”
Yet another summer staff member found community in reflecting on this summer’s theme, “Followers of the Way.” While we all have our own personal journeys, the Way is a common path that we follow together – or where we at least encounter each other frequently, and therefore have ample opportunity to show support for our fellow travelers. This staff member was especially grateful to experience that support first-hand:
“The support that I have received from year-round staff, summer staff and even volunteers has been overwhelming and the constant affirmations are what make this journey more doable. […] As a ‘follower of the way’ with support from others on ‘the way’, I have been able to see the gift of people and the comfort and joy that they can bring.”
And for year-round staff member and Program Coordinator Kevin Leary, this past summer effectively reaffirmed and bolstered his commitment to community in his professional journey. He wrote,
“I am at my most fulfilled when I am working with others toward a common goal, and also when I am helping others reach their fullest potential. I think that my experiences this summer only strengthened my goals of using camp to develop leaders in the church, and making camp a place where all people are celebrated and can feel at home.”
In any situation there is opportunity to serve, to work for a greater good through mindful interactions, to do what we can to create a positive impact with our flicker of a life. As a place intended for gathering, at Camp we have the opportunity to serve an exceptional number of people. How many relationships does a summer at Camp hold? Well, given summer staffer Luke Rush’s estimate that he met 483 new people, and given the possibility that there were at least 25 staff members forming an approximately equal number of relationships, one summer at Camp holds in its arms – its woodsy, lakey, swampy, musical, delicious, spiritual, joyous arms – at least 12,000 relationships.
How amazing that this one tiny Friedenswald-summer-camp tessera stands to impact the entire picture for so many individuals! Never the finishing piece, but a detail along the way that unquestionably shapes the emerging image. Camp is a valuable resource for a long list of reasons, but as a welcoming community where growth is nurtured and supported, it is priceless. In the spirit of celebrating this gift, we’ll leave you with the beautiful words of one last summer staff member for whom this summer at Camp was, in his words, a “diving board”: At Friedenswald we have opportunity to “breathe in the air in the peaceful woods and truly become ready for anything and everything we have next on our plate. It can be and should be a place of and for transition. But those places are sometimes the most sacred of all.”
*These numbers aren’t an exaggeration! But they are, alas, rough estimates only.