Youth Peace Advocate: Camp Mack

Being the Youth Peace Advocate at Camp Alexander Mack was a very different experience than doing it anywhere else this summer. Camp Mack is my home camp, where I’ve been attending in some form for twenty-three years. Everywhere else I am Nolan, this year’s Youth Peace Advocate. At Camp Mack I am Nolan, the former camper/CIT/councilor/Ministry Summer Service intern who most people have known forever and is the Youth Peace Advocate this year. It was good to be home.

During the week I was primarily working with the Followers and Splash camps. Both were for campers of Jr. High age. The team leaders (the same role as deans at almost every other camp) for Splash camp were my parents, Rosalie and Ryan McBride, which combined with my brother and sister working summer staff meant my entire family was at Camp Mack last week. After about a month of traveling across the country it was good for us all to be together. Additionally, I knew several other staff members of both camps, so it was very different to begin the week knowing so many people.

My daily schedule and responsibilities as the Youth Peace Advocate were also different. While exactly what was expected of me was different at each new place, all the camps before this week had explicitly set aside time for me lead my own sessions with the campers during the week. At Camp Mack both sets of team leaders already had schedules set up, and I was invited to participate and bring what I’ve put together into their plans as much or as little as I wanted. The Splash Camp leaders did explicitly ask me to lead a tour of the Brethren history murals in Quinter-Miller auditorium. Painted in 1949, the murals tell this history of the Church of the Brethren up to then, and include the artist’s prediction up to the 300th anniversary in 2008. A newer mural of more recent Brethren history was created in 2000. The murals have long been one of my favorite parts of camp, and I was excited to get to share about them. Of course, me being a History and Religious Studies major whose era of emphasis is the early modern period, this was kind of a dangerous thing to ask of me. Having recently studied the origins of the Pietist movement which shaped the Brethren movement, I might have spent a little longer than intended on “historical context.” (Hey, to understand the Brethren’s break with the state churches you need to know about the relationship between church and state in the middle ages, which means you need to know about Constantine, and so on.)

I also went boating twice with Splash Camp: kayaking Tuesday in Goshen and sailing Thursday on Lake Michigan. It was a great time, even if I fell into the river kayaking and took at least ten minutes trying to get back in.

The word of the day for the fifth day of camp is “heiwa,” a Japanese word meaning “balance.” The scripture is Mark 12:28-31, the two greatest commandments. I usually start my session for this day by asking the kids to play a game where they stand in a circle with one person being “it.” That person chooses another in the circle whom they attempt to make laugh any way short of touching them. If the laugh, they are now “it.” Afterwards I ask the campers how it was to try and not laugh, what techniques they used, and if they think it would be easier if they practiced this game every day. We then discuss the importance of practice in peacemaking, using the Civil Rights movement as an example, and the Christian life more generally. I play a section from the first episode of the Episcopal Church’s Way of Love podcast (11:38-17:36).[1] It is an interview with the denomination’s Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who recently made headlines around the world for his sermon on love at last year’s royal wedding. Bishop Curry uses the metaphors of firefighter/first responder springing into action or an athlete training for their sport to talk about how practices such as prayer, Bible study, gathering for public worship, and others mold us to be more like Jesus, so we live out his call without having to think about it. It becomes our instinctual reaction. After discussing the main points of the interview, I ask the campers to list the practices we have been following at camp that mold us to be peacemakers and help us live more like Jesus. After we have a good list going, I challenge the campers to consider how they can incorporate these practices into their daily lives.

Redeeming God, We thank you that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and accepted and loved by you not because of anything we have done, but because of your very nature. Grant that through our life we may be drawn closer to you and molded into the image of your son, our savior, Jesus.

In His name we pray,

Amen


[1] https://wayoflove.episcopalchurch.org/episodes/season/1/episode/1

Youth Peace Advocate: Camp Ithiel

Camp Ithiel is by far the most diverse camp, ethnically and religiously, I have visited so far this summer. According to the program director, most of the kids who attend camp at Ithiel are not Brethren. (Not to say none of the campers were Brethren. (However, we did have a whole group from the Miami Haitian Church of the Brethren.) I really appreciated having the chance to work with campers and staff from a variety of different backgrounds and traditions.

The camp is located in the middle of a well-to-do neighborhood in Gotha, Florida (near Orlando). It felt kind of weird to see large mansions just across the lake from the camp!

This week I led stations, part of a daily rotation for family groups. There were four groups and only three stations, so one of the sessions I led each day was extra-large and made of two family groups. This week was their Jr. High camp, and junior higher are a tough crowd to read. Yet on the last day, several campers thanked me for what I’d taught and asked if I was coming back next year. Something must have resonated!

This week I incorporated part of what Camp Brethren Woods developed for Shalom time, and I expect to continue doing so for the rest of the summer. It has been an adventure learning the “ins and outs” of each camp and what makes them each unique. I hope I am able to share other good ideas and traditions between them as I move towards the second half of my summer.

We only had one campfire, but had Vespers in the camp’s chapel  – which is also where the New Covenant Church of the Brethren worships on Sundays. We didn’t sing any of the silly/secular camp songs I usually enjoy leading, but had an excellent team of worship leaders. Two of the staff were charged with leading Vespers, and a couple of the councilors helped as well. I learned on the last day that they are part of a band named “Civilization of Worship” and are working on their first album. Here is a cover they released last Christmas (https://youtu.be/WF02_8LaFl8).

The dean for the week led Morning Watch overlooking the lake every morning. I appreciated getting the word and theme for the day into the campers’ minds at the start of each day. In some of the previous camps, I have not had the chance to see how the campers are engaging with the scriptures outside my sessions. As I had the mornings free this week, I appreciated having that chance to here. The worship leaders were very in-tune with the feeling of worship (orthopathy or “right feeling” if you’re like me and like big, theological words) and often provided underscoring for the reflections and prayers at Vespers.

At the same time we were there, Camp Ithiel rented out one of its buildings to a local Jewish day camp. A couple of campers struggled with sharing our space, but I apricated their presence. Although we did not have any sort of cross-over between the camps, it was good to see and hear them around.

The fourth day of camp is “Agape” and the scripture is John 13:1-17, that gospel’s account of the Last Supper and Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. The intended theme is “God’s Reconciling Love.” This week, Camp Ithiel, I choose to use the “Little Red Riding Hood/Maligned Wolf and M&M game” portions of Brethren Wood’s Shalom session. I felt the mediation lesson was important to share.

Loving God,

In your son Jesus you modeled for us what it means to serve one another and work for peace and reconciliation in this broken world. Grant that we may follow his example to love our neighbors as ourselves and be peacemakers in our own communities.

            In your son’s name we pray,

                        Amen.

Youth Peace Advocate: Camp Brethren Woods

To be honest, I was a bit on edge the first couple of days at Camp Brethren Woods. While I root all my sessions in scripture and avoid getting too political, I am cautious as I learn the context of each new camp. For the first couple of days, I am unsure of how what I say will be received. As I got to know the staff, campers, and camp and after some conversations with my mentor for the summer, Ben Bear, I realized I shouldn’t have worried.

Brethren Woods has a tradition of Shalom Time which they asked me to lead, and has a curriculum for this session they developed with the Fairfield Center, a local organization offering mediation services. Using two retellings of Little Red Riding Hood, one from her perspective and one from the wolf’s perspective, helps to get kids thinking about how people can experience the exact same event and yet interpret it very differently.

I also helped with several other activities around camp, including the water carnival and a geocaching session. One evening, the camp held a World Fair. The camp had three counselors from South Africa and one from the Netherlands. As an alumni for BCA’s Cheltenham program, I volunteered to represent the UK (as well as Japan and India) with teatime.

I was frustrated after the World Fair. One of my favorite parts of camp is campfires, and at Brethren Woods I looked forward to Vespers every evening. While we were cleaning up after teatime, one of the staff noticed the pile of unwashed dishes in the kitchen and asked that while we were cleaning all the cups from the tea that we wash those as well. I was frustrated because washing dishes isn’t in my job description and having to clean meant I would likely miss Vespers. The camp lifeguard called me out on my complaining, challenging me to remember I am serving this summer for the Gospel. It’s not about me – it’s about the campers. I should strive to serve cheerfully, even if I’m not doing something I enjoy. I tried to change my mood, and we finished in time to catch the very end of Vespers. On the way there we caught an amazing view of the sunset, which we wouldn’t have seen if we had left earlier.

The third day of camp’s theme is Shalom, the focus in on responding to conflict, and the scripture is Genesis 27: 1-26, the story of Jacob tricking his father Isaac into giving him the blessing Isaac intended to give to his brother Esau. In my session I take the story further to explain the how they later make up, but I also note that Jacob told his brother he’d meet him in Seir, but then headed to Succoth. We usually end the story when Jacob and Esau make up, but generations later the book of Obadiah records that Edom (the nation descended from Esau) is fighting and oppressing the defendants of Jacob. Jacob and Esau forgave each other but failed to solve their core conflict. Consequently, the conflict transferred to their children and later descendants. When I asked the Sr. High campers if they could think of any similar unresolved generational conflicts in the modern day, one brought up the Civil War. Regardless of individual perspectives about that conflict, it is still very relevant to our country’s conversations and struggles today. I’d suggest that the treatment of Native Americans and the legacy of slavery in the United States also reflects this Biblical narrative.

God of Jacob and Esau,

In the history of the decedents of Jacob and Esau, you show us the cost of failing to address conflict and passing it on to the next generation. Help us to see where these conflicts are present in our own lives, and to be discontent with thinking the past is none of our concern. May we strive to make your peace present in the world.

Amen

Youth Peace Advocate: Camp Blue Diamond

Each of the camps I have visited so far this summer have felt at once familiar and new. Located in the midst of a state forest, I was there for Camp Blue Diamond’s first full week of camp. Working with junior (elementary age) and junior high camp was a definite change of pace from senior high the week before. I got to lead sessions with each cabin group or unit, which combined with the different age groups meant I needed to make some changes and revisions to the outlines I had drafted the previous week and the way I presented my material. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my time in Pennsylvania.

 This week I really began to feel settled in as the Youth Peace Advocate. While changes were made and plans improved, I had a solid foundation to work from with what I developed in Camp Colorado. Because there were two camps there while I was, I only had two individual sessions with each cabin group.

Because each cabin group scheduled their time with me based on what fit best with their larger schedule for the week, I did have some lopsided days. Wednesday was also hike day, and I joined the Jr. High group taking Tussey Trail. I was warned it was the hardest, but figured after last week’s hike through the Colorado mountains I would be fine. That was a mistake. On the other hand, the view was amazing, and I got a chance to share some of my favorite camp songs with campers on the way down. (Their counselors were so happy I taught the kids “Cheese” and “The Green Grass Grew All Around.”) Another highlight was homemade ice-cream with one of the Junior camp groups.

The Sunday before camp started, I attended Stone Church of the Brethren on Juniata College’s campus, and got to see Connor Ladd, a friend and fellow Ministry Summer Service intern. Connor and I attended Camp Mack together, and he is a current student at Manchester University, where I just graduated from. We were also both involved with ROBOT (Radically Obedient Brethren Outreach Team), a group of Brethren students at Manchester students who lead worship at local congregations. I had met Ben Lattimer, one of the congregation’s pastors and Connor’s mentors for the summer together with his wife Cindy, during Ministry Summer Service orientation. It was good to see Connor and Ben again! It was my first-time visiting Juniata’s campus, and I was glad to see another Brethren school.

The camp curriculum’s theme for the first full day of camp is “Ubuntu,” a South African word that Archbishop Desmond Tutu defines it as “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours… [A] person is a person through other persons… It is not, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Rather, I am human because I belong. I participate. I share.”[1] The scripture passage of the day is 1 Corinthians 12:1–27, Paul’s description of the church as the body of Christ made of many different members. In the camps we have been using this day to build our camp community for the week.

In the session I have run these first two weeks after meditating on a portion of the scripture passage, I ask the group to consider the pros and cons of four different metaphors for community. I ask them to think of community as: a melting pot, where those who enter in melt into and conform to the dominant group; a boiling gumbo, where each person keeps their own individuality and contributes to a greater whole although there is tension and conflict; a seven-layer salad, where the individuals keep their identity and contribute but there is a hierarchy where some are valued over others; and a kaleidoscope, a unified whole where differences are valued and no part is more important than any other. While each metaphor has limits, I have been intending to lead the conversation to the kaleidoscope as the best model but have been surprised by the number of times so far when the campers have suggested the gumbo or melting pot as the best. What do you think? The session ends the campers making a web of yarn, telling each other something they appreciate about and/or how they see God in each other.

Loving God,

            In the scriptures it says you gather your children under your wing like a hen gathers her chicks. Gather us together into one community that we may come to know, love, and serve each other following the example of Jesus, in whose name we pray,

Amen.


[1]  Desmond Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 196, 197.

Worthwhile sacrifices

LENT_real_rest_FRONTPAGE


Matthew 5:21-26

 

Prayer for the day:
Reconciling God, help me be a peacemaker. Amen

Question for reflection:
“Make peace.” “Be reconciled.” “Make right what is wrong.” Making the first move toward peace is not always easy, but it is the way to move beyond the past into the future. As theologian Louis B. Smedes wrote, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” When have you initiated reconciliation? How did you feel as you began? How did you feel afterward?

~ Kim Ebersole, Director of Family Life and Older Adult Ministries

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Lenten Devotional written by Duane Grady, pastor of Cedar Lake Church of the Brethren (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Duane’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.