The question was simple, “What are you telling your friends about summer camp? I am still scratching my head at the 8th grade girl’s answer: “It is absolutely the only thing in the world that is both Swaggy Approved and Bieberlicious.”
I am writing to you both as a parent of teenagers, and as someone who is a little fuzzy on what it means to be, “Absolutely Swaggy Approved” and/or “Bieberlicious.” I am writing to share with you the way Chapel Rock’s summer Youth Camp experience has profoundly affected my children’s faith and lives.
Granted, as the diocesan youth director and one of the architects of our youth camping and leadership development system, I am a bit of an insider. But, anyone who has had children can tell you that the best way to make your kids not want to do something is to force them to do it. We live at Chapel Rock for three weeks during the summer, so my kids had less choice to be at summer camp than they did to eat vegetables or do their homework. On top of that, we came from a ministry that has “resorts” for youth, gives campers a money back guarantee, and has more students involved than there are Episcopalians. To say that my kids had a few reasons not to like camp is an understatement. So how did that work out?
Ellie, my college freshman daughter sent in her camp counselor application this week saying, “My one priority this summer is to be a counselor at Chapel Rock. Chapel Rock was the best thing about high school, so I am going to make sure that I give others the gift of Jesus that was given to me.” (I should probably say that my daughter had a pretty good high school experience: good friends, was student body president, got good grades. Yet it is Chapel Rock that was “the best thing about high school” for her.)
My son is a typical busy high school kid. He has some fairly intense college goals that involve extra summer classes and summer sailing and scuba programs. When I suggested that maybe this year he might miss camp he said, “Well, that just isn’t an option, Dad. Chapel Rock is my grounding for the coming year. The friendships, the worship, the teaching, the counselors…I come back in a Christ-focused space, an others centered space. Experiencing God at Chapel Rock is what makes me who I am, Dad.”
As a parent, I cannot imagine anything better than to hear that my children are having transformative experiences with God…that they are having them in our Church’s camp is icing on the cake. Our camp is forming my children in a depth of discipleship that will bless them for their entire lives. Camp gives kids a healthy peer group, adult models of the Christian life, and “God-experiences” communicated not just in sacramental worship, but through a sacramental view of life. They do all of this while strengthening the affiliation bond with our “tribe.”
Here is the short version of how it works: Our church’s leaders take (rather than send) students from our church. Our camp leaders – a multi-ethnic, multi-denominational group – the envy of other camps, are models of Christian commitment. Students engage with God in Scripturally based talks, small group discussions, and relevant sacramental and experiential worship. They play and have good, clean, old school fun.
You can imagine how grateful I am for the effect Chapel Rock has had in my children’s lives. They now actively worship God. They now actively serve others. They live lives that respond in gratitude to God’s love, both in what they do and don’t do. If the measure of faith is whether it changes the decisions someone makes, then camp has been a slam-dunk for the other 11½ months of the year.
Chapel Rock Youth Camp is ground zero for changed lives. I have seen a lot of camping in my 30 years of youth ministry, but I have never seen anything with a program like ours. And I have never seen anything that has the disciple-forming impact ours has. For us camp is batting 1000! My reason for writing is simple: As a parent, I am asking you to sign your kid up for youth camp this summer. It is a week that will count. Absolutely.
By the way, I asked the girl what being “absolutely Swaggy Approved and Bieberlicious” means. She said, “It means Chapel Rock is really great and you should come, Duh!”
“The Chapel Rock experience is a picture of what life should be like. We were made to live in community, be vulnerable, have fun, and love Jesus. Camp is the perfect opportunity to do all of those things and grow into who we were made to be.” – Bre Krall, counselor