Growing up, I always heard about other kids at church going to church camp in the summer.
They went all by themselves to the campground at least an hour away, for the whole week. Me, I’m pretty sure the first time I went anywhere without my parents was when I was 15 and headed to Chicago with the 4-H’ers. Fun trip, don’t get me wrong. But to me, summer camp was for the whole family.
So I guess I never fell into the whole idea that church camp is for kids. Then my family outgrew Family Camp itself, since it didn’t have anything to bridge the gap between childhood/teenhood and parenthood. Maybe camp is just for kids, after all.
But I missed it. So when my cousin told me about something people called “Big Kids’ Camp,” I figured I’d give it a try.
This camp is held every year at a denominational campground in the woods, along a small river. Lovely setting. There are your typical group cabins filled with bunk beds, your typical pool, your typical church camp tabernacle (which was used for revival meetings way back when). There were about 50 young adults descending upon the campground for this camp, many (likely over half) somewhere in college, a few out and doing adult stuff like working 12-hour shifts as a hospital nurse or teaching third-graders social skills.
I felt rather odd in this group, partly because so many of them were still in the college stage. It hasn’t been so long ago for me, but there still seems to be a qualitative difference between the college student and the moved-out-and-got-a-job young adult.
Another reason I felt slightly out of place was my different denominational affiliation. A third was that I’m not as theologically/socially liberal as most everybody there appeared to be. And a fourth… hmm, what was the fourth? Oh, the fact that I don’t hug everyone every fifteen minutes. Yeah, the hugging was weird.
The way this camp is run, everything is optional and nothing is scheduled. I don’t think even dinner was ever served at a regular time.
The fluidity has its advantages—you feel like you’re in Latin America, when you get to things when you’re good and ready. On the other hand, it made it very difficult to remain in the presence of other people long enough to get to know them. I think I would have preferred that things run on at least a semblance of a schedule, just so I didn’t feel like I had to stick with the group ALL the time or miss out on the one thing I was truly interested in (like, canoeing) because I happened not to be around when the schedule got changed. Napping is easier if I know I won’t miss the good part while I’m asleep.
Something fancifully called D-Cells and usually described as discussion groups was nice in theory, but not real well executed. Chapel was all right, mostly because they can’t hardly mess up worship songs. And something called Fire Bowl was actually pretty cool… a cappella singing around a bonfire, and some of the songs were really old. I recognized a couple of them from the music stash my mom accumulated from her college days.
One of the camp organizers asked me on the last day what, as a newbie, I would change about the camp. I had to think about that for roughly a week before I could come to a conclusion. There was enough good about the camp to make me immensely glad I went, but there was something about it, too, that made me think something was lacking.
Then I remembered. At Family Camp, there was a solid amount of teaching and serious Bible study. Nothing like that at this camp. I guess it’s part of being just a weekend camp, or part of the fluidity—but the deepest spiritual/Christian discussion comprised of this:
“So, what did this movie tell us about faith? I mean, the FBI agents put their faith in this guy and he let them down.”
“I think it’s showing that faith is only as good as what you put your faith in.”
(Brief silence.) “Yeah, that’s good.”
Why is it that most of my college/young-adult-oriented church experiences have been similarly fluffy? It may be called a camp for “big kids” but we’re a little more mature than the fluffiness implies.
But one last thing I did like about the camp: There were other young people, and they weren’t all talking about their babies’ dietary and hygienic habits!