What would the Shrine Mont Camp blog be without the perspective of Shrine Mont campers? It wouldn’t be a Shrine Mont blog! It has taken me several weeks after leaving the mountain to get back to you. My excuse? The life of a parish priest –back to school, back to church planning, restarting programs, creating new projects, Sunday school meeting, committees forming, and ensuring that things start flow smoothly – mine is not an excuse, just a reality! I am sure our campers and many Shrine Mont staffers are back to their regular routines too! Hopefully, the taste and feel of the mountain is still with them as it is with me.
I saved the best for last though! I spoke with more than twenty campers individually and in groups to see and hear how a few days at Shrine Mont can change a life or at least make a difference in their lives for those precious days at camp.
My questions to the campers for this final blog post was what they liked most and least of their camp week. These are the camper’s insights:
“This is a tight knit community, and everyone belongs.”
“Camp is like family away form home. I love hiking and camping.”
“This is a place to get away from other problems and just have fun. I camped out, and played cards. The upper pavilion dance? It rocked!”
“I wish it hadn’t rained so much.”
“Camp is too short”. I asked, “How long was your camp?” Answer: “Ten days, I wish it were a full two weeks.”
“Food is really good here. My favorite is the happy meal. I love the meat loaf and mac!”
“The counselors.” Different kids named their favorite counselors: “Alice”, “Grace”, “Cole”, “Conor”, “Ted”, “Luke”, “Aryan”
“My counselor is fun and smart.”
Grace walks with James and James gave a big smile when I asked him how much he liked Gracie!
“Food! The BBQ is awesome! My next favorite thing is walkie talkie tag.”
“We do sports, and everyone can play.”
“I definitely don’t like to jog when it rains.”
“Food: all the bacon and eggs I want to eat and the taco salad – oh my God!”
You may or may not know that some Shrine Mont campers are non-verbal. When I asked them how much they liked camp, how much they liked their counselors, and what about the food – wow! I wish I had taken pictures! The joy, the light, the love. I am transformed.
Why is Shrine Mont special? You’ve heard it from the campers! You’ve heard it from the staff, you’ve heard it from the counselors. You are hearing it from me. The mountain changes lives. Life on the mountain is about the love of Christ radiating from so many people every which way you turn. We live in a world that is, well, not always that way. Love abounds on the mountain. Jesus is on that mountain. Yes, it could get intense and loud at times for someone who is not a teenager 😊, but that is what is expected from a teen on a hot (or rainy) summer day at camp! Our mountain, Shrine Mont, is a sacred mountain, like the ones in the Bible. God bless the ministry of Shrine Mont and all the lives that are touched by the mountain and the people on it!
Even on a muggy, rainy summer day, a day at Shrine Mont is better than any other place you can be! Have a great year everyone, God bless you! See you at Camp!
The Rev. Daniel Vélez Rivera blogged during the Saint Elizabeth´s Camp, Saint George´s III Camp, and the Explorer´s II Camp. He is the Vicar of Saint Gabriel´s ~ San Gabriel Episcopal Church in Leesburg, VA.
What makes MAD Camp so special from an outsider’s perspective.
I was fortunate enough to spend time with the Music and Drama Camp at Shrine Mont during their last two days of camp. Despite the deluge, the first day was filled with smiles and LOTS of songs. I arrived during the Final Show rehearsal at the Happy Pavilion and was right away moved by their professionalism and talent.
I spoke to most of the MAD campers during a free time period and learned more about the camp as a whole.
I was particularly moved while speaking to the three seniors, Lynn, Leah, and Morgan. They would be turning 18 in the following year and were aging out of being campers. (Can you imagine loving a place so much you go until you actually have to age out to leave?) I asked them how they felt about the end of their time as campers. Leah, who spent eight summers at MAD camp, said it was really bittersweet. After a hectic year of taking the SAT, studying for her drivers test, and touring colleges she was excited for the break MAD camp had always provided her. Lynn, who was wrapping up her seventh summer, agreed. She said that her fellow campers were more of a family to her – and that she hoped to return one day as a staff member. Lynn is not alone as 2/3 of the staff at Shrine Mont is made up of former campers.
Summer camp is an invaluable experience. It gives young adults a range of tools to promote physical and mental wellness while building relationships that last a lifetime. Add the element of Music and Drama that MAD Camp has for kids with a passion for the arts and it makes for a very unique and emotive experience. It is such a special experience that 90% of these campers are returning! These folks are likely to spend many consecutive summers together preforming, laughing, and growing during the most formative years of their lives. When asked about mixing the element of camping out in the mountains with theatre and drama, Hunter, who is spending their fifth summer at MAD camp replied “What’s summer camp without a musical?!”.
Of all the people I spoke with as a Shrine Mont Blogger, I spent the most time with Nurse Lynn Gray. It happened that way because she is a loving, awesome committed professional who’s call to healing is a vocation instead of job, and because I visited her at the bustling lower infirmary, one of the two Shrine Mont infirmaries. Your image of an infirmary may be a quiet place of healing, and it is for those who are resting in one of the rooms, but her office is a hotspot of activity! It has two entrances and people are moving through it constantly seeking her medical advice, life advice, a hug, a band aid, seeking a remedy, or any other medical, spiritual or personal thing you can think of!
Nurse Lynn has been the Camp nurse for fourteen seasons, and this year she arrived in mid-June and will leave mid-August, having only had three days off. Prior to being the Camp nurse, Lynn was a hospice nurse for over twenty years, then she was a school nurse, and while she was still a school nurse, she became the Camp Nurse at the mountain and has been here ever since. She is one of two staff nurses, and about four years ago she invited her sister Nurse Pam to join the staff! Shrine Mont IS a family and the nursing staff truly reflect that!!
Nurse Lynn is married to the Rev. Michael Gray, a parish priest who truly understands her vocational call as much as she understands his! While on the mountain, Fr. Michael visits her from their home in Culpeper. So cool! Nurse Lynn raised seven children and she has ten grandchildren, so she certainly has seen a lot in this life and she has tended to most situations that anyone here might encounter! There are two infirmaries at Shrine Mont, Nurse Lynn works at the upper infirmary where there seems to be a revolving door for campers and staff to go in and out. It is obvious that she loves giving love, healing the infirm, and comforting the parents and staff who are in her care. Her work is more than nursing though, in the short amount of time I was there, several people stopped in for advice, to get help in finding lost items, and to receive emotional support in addition to the camper and volunteer in beds!
Nurse Lynn commented that the teen volunteers at camp have huge responsibilities that are both physical and emotional, but the volunteers and staff who work with the campers who live with disabilities. There are times when the volunteers get overwhelmed and come to her and to her infirmary for respite and loving attention. Her hospice care training is probably used daily here as she cares for the sick and for their caregivers too! The night before I visited her she had started her day at 6:00 a.m. and ended her work at 1:30a.m. (the next day)! There she was diligently at her desk on the phone and on the walkie talkie when I came to visit early next morning. Complaints from her? None; because she loves healing and helping people on this mountain!
I felt the depth of Nurse Lynn in our thirty-minute time together; she is a profound, grounded spiritual being with tentacles of love and healing for anyone that comes to her. She reminded me of Jesus and the disciples who, when exhausted still healed the people of God – there is no rest for the weary. She said that she will give herself two days in bed when she gets home, she looks forward to that time of rest!
Nurse Lynn hopes to recruit more nurses to work at camp, either for weekends, a one-week session, two-week session, or for the entire summer session. Shrine Mont Camp seeks a committed loving nurse who understands this intensive 7X24 ministry, and someone who will love the campers, the staff, and the mountain as much as she does.
The Rev. Daniel Vélez-Rivera, Camp Blogger
Holy Moly, there are almost two hundred campers and staff here at Shrine Mont Camp this week!! This is Fr. Daniel Vélez, Vicar of St. Gabriel´s ~ San Gabriel in Leesburg and the Shrine Mont blogger for Camp!
You know how it feels when you go to a party and you don’t know anyone? You may feel like an outsider and a tinge lonely until someone engages you in conversation. Well, I was feeling that way for the first hour or so after arriving because there are so many campers and I don’t know any of them except for four volunteers: Liam, Eva, Adrik, and LJ. Of course I also know the magnificent Paris Ball.
After dinner the campers, volunteers, my friend and parishioner Liam and I went to the Cathedral of the Transfiguration for an All Camp Worship. Whoa! Two hundred campers glorifying God with voice and body!! If you love worshiping at the Cathedral you MUST see what it’s like with these many Christian kids rocking the house in joyful praise! I sat at an empty bench to the side and close to the front as people gathered hoping that someone would sit down with me. Most campers might feel awkward sitting next to the stranger among them, but as the crowd started pouring in, four people sat next to me. The young lady to my right introduced herself and said she was with St. George’s camp. She was having a grand old time, especially as the cool praise songs were sung. At one point, as we sang and moved to the rhythm of Light the Fire she reached out and held my hand. Then as we sang the line that says, “wrap your arms around me”, and everyone put an arm on their neighbor, she put her arm around my shoulder and we continued swaying and singing. So much for feeling like an outsider and lonely! Thank you, my new sister in Christ! It was a Holy Spirit moment, you know how the Holy Spirit moves in the most unexpected ways!
I can imagine first-time campers feeling the way I did when I first arrived yesterday. “Who are all these people? I don’t know anyone!” I am sure that on the first day of camp all the returning campers run into old friends, or they come from the same church, and so they get wrapped up into their joyful reunions. As you heard, it took no time for me to be genuinely welcomed and authentically integrated into the Shrine Mont Camp scene!
Later the same night of my first day, as the rain poured out of the sky like a tropical storm, the campers danced and sung pop songs at the top of their lungs at the upper pavilion next to the pool. They St. George’s and Explorers were all having a grand ole time, some were dressing up in outfits brought in for the occasion, making the event somewhat of a costume ball. The raindrops hitting the tin roof sounded as loud as the speakers that were blaring out music. It was wonderful to watch the campers dance together without inhibitions, social norms, or criticism from any onlookers dictating who should dance with whom or even how to dance! I was rocking to the beat too! It was liberating, exhilarating, and joyful to be part of the Holy fun at Shrine Mont Camp!
Session IV of St. George’s was like a wild and crazy rollercoaster this year! There were times of adventure, times of madness, times of wildness, and times of rest. St. George’s continues to grow in their creativity to create a new and exciting program, and this year was no different. One example of this was in their 3-day trips, in which some of the campers actually stayed on the mountain. The trip was “community” themed, and the campers actually got to run the show and create their own community! They decided what they wanted to do and how. Another example of their wild creativity was in an elective entitled “Rock Lobster”. The participants would listen to the popular song and leave presents for other visitors and camps all over Shrine Mont. We look forward to everything St. George’s has in store next year!
is year’s session at SHYC was unlike any before as Senior High Youth Conference has delved into the area of storytelling this year. At SHYC this year, we worked at Emmanuel Church in Harrisonburg, did crafts with residents of a retirement community, and worked with Grandma Gail on her sustainable, organic vegetable farm. Along the way, campers learned the stories of those we served, themselves, and each other. Along with our excursions off the mountain, we also had a dance (or 2!), played walkie talkie tag, and had a bonfire. SHYC 2018 will be a story to remember!
MAD Camp session 3 blessed not only this mountain with their beautiful voices and shining presence, but also got the chance to bless Vine and Fig in Harrisonburg, St. Paul’s Lutheran in Jerome, and multiple other places. Besides touring around Virginia, MAD camp also had their annual talent show (and let me tell you, there was tons of talent in attendance), saw an a cappella concert at the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival, and showcased their dramatic talents in many other ways. We are sad to see MAD camp leave the mountain for the summer, but are left with great memories and even better stories to tell.
Explorers’ Camp certainly lived up to their name this year at Session I with the sheer number of action packed days that were planned. From hiking North Mountain, to camping at a brand new campsite called “Oz”, to canoeing at Lake Laura, Explorers’ camp was always on the move! One thing that caught on like wildfire at camp this year was doing performance art. You may just have to ask your camper to explain what this was all about. See ya next year Explorers I!
I was sitting in Vienna House when Evelyn (a former MAD camper of mine) showed me a photo of her and Clara (another former camper) from their first session of MAD camp. This gave me the idea to have counselors recreate photos from when they were campers. It also got me thinking of how friendships are made and developed on and then off the mountain.
When your child is heading to camp for the first time, there are so many questions that run through their heads. Will the counselors and other campers like me? Will I have fun? Will I make friends?
Camp is definitely a place where when you get here, all of those questions quickly melt away. Making friends at camp helps you build strong interpersonal relationships you never thought you could. At camp it can be easier to truly be yourself. It is when you feel like your complete self, others maybe can feel safe to be themselves too. Your bonded by the magic of the valley, and when you go home it’s always easier to just say - you had to be there.
When I was a first year camper at 16 I had no idea that eight years later those people would be some of my best and lifelong friends. I know they are people I can always stay true to who I am and will also keep me in check when I stray away from the path God is leading me on.
No matter how much time has passed, camp people are family. Whether you saw them last week or last year you will always have a shoulder to lean on, and when you see them again you always get a little piece of that valley magic back.
Clara and Evelyn started in first session of MAD camp together and enjoyed singing and making music. This year they are both counselors at MAD camp, Clara as a cabin counselor and Evelyn as their oocc/accompanist.
Michael and Colby grew up at St. George’s camp with their famous rendition of “French Toast”. Last year Colby served as a counselor at St. George’s while Michael was a cabin counselor of MAD, he is now their program director for this summer.
Olivia and Harry met at Explorers session 3 and went onto Explorers the Great as best friends. Olivia worked on Explorers staff and was their program director for three years. Harry has worked at many camps including MAD, Art, and St. Andrew’s. In 2014 they worked at Explorers Camp together.
It was an action packed week for session two of sports camp! Campers had a great time during their AM and PM sports blocks learning about Rat Ball, Ultimate Frisbee, Tennis, and many others. We had a great time celebrating the fourth of July with all camps, and having a dance and Kingball with MAD camp! Other fun evening programs included Kangaroo Court, Walkie Talkie Tag, and movie night. With all this activity is there any time to rest? Don’t worry, there was still time for some TLC with a spa day led by Frannie. Thanks for a great summer Sports camp!
Spreading the good news of Shrine Mont Camps into the Valley of the World.
The View from the Mountain is written by a rotating cast of staff writers and contributors.