By David Churchman
The average afternoon on a Shrine Mont summer day is beautiful, generally ten degrees cooler than Richmond or Washington, D.C. but sunny enough for a dip in the pool after lunch. But sometimes, summer storms move quickly, and the mountains make it difficult to predict exactly where and when rain will come. All camps at Shrine Mont create a plan B, C, and D for sudden rain, and work during staff week to build their toolbox of instant activities that can be pulled out to fill in time while new plans are made.
At a recent rehearsal under the Happy Pavilion, Music and Drama campers were surprised by a sudden downpour. They are at MAD camp for a reason, and responded in characteristically dramatic fashion: there was much squealing and gnashing of teeth, and the rain on the tin-roof of the pavilion was a percussive cacophony. The counselors sat the campers down, and led them in a rousing rendition of baby shark (doo-doo, doo-doo-doo). The campers were quickly engrossed in shouting loud enough to overcome the sound of the rain on the roof.Zaccheus the tax collector sings "Grow in Me" by Alan Pote.
After a few minutes, the worst of the rain subsided. Every MAD camper knows the show must go on, so they resumed their rehearsal. Campers only have a week to learn and memorize their musical, and rehearsal time goes by quickly, so campers quickly regained their composure found their places.
By David Churchman
No, it's not the Diocese exploring new revenue streams via product placement, it's the Shrine Mont Camps nurses! They're pictured above celebrating another successful camp opening with pizza. These talented ladies keep the campers and staff healthy, happy, and hydrated all summer.
Top row (left to right): Churchill Gibson, Mike Wade (director), Andy Cameron, Taylor Trobaugh (masked wrestler), Carl White (banana), Atticus Caderet, Spencer Diblee (program director). Bottom row (left to right): Evan Metz (Little Red Riding Hood), Mark Tanner, Catherine Harris, Jenny Campbell, Liza Parker, Jojo Emerson, Jane Kilgour (camping director), Catherine Bealous, Wesley Allin, and Catie Jones (assistant director).
Meet the St. George's staff! Before Session IV got started, the staff took a trip to Walmart and Tony's Pizza dressed as you see them above.
The camp season is officially underway. Before camp got going, Bishop Gulick held a commissioning service (literally "a sending") to reaffirm the baptismal vows of the Shrine Mont Camps' staff. Two by two, Gulick laid his hand on the head of every staff member and said:
May the Holy Spirit, who has begun a good work in you, direct and uphold you in the service of Christ and his kingdom. Amen. (BCP 310)
Staff were then given a copy of Henri Nouwen's Life of the Beloved and their purple staff polo. The first gift was a show of the Church's commitment to the spiritual life of the counselors, and the second representing the staff's commitment to "seek and serve Christ in all persons" this summer.
In Life of the Beloved, Nouwen says, “Our humanity comes to its fullest bloom in giving. We become beautiful people when we give whatever we can give: a smile, a handshake...an embrace, a word of love, a present, a part of our life...all of our life.” Staff members this summer will give themselves to their campers, sometimes well beyond the bounds of what's expected, and then give more. It's this repeated giving that transfigures Shrine Mont every summer.
Many camps have an evening games session, where the entire camp plays a field game like capture the flag, cows and the chickens (landlocked sharks and minnows), rat ball (dodgeball gauntlet), or tens of others in the camp canon. Jane Kilgour, camping director at St. George's, and Bryan Chase, program director at St. Sebastian's, taught "smugglers and spies" during staff week, a game that favors the fast and/or the cunning (pictured above). It looks like all fun and games - and it is - but there's so much more going on here at a second glance. Here are some guidelines taught at Staff Week that Jane and Bryan nimbly traversed during their teaching:
Jane and Bryan followed these evening games rubrics the result was a riotous good time, pictured with captions below.
Every day at every camp at Shrine Mont, there is an hour dedicated to chaplain’s time, an opportunity for the camp chaplain to teach and to engage campers about their faith life in a way that meets campers where they are. Chaplains are both lay and ordained; they come from many different vocations – each chaplain with gifts especially suited to the camp and session they serve. On Monday, the Rev. Susan Daughtry, the chaplain to the staff, held a chaplain’s time for the assembled faithful at Staff Week.
Susan began with the question, “What is the Good news?” Counselors turned to one another and discussed this for a few minutes before reporting back. Some of the answers: God loves us; Christ died for our sins and was resurrected so that we might know eternal life and so that we can take part in God’s love; and that the universe trends towards goodness. James Brown, St. Sebastian’s director, asserted that the good news is encapsulated in the Shouting Prayer.
“The way you think about the good news may not be what the person next to you thinks is the good news, just as there many ways to understanding the good news of God in Christ, “ said Susan. “It’s a longstanding theological principal that whatever we say about God will at some point fail us, because God is bigger and stranger than our thoughts about God." Susan wrote on butcher paper the names of six, non-exhaustive approaches Christians take to understand and relate the good news in their lives and gave a brief overview each approach.
They were (please excuse the following simplifications):
The approaches bearing the most green x’s were moral influence and abundant life. One counselor offered that he’d ticked moral influence because it was the most tactile and practical approach, and that the golden rule transcends all cultures and religions. Another offered that abundant life best delivered the good news because it was most closely aligned with the business of camp: to do the best to realize the Kingdom in the short time a camp has together.
Some counselors spoke about their fear and anxiety in response to oversimplified visions of atonement theology presented to them earlier in life. Susan spoke of her experience at other church camps and youth programs that were emotionally and spiritually manipulative and made her fear for the eternal salvation of many people she loved dearly. One counselor recounted being told that without a “plan of salvation” some family members and friends of other religious persuasions would “go to hell.” Another counselor offered that he believes atonement theology places too great an emphasis on individual behaviors but ignores the larger structural sins like racism, sexism, and systemic poverty. However, several counselors noted the importance of atonement theology in their sense of freedom and belovedness in God – that we have been separated by sin but can tack back towards God was in fact good news to them.
More pictures of the discussion are posted below.
While there was controversy over some and general agreement about others, no approach was without a red x, and none without a green x, a fitting parallel to the “wide tent” of the Episcopal Church.
Bringing chaplain’s time to a close, Susan emphasized, “All of these theological stances are Christian, and they are all contained in the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer and, thus, rooted in our Episcopal faith. Wherever you all are in your faith journey, no matter which approach fills you with hope and which approach makes you uncomfortable, you are safe at Shrine Mont.”
“You will find yourself surprised by the way you journey through these approaches,” continued Susan. “You are going to change and grow, as are the campers you serve. It is not our job to ‘fix’ or ‘change’ the campers that come to us, but to trust that God is already present and working in their lives and create a safe space to engage the questions of faith. Campers will know that they can participate, be respected, and be loved.” And that is the good news.
The Rev. Churchill Gibson, camp chaplain from 1964-1983, wrote the Shouting Prayer. It's one of the most treasured prayers said - er, shouted - at Shrine Mont. Churchill used to say that the prayer summed up everything we need to know about God's love.
Camps shout the prayer as loud as they can so the whole world might hear the message. The prayer can be heard all over Shrine Mont - in the Shrine, North Mountain, and everywhere in between and further flung.
God loves the world!
God loves us!
God loves you!
I love you!
God loves me!
I love me!
Thanks be to God!
The Shrine Mont camps directors! Left to right: Brian Dowdy; Phil Woodson, SHYC; the Rev. Susan Daughtry, camps chaplain; Mike Wade, St. George's; Rosanna Hurt, Music and Drama (MAD); Sarah Poole, Art Camp; Rock Higgins, Family Camp; Alex Palin, Explorer's; Jennifer Lassiter, St. Andrew's; the Rev. Laura Lockey, St. Elizabeth's; Dr. James Brown, St. Sebastian's; Paris Ball, Shrine Mont Camps director.
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.