By Lorne Field
Before I was old enough to attend camp I would ride to Orkney Springs with my family to take my brother Mark to Saint George’s and my sisters Cindy and Malinda to Choir Camp (now M.A.D. camp). I learned how to swim in the pool at the Orkney Springs Campground (long since closed). It was the late 1970s. My parents would show me around after we dropped off my siblings at camp. One afternoon we drove to the top of Spring Mountain to visit the cross. Yes, my dad drove our massive Chevy Caprice station wagon with faux wood panels to the top of the mountain. You could do that in those days.
The cross was cool and scary. It would sway as one climbed up the springy wooden stairs to the platform. The view of the valley was unobscured then – the trees had not grown as tall as they are now. What a view it was. However, I was more impressed by what I saw under the cross – countless rocks shaped like sea shells. Huh? My dad explained that the mountains were formed when North America and Africa collided millions of years ago. The ocean floor between the continents was thrust upward and the layers of sediment and the all stuff in them rose with it. Today you can find the fossilized remains of ancient marine scallops, worms and snails on top of the mountain. My six year old mind was blown.
Conversation and camaraderie distracted us from the perceived threat of lions, tigers and bears. The chatter dimmed over time and everyone nodded off – except me. I stared out into the blackness of the forest for a long time. I was just about to doze off when I spotted specks of greenish-blue light dotting the ground. I was wide awake again.
With a great deal of trepidation I reached out from under the tarp and started to pick at the soil. With every uprooted chunk of earth came scraps of glowing wood. “Oh, great,” I thought. I’m not going to be mauled by a bear in the middle of the night but I am going to meet my demise by sleeping on contaminated, radioactive ground. I leaped out of my sleeping bag and ran over to the staff tarp. “Why is the ground glowing?” I asked. They explained that we were not camping in a nuclear wasteland and that I had just unearthed “fox fire” root. Certain kinds of fungi found in decaying wood glow when they are exposed to air. It is one of many different kinds of bioluminescence. My ten year old mind was blown again.
Shrine Mont Camps transform kids in innumerable ways. Every camper probably has a flash bulb memory that stands out from his or her experience on the Mountain. These are my earliest memories of Shrine Mont, though I have many more. God’s awesome power was revealed to me through the mystery and discovery of his Creation. Saint George’s teaches kids that they are part of the Body of Christ and bound by God’s love to everything he created. That lesson still resonates with me today in my professional and family life. So every time I give a pollution-prevention talk or take my son fishing, I am thankful that Shrine Mont blew my mind wide open. I’m sure I won’t be the last.
By The Rev. Rock Higgins
One of the joys of working on the mountain, and returning for several years in a row, is getting to see the numerous staffs come and perform beautifully. Even more wonderful is watching timid first year folks on the periphery move into the circle slowly and then into leadership over the course of summers. It is a what camp is about, both for the campers and for the adults who lead, Growth, Change, Transformation. This year is already shaping up to be a resounding success.
Looking around the circle of directors and assistant directors I saw faces I know well, and folks I only have met over pixelated Skype calls. The spirit, however short the interaction time, though, is the same. Anticipation, Hope, Excitement, Wisdom. All this swirling together to make a mix that is the leadership of Shrine Mont. One thing that struck me as I sat in that circle for this season was that all the planning and preparation was like what happens before a holiday, all the chopping and slicing and baking and grating with the parade or game on in the background. One of my favorite parts of getting ready for a feast is the aroma, all of the goodness mixed together that makes me salivate and get excited for all the goodness that is about to come. Yeah, staff training is like that. It is a prelude to a feast.
Like with all feasts, accidents and mishaps will happen, and all those working together fix it or alleviate what went wrong. This year, we prayed for our new South African friends who were in visa-limbo to arrive safe and sound. (They did.) But even if they had not, I knew that it would all work out and be okay. Camp is a self-correcting system where even the worst can be turned if not to great, at least to passable. Master chefs can do that, and I know that the Shrine Mont camp staffs can, too.
As our leaders, both nascent and (some well) seasoned, go into commissioning and campers arrive on the mountain let us all stop and ask a blessing of Thanksgiving, giving thanks and praise for what has already happened on the mountain this season and let us celebrate the Feast that is to come.
By The Rev. Canon Pat Wingo
Last weekend I had an experience that is familiar to many: Singing. Words spoken of God. Fun. Building community. Silliness. Good food. Sounds like Shrine Mont Camps, doesn’t it? But this was the Shrine Mont that I experienced before camp ever started. Because last weekend ten camp directors, two chaplains, one leader, an assistant, and a diocesan outlier got together at Shrine Mont to think, to pray, and to discuss the camps that would start in just a few days. Paris Ball led the group in her organized and easy way, as someone might lead a nature walk through the woods, showing them the beauty of what they were doing, telling them to watch out for the bumps and holes in the path and helping them look for God through it all. Giving them maps and signposts for the journey.
There were questions as well, lots of them—Why? Why do we do it this way? Why should we do it this way? How can we do it better? What do we value? How do we give campers an experience of God that they can get perhaps nowhere else? More importantly, how can we help them take that experience of God home, out into the world? There was prayer for one another, and for the counselors and campers who would arrive in waves all summer long. There was sadness, hard stories told of breakups, death, uncertainty about the future. There was teaching about leadership. How to facilitate a meeting of your counselors. How to honor someone while you correct their behavior. How to plan, how to organize. There was joy, about an upcoming marriage at the end of the summer, about a new career. Through it all a special community was forming that continues old traditions and creates new ones that will be passed to future generations.
I found that some of the most interesting and compelling things were the stories of how many of these camp directors had been formed at very young ages to become leaders, sometimes without ever realizing it had happened until they found themselves back at Shrine Mont as a counselor or a director. This gives me great hope for the future of the church, because three-fourths of these leaders gathered at Shrine Mont were under the age of thirty. With all that is being written about the “nones” –those who tell pollsters that they do not affiliate with any religion—and all that is being written and discussed about the decline of the church, I find it extremely refreshing and inspiring to be around young people who are committed to their faith and interested in how to share it. These are not young adults who want to relive the fun of their childhoods (although they probably can’t help but do so), these are leaders. And they will leave Shrine Mont at the end of the summer and take their considerable gifts, enthusiasm, passion and faith to various places in the world and make it a little more like the Kingdom of God. I would be willing to bet that the people they serve and love and lead this summer will do the same thing.
The day for which we have spent the vast majority of our months preparing since we closed our season of Shrine Mont Camps last summer has finally arrived. Though the mountain will not be filled with the squeals and giggles of campers for several more days, today officially begins our 2016 season of camp. Today we make the transition from theoretical to actual, from ‘we’ll be in touch closer to camp’ to ‘see you up there!’, from ‘maybe this year we should try…’ to ‘let’s revisit that again next year’. Today we tuck away those ideas which were not able to be fully realized for this summer and place them in a box, to be reconsidered and re-imagined during the fall months when we are ready to attack the following summer with a renewed vigor and excitement. Rather than feeling discouraged by those innovations which we were not able to put into effect for this year, instead we now turn our attention to the excitement, passion, love, laughter and song-filled worships that await us this summer. On this day, rather than considering the ‘might-have-been’ or the ‘why-didn’t-we’, we have nothing to do but move forward and approach each session, each child and each day with an eagerness and willingness to take whatever comes our way. The work has been done, the preparations have been made and what remains is a call for us to be supportive, be patience and be gracious with one another.
On this particular day, the counselors for Shrine Mont Camps arrive on the mountain. Though ahead of these young people lies a long week of consideration, exploration and preparation, as they arrive at camp they will feel nothing but pure and ecstatic joy. These counselors have been anticipating this day for months; they have been anxiously counting down until the moment when they could not only be reunited with dear friends (and forge new and lasting relationships) but also begin to actually consider the wonder, the challenge and the unexpected that awaits them this summer. In the same way that our campers often excitedly pack for camp long before their session begins, our counselors dream about the day when they can finally step into the role for which they have been making themselves ready. Whether these young people grew up attending Shrine Mont Camps or some equivalent thereof or whether this is their first foray into the world of camp counseling, each one of them will likely be changed forever by this summer. They have given up trips to the beach, music festivals, competitive internships or summers abroad to devote their time to the children who will be in their care throughout the summer. They have traded ‘real-world’ experience for low pay, long days and a lack of air-conditioning (despite the common misconception, however, that being a camp counselor does not necessarily qualify as ‘real work’, we would argue that time spent working at summer camp will prepare these young adults for the real world in ways that making coffee and sorting mail never could.).
As this week of staff training continues, our counselors will be transformed from individual beings into a cohesive unit, from those inexperienced with behavior management to masters of redirection and positive reinforcement, from nervous second-guessers to confident persuaders. Though the learning curve may be steep, the journey to the point of conviction for these young adults will be accompanied by awareness, humility and (perhaps) a desire to act like a 10-year-old themselves. The staff of 2016 Shrine Mont Camps that emerges at the end of the summer may appear to be the same but will, in ways, be virtually unrecognizable from those counselors who stepped foot on the mountain in mid-June. Not only will they be a bit dirtier and certainly sleep-deprived, but their hearts, spirits and minds will be changed by the experiences of their summer. They will not soon forget the camper who pushed them to their limits and yet warmed their heart with the biggest hug at closing worship; they will feel a twinge in their soul as a certain song comes on the radio and causes them to replay the funniest, hardest and most rewarding moments from their summer; they will recall the daunting feeling they had as they faced this summer and counter it with the assurance that they left everything they had on the mountain- in the love and care they offered their campers, in the patience they displayed with their fellow staff members and in the risks (big and small) they took each day with their physical, emotional and faith well-being.
It’s hard to imagine the ways in which we will all be changed by 2016 Shrine Mont Camps, but we hope that you will stick with us throughout the summer and revel in each moment, life-changing or not. There will certainly be ‘large’ moments which test us- our patience and our grace- and those which lift us higher than we thought possible; these pivotal instances will also be accompanied by ‘smaller’ moments of laughter, kindness and growth which are almost unrecognizable. Though these ‘large’ moments may define the summer, the ‘small’ ones will carry us through in the meantime. It is our hope that through the Shrine Mont Camps blog, you can experience a variety of these moments yourself, both large and small. It is our hope that you will share your personal experiences of largeness or smallness with us, as well. It is our hope that you feel the love of the mountain through our words, photos and prayers- whether you are able to join us on the mountain or not. And, ultimately, it is our hope that Shrine Mont Camps can offer to you what we have been so lucky to receive from y’all- a multitude of beautiful moments, both large and small.
We're sure you understand that a session of camp cannot begin without ensuring that we have everything we need to take the best care of your camper while he or she is with us at Shrine Mont Camps. Similarly, besides the fact that we enjoy sharing some of the beautiful (and funny!) moments from each session with you at each closing worship, we also need to be sure that you have everything you need from us (and vice versa!) before you pack up your car and head back down the mountain after a session of camp. So, what exactly do you need to know about opening registration and closing worship? Look no further! Below we outline the most important details to keep in mind as you make your trips to the mountain to drop your camper off or pick your camper up from camp.
Both opening and closing day include a lot of activity, but our staff will be on hand to guide you through each step. We think it's very important for your family to be aware of the realities of time when checking into camp and when participating in closing worship so that you aren't feeling rushed or frustrated throughout these processes. We find that opening registration can be an exciting time for campers and that closing worship can be a powerful testimony to the positive experience that your camper had with us at Shrine Mont Camps, so we hope that you are able to celebrate in those with us (and your camper)!
Whether faith is a factor as to why you have decided to be a part of the Shrine Mont Camps family this summer or not, the discussion of faith on a general and personal level is something that you and your camper can expect throughout a session of camp. While the Episcopal faith is a basis for our camping program at Shrine Mont (as you can see in our mission statement, our camps exist to “promote the emotional and spiritual development of children, youth and young adults through the fostering of a safe and positive environment for all. It is the goal of this program to encourage the growth of relationships with self, others, and God”) and guides many of the activities and conversations that will happen at camp, we feel very strongly that everyone is welcome at Shrine Mont Camps, regardless of belief. To learn more about what you can expect in terms of spirituality and faith at camp, keep reading!
You Don't have to be Episcopalian or Christian
Who Are Our Chaplains?
What is Chaplain's Time?
Daily Worship and All-Camp Worship
Talking about Faith
Do you have particular questions about faith at Shrine Mont Camps? If so, please reach out to us if you are comfortable doing so- we would love to speak with you about any concerns you may have before you and your camper arrive at camp. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that every person who joins us throughout the summer feels loved, valued and heard; we hope that you can partner with us on this journey.
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.