On a near-perfect summer day, Explorers Camp held their first staff meeting after returning from the Session II three-day trips. The sun shone outside and a breeze blew through the Art Shed; the weather felt more like late May than late July. The sound of Explorers campers outside talking and throwing a Frisbee carried through the screened-in windows. The inert and well-used camping equipment from the three-day trips surrounded the staff on two sides, a fitting backdrop as the staff meets to unpack what they'd just accomplished.
At a passing glance, the camp - both counselors and campers - might have seemed worn out, but it's contentment, not exhaustion. They were quietly processing the wonder and camaraderie they'd shared on the river and the trail. Half of the camp hiked Duncan Knob, and the other half canoed the south fork of the Shenandoah River. At the staff meeting, the reunited staff shared stories of the stirring views, of campers surprising themselves by overcoming self-imposed limitations, and of a camp brought closer together by shared struggle and experience.
Pictures of the three-day hikes and more on Explorers II to come.
One night in the woods, one group had a scatological discussion about what historical figure they'd want to have with them as a companion on a wooded bathroom break, weighing the merits of founding fathers and celebrities. They also had more erudite conversation: Campers and counselors named Bible passages that they found hard to believe, and the discussion that followed - in that perverse, Episcopal way - served to strengthen their faith. It's this kind of introspection following a day of climbing a mountain or paddling for miles that makes the time at Explorers feel so full.
Back in the Art Shed, the counselors recalibrate and catch their proverbial breath. Camp can seem sometimes like a place in constant motion, with the volume always turned up to eleven. But the loud exuberance of camp needs the moments of reflection like these to take stock and make sense of the joy experienced. Soon the camping gear will be washed and tidied away, camp will head to worship, to play King Ball, and then it will be full speed until the end of camp, but, for a few minutes, the Explorers staff enjoys a peaceful moment together on a beautiful day and glow with the accomplishment of all they've seen and done in God's creation.
By Ed Keithly
Senior High Youth Conference (SHYC, or SHYYYYYYYC) closed on July 20, but we'll do our humble best here to highlight a little bit of the awesomeness that went on during their time on the Mountain.
Part of the way SHYC lives into it's central message of, "Be ye doers of the word," (James 1:22) is by going to the Volunteer Farm in Woodstock, Virginia every summer to do whatever farm work needs doing. Their work at the farm plays a part in feeding and providing nutrition for over 150,000 Virginians every month. Read more about the central message of SHYC and their trip to the Volunteer Farm here.
Nursing Home Visit
SHYC also provided entertainment for and hung out at a local nursing home!
Stations of the Cross
Continuing with SHYC's theme of living their out faith, one afternoon SHYC did Stations of the Cross.
Shyc at the All-Camp Carnival
SHYC had more than its share of fun at the All-Camp Carnival. Read more about the carnival here.
After a rewardingly exhausting week of volunteer work, fun, hiking, and song, SHYC finished out the week by sharing their experience with each other and with their parents at the closing Eucharist.
Every evening at 10 p.m., when the mountain is still and quiet, staff come together in prayer. The camp chaplains, administrative staff, and any counselors who aren't tending to campers gather at Vienna House, the administrative staff headquarters.
They sit in a circle, on the floor, on chairs and couches, and join in compline. Together, they reflect on the day through prayer. Silently and aloud, they pray for the needs of the camp: for the counselors, for the parents at home, for the campers who are homesick.
Compline has a special place in the prayer life of Shrine Mont Camps. Every night, every camp sings The Good Night Song (a rearranged version of Good Night by The Beatles), followed by a prayer from a counselor or director. The antiphon from compline always follows the last prayer of the day: "Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace."
At Vienna House's compline. one staff member might lead the group - in word or in song, reading aloud the words from the Book of Common Prayer. On this particular evening, John Garland "JG" Wood (below left), one of the two chaplain interns on the mountain, led the group in a chanted compline prayer.
And when they are done, they depart in peace, ready to prepare for another day of camp on the mountain.
By Emily Cherry
David Drebes leads Chaplain's Time.
What started as a chance meeting in a parking lot resulted in a new chaplain for Shrine Mont Camps. Pastor David Drebes of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, just up the road from Shrine Mont in Bayse, Va., first met Bishop Ted Gulick when the bishop was searching for a cell phone signal in the Prince of Peace parking lot. The two got to talking, and before too long got to thinking about a natural partnership between the young pastor and the nearby Shrine Mont Camps.
Each session of Shrine Mont Camps has a chaplain who leads the group in prayer and reflection every day of the camp session. More often than not, that chaplain is an Episcopalian. But with his local community connection - coupled with the fact that the Episcopal Church is in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church - David made a good fit for St. George's Session II (10-11 year olds).
David is a graduate of an ecumenical seminary (he earned his master of divinity at Princeton University), and he has a good number of Episcopal parishioners in his own congregation. So his biggest learning curve wasn't the Episcopal part, but rather learning about the unique traits of Shrine Mont Camps. "I'm enjoying getting an understanding of the traditions for Shrine Mont," most notably the Shouting Prayer, David said. He served as a camp counselor at a Lutheran camp before, so it's not all new territory.
During Chaplain's Time, David spends time with the 90 or so kids surrounding the theme of St. George's Camp: The Body of Christ. He focuses on storytelling to connect abstract images to concrete ideas. "In general, I like just letting them ask their questions."
For Shrine Mont Camps, it's an added plus that David is a part of the local community. He's served at the nearby Prince of Peace for three years. "What's really exciting is that he's a pastor from the area," said Paris Ball, director of camps. "It's great to see our camp programs building connections with the local community."
David agrees. "My parishioners were really happy that I'm serving up here," he said. Shrine Mont "holds a special place in the hearts of this community."
By Emily Cherry
In short, it's the administrative headquarters that makes all the fun stuff - the hikes and the games, the bonfires and pool time - a possibility.
By Emily Cherry
Every visit, every parish weekend, every retreat, all camp time on The Mountain is wondrous, fun, restorative – and at the same time – never enough. I’ve always left wanting more, and that’s a good thing. When my own kids aged out of Shrine Mont Camps, I felt bereft. But this summer, I found much more of this good thing in a week at Family Camp.Family Camp visits Luray Caverns in the Shenandoah Valley.
All-camp worship kickstarted our week as this whole new family of God: young, young-at-heart, kin, stranger, coming for years, and brand spanking new. We gathered morning, noon and evening for prayer, with fun and field trips for kids and youth, and an incredible workshop on conflict & resolution for adults each morning. Each afternoon offered a hike or a trip to the Luray Caverns, time at the pool or time for “porchin” (verb: to porch).
There was great music throughout by our Family Camp musicians, and we had ample time to get to know each other. Every family has its rituals and traditions, so hay rides, and a carnival, and the talent show were enjoyed again. New ways of being together were introduced, so by mid-week, a beautiful balance of comfort and adventure had taken hold.
A phrase born one morning, and oft repeated throughout the week, is that this is a family “beyond blood,” more like what God has in mind for us all. One young, new camper woke up of a morning so excited that being there wasn't just a dream: he had another whole day of Family Camp coming.Mary Beth (right) and her daughter, Jojo.
In our Prayer Book there are prayers for The Human Family and For the Good Use of Leisure, the hopes expressed in these prayers were echoed throughout our week in community: united in bonds of love, God gives us times of refreshment and peace, rebuilding our bodies and renewing our minds, our spirits opening to the goodness of creation. Family Campers were asked to go and share this good news: we’re family, God loves us mightily, and we can’t wait to be together again next year.
By Mary Beth Emerson
As regional deacon for Region 5, Mary Beth helps facilitate collaborative outreach and service opportunities, while serving as Assistant for Family Ministry at St. Thomas', McLean. This summer was her first year as one of Family Camp's Chaplains, but she's been coming to Shrine Mont for a quarter century or so. Her daughter, Jojo, is a counselor at St. George's camp. Inspired by Shrine Mont's chefs, Mary Beth just finished her first batch of pickled watermelon rinds.
Perspective from a former camper and counselor.
This week, "This American Life" re-aired an episode of their show that originally aired in 1998, called "Notes on Camp" (above). I really enjoyed the show, but I should say that this link is not an endorsement of all its content, and that there are some things embraced by the camps featured in the radio show that Shrine Mont Camps are careful to avoid. These differences - some of them dramatically different, like the camp run by the Israeli army - start to get at what makes the camp experience at Shrine Mont unique. Put simply, I think our camps are healthier and more inclusive than those featured on "This American Life."
In the first chapter, one of the counselors encourages one of his campers to couple off with a girl. When I worked as a counselor at St. George's, we were careful to say to our cabins, "If you find someone you like here, that's great, but you shouldn't spend any more time with them than you would with the rest of your friends." Coupling diminishes the camp experience by walling off two campers from the rest of camp. Not only do those two campers miss out on the experience of camp, but camp is deprived of those two campers and what they have to offer.
Many campers are at the point in their life where they're beginning have their first romantic relationships, and for a counselor to encourage seeking out a girlfriend or boyfriend, in a way, trivializes the experience. Being taught that winning the affection of a boy or girl is a game all campers should play, or that it's some sort of status symbol - the haves and the have-nots - is sending the wrong message. Counselors at Shrine Mont are careful to model healthy and respectful relationships to their co-counselors, and try to strip away all the noise campers hear in middle school and high school about the transactional nature of romance.
Camp, for me, was a retreat from the expectations of junior high and high school. The expectations were unending: maintain a 4.5 GPA while playing a varsity sport, make captain, be good enough to get a scholarship to a good college, and don't forget to make time for extracurricular clubs, and be elected president of each club. At camp, there were opportunities for athletic competition and to stretch one's mind in meaningful conversation, but these opportunities were never pressurized by the fear of losing or evaluation. I think this is where camp Lake of the Woods has room to learn from Shrine Mont. The kind of hyper-competitive environment that would lead a girl to say, “It makes me feel I’m not as decent a person as other people” needs to be readjusted.
That aside, in other parts of the segment it's easy to hear echoes of the world Shrine Mont creates. "Each person is a fraction, a part of the team. We have no choice; everyone must belong," parallels Paul's assertion in I Corinthians: "Now you are the Body of Christ and individually members of it," that serves as the rallying call for St. George's camp, or, "Two are better than one" for St. Sebastian's. And when the Lake of the Woods camper says "I'm so secure here. It's such a haven for me," it could be any number of Shrine Mont campers I've heard over the years. The draw of camp, I think, is this: For many, camp is the first community they've been a part of where the goal is to be good to your neighbor, rather than to get one-up on him.
What struck a particular cord with me was Ira Glass, host of "This American Life," recounting when a counselor said to him, "All of the best moments of his life have either been at camp or with camp people." This sentiment is one that resonates with campers and counselors, at every stage in their life. Many of my best friends worked with me at camp. I've been to weddings of former camp counselors where half of the groomsmen worked with the groom at camp. But to be content with a model that considers camp to be a walled garden, or a respite from the cruel world that can't be understood by those who haven't been to camp, isn't good enough. The mission of "Notes on Camp" is to "attempt to bridge the gap between camp people and non-camp people." This should be the mission of everyone who loves Shrine Mont as well: to be evangelists for the love and inclusion they experienced at camp, and attempt to model those things everyday.
This is why at Eucharists, we always add a verse written for Shrine Mont to Form VI of the Prayers of the People: "For Shrine Mont, that those who come here will feel renewed and refreshed so that we might serve You better back in the Valley of the World." Ultimately, the good work done at camp is about the Valley of the World. Camp should be constantly inviting all of the world to take part in the miracle, both on and off the Mountain.
By Ed Keithly
“Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only” James 1:22.
This passage is the central theme of Senior High Youth Conference (SHYC), a camp for highschoolers, with a focus on giving back to the community. In addition to traditional camp activities like hiking, swimming, and singing, SHYC leaves the Shrine Mont campus during the week for service projects. This is a camp that takes itself beyond the mountain; it’s mission requires going out into the valley of the world, to do the work they are called to do.
At Volunteer Farm in Woodstock, Virginia, that work was down in the dirt, manual labor. Volunteer Farm is a project directed by the World Foundation for Children whose mission is to answer God’s call to “feed thy neighbor.” All of the food grown on the farm goes to food banks, reaching over a third of Virginia. Through the efforts of volunteer groups like SHYC, the farm is able to feed over 150,000 people a month.
In the heat, SHYC campers spent most of the day rotating through tasks necessary to keep the garden growing: they put in to place drip tape irrigation lines, planted new rows of squash, and weeded row after row of tomato plants. One camper remarked that weeding was his favorite part because that was the project where their efforts were the most visible. Watching these overgrown green plots turn into rows of healthy plants over the course of the day and knowing their labor was responsible for the change was a powerful experience.
And through all of this, not a single complaint. SHYC kept their spirits up by telling funny stories -- inserting their fellow campers as characters in the stories -- and singing Disney songs.
Of course it was hot and the work was challenging -- campers were exhausted stepping off the bus as they returned to camp. Talking about it later, however, after rest period and time at the pool, spirits were high. Many felt like they had really accomplished something today, something with immediate consequences for the hungry, possibly even people living in their own neighborhoods.
Older campers at MAD III and Senior High Youth Conference (SHYC) tried out the hammer throw and took “Olde Timey Photos” in silly costumes.
Some campers helped cool their counselors off with water sponges at the “Water The Counselor” station.
Everyone danced to the music, hung out with friends, and ate plenty of ice cream. And that night, once the carnival had ended, a thunderstorm broke the heat and the cooling rain helped everyone at Shrine Mont fall fast asleep.
By Emily Wright
God is everywhere at Shrine Mont -- in the prayers, the worship services and the chapel time that mark typical days at the camps. But God also shows up in places you wouldn’t expect -- on the playing fields and rehearsal stages, and in the dining halls.
You can hear God when the soccer coaches call on the boys and girls from St. Sebastian Sports Camp to play as a team. It’s a form of community building that will become a topic for reflection during chapel time. You can hear God when the singers from Music and Drama Camp rehearse the lyrics of being “loved as I am” -- words that resonate with God’s unconditional love.
The bottom line is that God is part of the conversation at Shrine Mont -- unforced and natural. Without being spiritually pushy or trying to change children’s ideas about God, the counselors mentor in ways that reflect our call as Christians.
The Rev. Susan Daughtry, the chaplain to the camps’ staff, has been connected to Shrine Mont since she was a cabin counselor 15 years ago. She feels that Shrine Mont leaders are “putting renewed emphasis on the spiritual experiences that staff members have as they work in this intensely demanding role.” Counselors and directors are being invited “to engage meaningfully with their own lives of faith as they nurture the faith journeys of campers.”
In "Spiritual Leadership at Camp", a guide Daughtry distributes to counselors, she covers everything from preparing worship services to counselors’ own feelings of nervousness. Noting that there are no “right answers,” Daughtry encourages staff members to ask campers questions like, “Where did you see God today?” or “When did you give love today?”
“Transfiguration” is part of the name of the chapel at Shrine Mont, notes Daughtry. It’s a term, she suggests, that also applies to how “we see” the children of Shrine Mont as they journey through their time at camp.
Daughtry calls the staff “open-minded people passionate about building community ... and community is one of the places where we meet God” ... even when we’re trying to score a goal or rehearse a song.
By Ed Jones
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.