By Kevin Cole
At camp we like to instill values in our campers that will follow them off the mountain. Shrine Mont has always had the power to let campers head home feeling like they're a part of larger community and with any luck they'll carry the values of acceptance and love with them in their everyday life. But one camp focuses specifically on taking taking those values off the mountain as a core component of camp: that's the Senior High Youth Conference (SHYC for short). Each day they devote time to a different service project at Shrine Mont and in the Shenandoah Valley. This week, we’ll be spending some time with SHYC to learn about what it means to take camp off the mountain.
By Kevin Cole
By Ruth Shuford
Music and Drama Camp's third and final session just concluded and it's easy to see the profound impact that has been made on both campers and staff. MAD Camp spent the past session working together to put together their own musical, including some spectacular original songs, lines, and choreography. MAD camp empowered themselves and their audiences to have the strength and courage to help change the world for the better; this is especially highlighted in the final song that inspired the musical's title: "Here I Am." But this group of MAD campers didn't just talk about changing the world. During their two-day residency in Richmond, they worked with the St. James's Children Center and Peter Paul Development Center and had the chance to visit Richmond Hill and The Bishops Chapel at Roslyn Conference. We're proud to see these campers go out into the valley of the world to share their message with others.
By Kevin Cole
The Shrine Mont Camp Cast is no stranger to the topics of God, church, and worship. Shrine Mont Camps are run under The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, so it makes perfect sense that worship should play a big roll in camp. This week, we're diving into how we worship at camp, a process which is largely led by the campers.
To make this episode a reality, I shadowed Jacko Post, this summer's Chaplain for St. George's Camp Session I. I attended chaplain's time, worship planning and the camp's worship that night and what I found was a camp full of children who were nothing less than enthusiastic to learn about God and loves love, and then to share that with their fellow campers.
When I first signed up as a chaplain with Shrine Mont Camps in 2013, I thought it was a smart way to stay involved with youth ministry.
I serve as pastor of Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church, where we are proud next door neighbors to Shrine Mont. This is my third summer serving as a chaplain with Shrine Mont Camps and assisting with worship throughout the summer.
Working with children is not a big part of my parish responsibilities, so I thought that a week with St. George’s would force me to remember those silly camp songs from my younger years (I’m most proud of teaching “TARZAN OF THE APES!” to Session II campers), to keep up with the latest field games (what we called “toilet tag” has been replaced by “dead ant tag”), and to sharpen my skills at teaching Bible stories to parishioners whose minds are still growing, whose imaginations are still amazing, and whose questions are never-ending.
In short, I thought this chaplaincy would be good “continuing education” on ministry with children—and it has been. Since children aren’t the Church of the future, but full members of the Church today, such ministry is vital to our life together as followers of Jesus. In that sense, Shrine Mont Camps is a community where I get to round out my ministry skill set and learn new ways of serving our Church today.
But in addition to honing my skills with youth ministry, my time with Shrine Mont Camps has surprised me with the way it’s evolved into an annual sink-or-swim experience with another vital part of the Church’s ministry: evangelism.
Think about it: I show up to serve the spiritual needs of ninety-or-so campers, plus another fifteen-or-so counselors and staff. I have about a week to let them know they can ask me any question and can share with me any answer without fear of ridicule. That trust does not come quickly, and it won’t happen on its own.
So in addition to learning and teaching those songs, games, and Bible stories, I’ve learned to greet them every morning outside Tucker, to eat most of my meals at their tables, to play along in their field games (when I can keep up), and join them for the hike up North Mountain (my favorite part of the week). In other words, Shrine Mont Camps is a community where I’ve learned to put into practice what we in the Church so often say evangelism is all about: meeting people wherever they are.
And it’s made a difference for who I am when I’m not at camp. I sometimes think I have all the time in the world to get to know somebody new who shows up in my community, but that’s not true. Meeting them for a meal, a hike, or a game, is a way I can let them know I’m available to serve them as their pastor whether or not they’ve stepped through the doors of my church. That trust does not come quickly, and it won’t happen on its own.
St. George’s Camp draws inspiration from the “body passage” of First Corinthians 12, that we are Christ’s body in the world, formed together with different gifts so that we can serve others and thrive as one body. During my time as a chaplain I hope I’ve brought gifts to share with the body of Shrine Mont Camps, but I know for a fact that I’ve grown as a pastor thanks to being part of Christ’s body here.
Your brother in Christ, your fellow member of his body, and your next-door neighbor,
Pastor David C. Drebes
Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church
Basye & Orkney Springs, Virginia
By Ruth Shuford
If small acts of kindness create a ripple effect, then Senior High Youth Conference made waves this past week. Throughout the week this group of high school students and their camp counselors discussed leadership and the importance of service. They participated in numerous service projects, including a clean-up of the Shenandoah River, a visit to nearby nursing homes,and building Adirondack chairs for Shrine Mont. They also enjoyed fun camp activities like camping at Seven Springs, competing in Camp Olympics, making s'mores around a camp fire, and putting together their own worship services.
By the Rev. Peter Ackerman
One aspect about Music and Drama (MAD), Session 2 that I love is the great questions that come forth from the Middle School youth; particularly those dealing with their faith, the Episcopal Church, the bible and more. I learned that this age is a formative time for them as they no longer accept answers at face value and it is important to be forthright with them in responding because they can recognize insincere answers right away.
With this in mind, I decided at this year’s camp, during one of my Chaplain’s Time to hold a “Stump the Chaplain” question and answer program where they could ask me anything that they wanted. What surprised me most on the day that we held this was just how many hands went up right away, as well as the depth of what was on their minds.
Before I began this, though, I asked one of the counselors to write some particular words on each side of a double-sided dry erase board that I knew would be helpful. The first question asked was “What did you think of the "Noah" movie?” My answer to that got us into some deeper conversations about the Noah and Creation stories and if those aspects of scripture were true stories or fictional ones…and if that truly mattered. Through the questions that emanated following the first, we had a nice discussion about the message of God’s love for humanity that is in both of those stories, and how that same love is offered to us.
More than once during our time together I had to refer to the writing that was placed on the double-sided dry erase board. For instance, when asked “Why would God allow a baby to be born who was only to die a few hours later?” I pointed to words on one side of the board which read “I don’t know…” and then quickly flipped it to the other side where they read the word “but…” to which I verbally added “here is what I DO know,” while answering their question from my own personal experience.
To me this session was an important one in our relationship together. Though we had all been together for a number of days by that time, the thoughtful questions, the serious answers, and a clergy person who was willing to say “I don’t know” brought us to a deeper level of our trust of one another. I was touched later that day when at supper a camper asked to sit with me and asked me a question, the subject of which dealt with the camper’s fear that a relative was not going to go to heaven. As we dialogued over dinner I remember thanking God for the Shrine Mont experience and for those staff, counselors, contributors and more who make it possible for young people to bring up the hard questions that they face in life and by doing so learn to discern their faith on a deeper level than when they arrived at camp.
It was a true joy having the challenge of the questions and being able to see how respectful the youth were even when in disagreement with one another. If these campers are any indication, I am happy and proud to report to you that the future of God’s church is in good hands with these inquiring souls.
By Ruth Shuford
St. George's Session I wrapped up last Wednesday, and while we're sad to see them go, we know they had a great time here on the mountain. St George's I spent the week learning about how every individual is a beloved member of the Body of Christ, and just like a body needs eyes, ears, feet, and even belly buttons, our community needs each of us and our many gifts in order to thrive. To help them understand this idea, St. George's campers explored and contemplated the important things that they bring to the Body, discussed how to treat others with unconditional love, and practiced encouraging and lifting one another up each and every day. Some other fun activities at St. George's Session I included games of frisbee and "Cows and Chickens," cookouts under the pavilion, and a talent show.
It seems like every parent has a story that goes something like, “Back when I was growing up, we played outside all day and only came home for dinner.” Yet, if you ask those parents whether their own children have the same experiences, you’ll hear a resounding “no.” Whether it’s due to over-protective parenting, or because the allure of technology keeps them inside and attached to their tablets and smartphones, kids don’t seem to be building those same sort of memories of roaming the neighborhood and woods with their friends. Studies have shown that children today not only spend less time outside than their parents did, but that they are spending less time outside than any other generation that has come before (source). And that might be dangerous, since these experiences are critical to healthy child development.
Outdoor play helps children develop imagination, social skills, and creativity (source). On the other hand, a lack of time spent playing outside has also been linked to higher obesity rates and Vitamin D deficiency, among other health issues (source). Even beyond these factors, it makes sense that for children to thrive, they need to be provided with opportunities for exploratory play and controlled risk-taking. Through interacting with peers and their environment in a setting outside of the structure of the home or classroom, children construct their identities and sense of self. If outdoor play is so vital and often neglected, what can we do to ensure that children aren’t missing out?
Over the past few days I’ve had the privilege of spending time with St. George’s Camp Session I and Explorer’s Camp Session I. These sessions have some of our youngest campers on the mountain, and watching them experience camp, many for the first time, it’s easy to see that they are eager to explore, play, and test their boundaries. They run through the ball field, climb the playground, trek through the mountain trails, collect leaves, sticks, and rocks, and shout at the top of their lungs. Counselors are there to act as facilitators, leaders, and role models. It’s obvious that these campers are never going to forget the time they spent at camp under the shade of oak trees or with their toes in a natural spring. That’s why at every camp opening, counselors remind campers and parents alike to leave the cell phones and WiFi-capable devices in the car, so that our campers can be fully present in the experience of being at Shrine Mont. Here, we make face-to-face friends, not just Facebook ones.
Camp provides one of the few opportunities this generation of children has to engage in the type of creative, free outdoor play that used to be a cultural norm. We can only hope that the benefits of spending time outdoors stays with our campers as they return to the valley of the world. Last week I visited St. George’s Camp during morning electives, where the Arts and Crafts group was painting rocks. When I started talking to campers about how they wanted to paint their particular rock, several told me they wanted to “paint Shrine Mont.” One camper explained, “I want to paint mine to look like the mountains and then I can take Shrine Mont home with me.” What does it look like to take Shrine Mont home with you? It definitely looks like sharing the love of God we experience here, the sense of community we instill in our campers, and the Christian values we foster. Maybe it can also look like taking the time to enjoy a beautiful summer day outdoors, instead of in the air conditioning and plugged in to the nearest outlet.
By Ruth Shuford
By Ed Keithly
Three Things First: Thanks, Listening Instructions and a Disclaimer:
Thanks: Last year, with lots of help, I put together five Spotify playlists* of camp music from across the decades. This year, I've pulled together two more: "2015 St. G's Playlist" and "80s Dance." Thanks to Michael Yuhas and Churchill Gibson for the 2015 playlist and Henry Burt and others for the '80s playlist.
A big thanks as well to the alumni who have sent me dance playlists from many Shrine Mont Camps through the years. Before I put out the call for those playlists, I had already written this story about my own experience with the musical legacy at St. George's. In the coming weeks I'll put more camps' playlists on Spotify. My hope is that we can look at what music unites the camps, what music makes them unique, and dance like insane people to those playlists from our respective corners of the valley of the world.
*The playlists I created for an article I wrote last year: "The Dance," “St. G.’s Rebellion,” "The Slideshow,” "The Green Book" and "Shrine Mont Jams."
Listening to the playlists: Your options are 1) playing the embedded playlists in this article 2) clicking on any of the hyperlinks in this section, or 3) searching Spotify for my username "ed.keithly" and following the playlists from there. This requires a Spotify account; it's easy to sign up for and free with some commercial interruptions. Or you can play along by remaking your own playlists via other methods (e.g., YouTube or iTunes).
Important disclaimer but not quite Tipper Sticker: There are a couple songs on the playlists that parents might not want young children listening to, but in most cases you’d have to be listening carefully. There are no songs that couldn't be played on the radio, and nothing that bears an “Explicit” tag, save the song in the post script, which doesn't appear on any playlists.
Without further ado...
Down the Deep River: THE CAMP MUSIC LEGACY
Camp is proud of its music. And at camp, music is everywhere. Cabins. Rec halls. The Shrine. All of the in-between places where counselors strummed their guitars and held impromptu “song fests.” For me and for many, going to camp was like having a music-obsessed older sibling. A sibling who made you want to trade in your top 100s pop records for albums by The Beatles, R.E.M., The Who, Guns ‘N’ Roses, Talking Heads, The Rolling Stones. There’s a legacy of music at camp, a river of sound that we all swim in.
But that legacy can feel daunting to program directors, the camp staffer usually charged with making playlists for dances. In 2010, when I asked Kendall Metz, then the PD of St. George’s, about her dance playlist, she made a joke about “the overwhelming burden of the [camp] alumni’s judgement”—and that was her second year as program director. It’s easy for self-consciousness to creep in. Sometimes our music seems like a museum—something that’s great and worthy of our appreciation, but curated by some distant authority. We think we better not touch anything. If a PD wanted to “not touch anything” and pull their songs from all decades past, they could manage that easily. The “Shrine Mont Jams” playlist I created last year for an article on this blog has almost five hours of music on it, and that’s just one Nalgene’s worth of water from the river of camp music. So how does a program director incorporate that massive history into what he or she plays in a 90-minute dance? They don’t. They can’t. And that would leave no room for new songs.
Paris Ball, director of Shrine Mont Camps, and I talked for a little while about musical legacy. She said, “I was a camper over 20 years ago. I’m not sure that the counselors now are that connected to the musical experience I had. If you asked me to make a dance playlist, I could shout out five songs that should always be in a camp dance, but I don’t think any of those songs are still played. Like, there’s no way I would make a camp dance playlist without 'Fight for Your Right' [by the Beastie Boys].”
Some folks from Paris’ generation might think it’s a tragedy – or at least a minor sin – that the Beastie Boys aren’t in rotation anymore. But to me, a camper/counselor of a later generation, that’s no big deal, and I love the Beastie Boys. "Fight for Your Right" wasn’t part of my camp experience, and it’s not part of camp’s experience now. Though Paris’ point wasn’t that she should commandeer a PD’s computer during a dance and fight for the campers’ right to hear some Beastie Boys, she meant that we shouldn’t overestimate the permanence of camp’s musical canon.
The 2015 St. G’s Dance
I asked Michael Yuhas, the current St. George’s program director, for his dance playlist. He listed seven songs before he shrugged and said, “It’s on [Assistant Director Churchill Gibson’s] computer. You should ask him.” Hold on. All four years I worked at St. George’s, the camp dance playlist was a [mostly] benevolent dictatorship ruled by the PD. If a counselor requested a song he was presumptuous, and to have a request granted was an honor. It looks like St. G’s went through a regime change with Michael and Churchill sharing the responsibility as co-democratic presidents.
Based on the hour I spent with St. George’s last week, it seems that this democratic spirit runs deep in 2015. Before a team building exercise on the director’s porch, where St. G’s has its staff meetings, Rachel Hill, a first year counselor from Liverpool, England, sat down in “The Director’s Chair.”
Playlist: 2015 St. G's
After creating a Spotify playlist with most of the 2015 songs, here’s what I noticed:
- Taylor Swift. If you’re a hater, you’ll appreciate that she’s not on the playlist because of her fight with Spotify. If you love T. Swift, I’m sorry that I couldn’t include the five songs that made it: "Red," "Bad Blood," "22," "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and "Shake It Off." (If you are a hater, follow my lead and get over it. Her album "1989" is good fun.)
- The “Camp Canon” Lives. "You Shook Me All Night Long" by AC/DC, "I Wish that I Had Jessie’s Girl" by Jamie Springer, "Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison, and "Love at the Five and Dime" by Nanci Griffith, songs that have featured at dances for years, all made the 2015 playlist.
- Boy Bands. "Bye, Bye, Bye" by N Sync, "Juliet" by LMNT, "Just the Girl" by The Click Five. Most counselors would have been between 3 and 7 years old when "Bye, Bye, Bye" came out in 2000. I don’t mean this as ageism. E.g., “Look how young they are and how old I am!” That kind of thing is annoying and divisive. I just want to point out that St. G’s relationship with those boy bands is different from mine. Whereas I lived through Justin Timberlake’s frosted tips, N Sync stands for something else for the 2015 staff. They’re playing a goofy, fun song from an earlier time when people must have been pretty strange—they’re right, we were. (Confession: I not only lived through JT’s frosted tips, I had them when I was in sixth grade. I thought they looked great. )
- Current and 90s Pop. "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars is the only current pop song besides Taylor Swift. "All Star" and "I’m a Believer" from the 90s pop band Smash Mouth made the list. Fun note: Smash Mouth played a show at Shrine Mont on Friday alongside Toad the Wet Sprocket.
- “Sounds like a Camp Song.” "Shut Up and Dance with Me" by Walk the Moon and "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" by Jet get my votes for songs that sound the most like camp music that came before. I would put "Uptown Funk," a great song, in this category, but it might be so overplayed that it outstays its welcome before it can become a tradition—we’ll see.
- I Love this Place. For years "No Woman, No Cry" by Bob Marley ended just about every camp dance. "I Love this Place" has taken its place as the final song, and rightfully so. It’s written by former St. G’s director Rad Burt about Shrine Mont. Camp knows this well, and it comes across in the song. During "I Love This Place," rather than just slow dancing, whole groups of campers and counselors dance together in circles, eventually becoming one circle as the camp transitions into the Goodnight Song and heads to bed. (Unfortunately, "I Love this Place" is not on Spotify either. If you see Rad Burt, be sure to hassle him about this.)
Same Beat, Different Tempo: The '80s Dance
Last weekend, Henry Burt, former director of St. G’s and program director from '86-'88, was up at Shrine Mont to drop off his older son at St. George’s Session II. He and I sat together on couches in the camp offices while he listed off 40+ songs from his dance mixtapes.
[Note about the '80s playlist: Like Taylor Swift on the 2015 playlist, the '80s playlist has some artists who are too fabulous for Spotify. "Twist and Shout" and "Birthday" by The Beatles and "Little Red Corvette," "Let's Go Crazy," "Purple Rain," "When Doves Cry" and "Computer Blue" by Prince were all in heavy rotation in the '80s, but you'll have to find them somewhere else. Personally, I like that not all of the songs from the playlists are available. I'm glad Spotify allows us have this shared experience, but part of what made these songs so special was that, for many, the only place they ever heard them was at Shrine Mont.]
Playlist: Eighties Dance
For Henry, music from The Big Chill didn’t really speak to his generation, or at least not anymore. Instead, he and his contemporaries brought into rotation bands like R.E.M., Talking Heads and The Cars. For many, R.E.M. especially epitomizes camp music of this generation. Songs like "Superman," "Driver 8," "Sitting Still," "Shiny Happy People," and "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" bring back fond memories of camp dances. But camp has been around since the early '60s, and those songs came out between ’83 and ’91. R.E.M. quickly became a camp dance staple, but in the '80s their music was something new rather than dipped in amber.
Henry’s playlist didn’t totally jettison all the music played by his predecessors. The B52s, The Who and Led Zeppelin* all made the playlist, quintessential dance songs from earlier years.
- *A Stairway to Awkward: For years camp would play "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin, which is a hilarious slow dance song because it’s not one. The song starts at a slow dance tempo, campers ask each other to dance, and then about four and a half minutes in (longer than most campers had probably hoped to lock arms and try not to make eye contact) the tempo changes just enough to make the couple wonder if they should go their separate ways or just sway faster. Then at six minutes, the song goes into a guitar solo, the tempo speeds up again, and Zeppelin launches into one of the most epic rock breakdowns of all time.
I love the songs on the '80s playlist. Many of the songs folks will recognize from Hoss shows and dances in the '90s and '00s: "Psycho Killer" by Talking Heads, "I Will Follow" by U2, "I Melt with You" by Modern English, "Message in a Bottle" by The Police, "Superman" by R.E.M. But ultimately I feel like I would rather have the '80s playlist be the score of a movie about my life starring the Brat Pack than hear it at a dance. But then again, I wasn’t a teenager in the '80s. The accepted style and tempo of a dance song in the '80s was probably much different than it is now.
Camp is a place that exists outside of time in a lot of ways; that's part of what makes it special. But campers and counselors over the years were raised in different cultures, so they respond differently to different music. And that’s OK. One common thread, though, seems to be a rejection of what doesn’t work. Both Henry and Churchill talked without prompting about clearing out the music of previous generations to make room for what works better. And thank God for that--without new music, the river of camp music would dry up, and who would want to swim in it then?
Dance with the One that Brought You
So I'm glad to hear that St. George’s is opting for tunes that facilitate dancing (or learning to flail confidently), just as Kendall Metz’s 2010 playlist did, rather than playing what the campers “need to hear." As a formal apology to Kendall for giving her crap about her playlist in 2010: my bad. In hindsight, her playlist was creative destruction, clearing a path through an over-devotion to the canon towards the fun campers are having at dances today.
That said, I wouldn’t want camp to drop the role of the cool older sibling expanding the musical tastes of everyone at St. George’s. But the camp dance is one small sliver of the sum total of music played at camp; there are so many opportunities to raise campers on good music, to "uphold camp’s musical heritage" (as I preached in 2010).
In fact, one of my fondest musical memories was wedged between the dance and lights out. From 2007-2009, Caleb Nelson Amaker, now the director of SHYC, and I played Alicia Keys’ "If I Ain’t Got You" on full blast in the boys’ latrines as everyone got ready for bed. I’m not sure if any campers – or even any one besides Caleb and me – remember that tradition, but I’m guessing there are a few college-aged guys out there with an inexplicable affinity for Alicia Keys before bed. "If I Ain’t Got You" is an incredible song (and I will arm wrestle anyone who says otherwise) but in any other context it’d be just another song on the radio. There was something about that song in that moment, in the comedown from the high of the camp dance, two [almost] grown men putting on Alicia Keys and getting into it, that created something that neither that moment alone nor that song alone could have.
Someday, decades from now, I hope that I’ll be at Shrine Mont sitting on a porch with the sounds of a camp dance playing nearby. Maybe my daughter will be a camper at that dance. I imagine there will be mostly songs I’ve never heard before, and some I have but never at camp. But more than anything, I hope that I’ll be able to listen closely so I might hear through the campers’ shouts and laughter to the generations of camp that came before them, and the generations still to come, all dancing to one continuous playlist.
But the last song better be "I Love this Place."
“Tell me 'bout the greatest show or the greatest movie you know
or the greatest song that you taped from off the radio.
Play it again and again it cuts off at the ending though.
Tell me I'm always gonna be your best friend.
Now you said it one time, why don't you say it again?”
“Maybe they told you 'bout the summer sky,
maybe they said there's a great gold spirit in the summer sky
or all your friends (all your best, best friends)
are gonna gather around your bed at night.
Well that'll make it all right because it is still so far from all right.
Oh, kid, I know.”
In his day job, Ed works for the Diocese of Virginia as the deputy director of transition ministry, shepherding future priests and deacons through the discernment and formation process, and helping churches search for a new priest.
Ed graduated from Sewanee in 2010. He lives in Richmond.
The View from the Mountain is written by a rotating cast of staff writers and contributors.