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
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.