Bebo Norman, "Walk Down This Mountain"
By The Rev. Beth Magill
For the last several years I have had the privilege of serving at (gasp!) another Episcopal camp outside of the Diocese of Virginia. (Yes, they do exist. Though we'll leave it at that.) Upon being invited to direct my first session of camp as a priest - think: role of the Chaplain at Shrine Mont - but with design of the entire session, I was fretting about what on earth I had to offer to the staff and campers. A good friend and fellow life-long Shrine Mont patron offered this guidance: "Do what you know. Don't try to reinvent the wheel." So, I went about apprehensively designing a week of camp based on the Body of Christ passage from 1 Corinthians.
I was nervous. Of course this framework had worked well and permeated the lives of generations of folks from the Diocese of Virginia. It had such an impact on me that it is the passage after which I strive to order my life and ministry. But, I couldn't help but wonder if tradition, emotional attachment, or simple complacency hadn't led us to laud it's success, after all these years. Being out of my comfort zone often leads me to questions that seem silly and even unfaithful in hindsight. I persevered and set out to buy hundreds of feet of body string.
As is often the case, my fears were unfounded. Campers and staffers alike were completely taken and moved by a reminder of their deep and abiding importance as a member of the Body of Christ. Middle school students were enlivened by the challenge of building a community stronger than that which they had dreamed possible. They even humored me by wearing the body strings. My expectations were quite low and so, at the end of the session, I marked this one down in the books as an outrageous success.
Imagine my surprise when I happened upon a counselor at a Diocesan event several months later, still proudly wearing her body string. She then proceeded to tell me of others with whom she had kept in touch, and for whom their Body String had been a source of strength over the course of the school year. A simple string, miles from the home of its origin, still conveying a reminder of a beloved child's deep and abiding importance as a member of the Body of Christ.
Fast forward four years to this summer, at the all-camp Eucharist. A returning counselor with whom I had the privilege of working previously was assigned to a different camp site this year. We were excited to reconnect as we gathered around the lake to worship. Before I returned to setting the altar, he stopped me and asked, "Do you think I could get another Body String? It really helped me a lot this year, but I gave it to a friend when he moved to North Carolina." Not only did he find meaning in the simple symbol, but he had met the challenge of sharing the Good News with another. "Yes, why don't you take mine."
I also had the privilege of visiting Camp Capers, of the Diocese of West Texas, throughout the summer, where students of our ministry both attend and work. As I was going about my visit I happened to notice a common sight on the wrists of the staffers - Body Strings. Their staff director, who worked with me last year at camp and throughout the school year, without my knowing had shared what she had experienced with a whole new body of folks. Exponential and surprising growth, all birthed of a simple reminder that we can all use help remembering our place in the Body of Christ.
What I had initially failed to focus on was the unfailing power of scripture when it comes alive. Did it all look, sound, and smell a little different than that of our lives on the beloved mountain? Of course. But it still had meaning - deep, transformative meaning. So, I suppose I write simply to celebrate with those whom I still consider my beloved community of origin, and those in this new place, who are intimately tied to one another.
What you're doing works, Shrine Mont Camps, both for people to whom you once ministered, to those whom you currently minister, and to many, many others beyond the grasp of the mountain.
The Rev. Beth Magill has served as Missioner to the Episcopal Student Center at the University of Texas since 2011, and in the Diocese of Texas since 2009. She is originally from Alexandria, Virginia, where her family still resides. Beth was a MAD & St. George's camper throughout her childhood. She served as counselor to Explorer's camp, St. George's, and as chaplain. She returns to the mountain as often as she is able.
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.