An integral aspect of summer camp is joyful, embodied worship, and I have experienced numerous examples of such worship during my time at Shrine Mont. Several features of summer camp worship distinguish it from the typical Sunday morning service. First, worship is completely led by youth, from start to finish. Adults are nearby to provide support or calm nerves, but they only intervene if a young person asks for assistance. Taking ownership of the service ensures that youth are invested in what happens. Youth-led services provide wonderful opportunities for leadership and public speaking.
The second component is fantastic singing with full participation by everyone present. Not only is the singing done at full volume, including shouting where appropriate, but it is accompanied by hand gestures and body movements. The choreographed songs allow the youth to demonstrate their love of the Lord with their whole selves. They enthusiastically throw themselves into the singing, literally and figuratively.
Third, prayers are always heartfelt and earnest. Whether read from the Book of Common Prayer or extemporaneous prayers, all are sincere. There is no going through the motions when children pray.
The fourth component is to expect the unexpected. The Old Testament lesson was read by a youth in Hebrew and English at one service! In another service, everyone participated in complimentary rat ball, where you take turns giving and receiving compliments. Seeing young people genuinely praise one another and give thanks for each individual in the group was a powerful experience. One service replaced the sermon with a short skit which emphasized the importance of respecting all of God’s creation. Some youth were members of a community fearful of reptiles, a young woman portrayed Jesus, and three boys really got into their roles as snakes complete with hissing and slithering on the ground. The sacrament of the word was fully embodied and comprehensible to all who were present.
Given this style of worship at summer camp, it’s no surprise that some of the youth who fill our pews on Sunday mornings have difficulty connecting to our liturgy. Could we incorporate these elements of worship into our Sunday School programs, youth group gatherings and Sunday morning services? I think we adults would be amazed at the response if we begin to turn things over to youth and young adults.