10 Things I Learned as Summer Camp Chaplain

Camp Calumet has been a home away from home for most of my life.  I attended camp as a camper, counselor, senior staff person and year round staff person.  Less than a month after I graduated seminary I was a chaplain for a weekend retreat at Calumet.  I served as a chaplain for a Christmas retreat but serving as a chaplain during the summer is different.

Like most ministry my role as chaplain was to connect with the campers and the staff.  I was to provide a short message during the morning devotions and evening vespers service.  Besides that I had “free” time.  So I went with cabin groups to their Discovery Time (Interactive Bible Study), Unit Time (large group game time divided by ages) and department time (afternoon classes ie swimming, boating, arts and crafts etc).  I also enjoyed some time on the beach with my family.

Here are 10 things I learned from my week as a Summer Camp Chaplain

  1.  I am not 16 anymore.  Late nights and early mornings don’t bode well for me anymore.  Spending the day with my backpack, sneakers, bathing suit and towel may seem fun for the first two days, but my daily step count went from 6,500 to 15,000 a day.  I was tired by the end of the day.  I was thankful for a day to recoup when I got home.
  2. Talking to a large group of kids is scary.  When at camp I was talking to 8 year olds and 18 year old and everyone in between.  I feel okay leading them in song, running a bunch of group games or leading them in a missional experience.  But I was talking with them about God.  This is a children’s sermon on steroids!  I was so nervous before getting to camp.  I wanted to make sure i was fully prepared and that I knew what I was talking about.
  3. We all have problems.  I followed the camp curriculum and each day there was a theme.  I tailored my talks around those themes.  When you present ideas about forgiveness, loving your neighbor, praying, and serving you are bound to get reactions.  I had campers and staff talk with me about things they were experiencing in their life.  I heard stories of heartache and hopelessness and I tried to encourage them and help them see God moving in their life.  I realized that no matter how perfect someone’s life seems we all have problems.
  4. There is so much talk about how millennials are the death of our society.  However I saw millennials at their best.  I saw 20 somethings make critical decisions for the well being of 200 campers because a storm was coming and I saw amazing decision making skills by some of the leadership of the camp.
  5. Young people can be passionate about their faith.  The next time someone tells me that young people do not care about their faith I am going to tell them that they are wrong.  The counselors and staff at Camp Calumet care about their faith, they sing songs about Gods love, they teach lessons to campers about faith and they share of themselves.  The best way for a young person to grow deeper in their faith is to see someone they love and respect living out their fiath and I saw that happen again and again at camp.
  6. Some things change but some things stay the same.  I served on the summer staff of Calumet between 1994- 2002.  I was sure to connect with Boys Cabin 3 (the cabin where I was a counselor) and they played the same games and had the same cabin set up as I did.  I went to Unit Time and we played Tag on Tuesday and ate grilled cheese on Monday.  As much as camp grows there are some things that never change.
  7. I love the lake.  I was able to spend time in the lake almost everyday.  When I was a counselor I served in Arts and Crafts so a swim in the lake was not something I did very much.  But now floating on my back in the deep end of the lake is a must for me.  To look up and see the bright blue sky with pure white clouds is as close to heaven as I am going to get in this world.
  8. Camp Songs are amazing.  Calumet is lucky to have one of the most talented musicians I know on their staff.  Nowhere else have I seen someone have the ability to transition from singing Jesu Fill Us with Your Love to Light the Fire again.  Camp songs have always energized my faith and helped me connect with God.
  9. I learn as much as I teach. The counselors at camp are so creative.  They have insights and ideas that astound me.  I spent one morning with a cabin group and I witnessed them do an activity with their cabin group.  I thought I had an idea about how they were going to relate it to the theme of the day. But when we sat down to have a discussion they went in a completely different direction and it was amazing.
  10. I will never get too old to go to camp.  Even though I have slowed down a bit since I was 16 years old I will never stop going to camp.  I was so thankful to be asked to serve as chaplain and I will never forget the experience.  I hope and pray that I will be lucky to serve again in the future and until then I will continue to go to camp as often as I am able and I will share my camp experience with anyone who will listen.

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