The 2020 CN Summer Experience

You would think that there wasn’t much to do for Camp this past summer.  You would think that a 2-week online program wouldn’t require much effort.  You would think that bringing kids together in the virtual world is as easy as clicking “the mouse” a couple time.  That’s what you would think.  You would be VERY wrong!

I am not really sure how to describe what we came to call the 2020 CN Summer Camp Experience, which was the online program the Camp offered our Diocesan children, not as a replacement for being together AT Camp, but as something that would give them what they always need…Christ Himself.  It will sound terribly grandiose to you, but I would describe the 2020 CN Summer Camp Experience as a journey; a journey whose purpose was hidden from us until the journey was completely finished.  (I will not reveal what I see as its purpose until the end of the article.)  Again, I know that sounds grandiose, but truth be told, I do believe that what actually happened during the 2020 CN Summer Camp Experience was a miracle.  Here’s why.

Our kids look forward to Camp.  Some look forward to it ALL year long.  Some start looking forward to it right after it ends in the summer.  Some start looking forward to it after the beginning of the New Year.  Others look forward to it when registration opens at the end of February/beginning of March.  Others start looking forward to it when school ends.  But ALL our kids look forward to Camp.  Even the ones who are First-timers, once they’ve completed their week, harass their parents about signing them up next summer.  The staff too!!  They look forward to Camp as well.  All for pretty much the same reasons:  reunite with friends (many of whom you haven’t been with in-person since Camp the previous Summer), Fun in Christ (Camp is great fun, a kind of fun that is good for the soul), and a return to faith (if you’ve forgotten that you care about Christ and believe, there’s 150 people waiting for you at Camp to remind you that yes, you care about Him, and yes, you believe!)  I can’t tell you how many times campers say the same thing, “I needed Camp to help my faith.”

Why mention the obvious?  Because just about the time EVERYONE started looking forward to Camp, the world literally fell apart on us.  Just about the time registration for Camp was set to open, EVERYTHING started getting put on hold, including Camp.

So we went from excitement to depression.  That is an oversimplification because in between excitement and depression other emotions and feelings occurred, but it is the essence of what happened.  The analogy for us would be Pascha.  How we all felt about Pascha is how the campers and staff felt about not having Camp.  Over the course of about 2 months (beginning of March to beginning of May, approximately) we went from the very high to the very low.

You may find this one even harder to believe:  when Camp got taken away from our kids, so did God.  Again, I know it sounds like Camp is “tooting its own horn.”  Forgive me for this please, but ask our campers when and where they feel the closest to God in their lives.  Almost 100% of them will say, “Camp!”  I am not saying this to build Camp up.  I’m saying it so that you know how low we got.  When Camp got taken away, so did God…so it seemed.  Remember the Pascha analogy in your own life – if we couldn’t gather in Church together for Pascha, didn’t it SEEM like God Himself was taken away from us?

This at a time when kids were having EVERYTHING ELSE taken away from them – family, friends, school, sports, graduations, proms, church, etc., etc., etc.  On top of all that even Camp got “lost”, a very powerful “lifeline” of our kids’ faith simply gone…so it seemed.

I’m going to skip descriptions of a lot of details from February through the end of July, and move to the next problem that needed solving.  The first problem was whether or not to have Camp in person.  Let’s skip the several problems after that, among which were whether or not to have an online Camp at all, the ongoing problem of what an online Camp would even be and look like, and whether or not we had the resources to “pull it off”.  I’ll let you in on one big piece of the resource problem puzzle:  How do you broadcast services live from the Camp Church without any internet at the Church?  Just like every other parish that didn’t have internet, right?  Not so fast.  Because of its location, Camp does not have cable or fiber.  The only recourse is satellite internet, but satellite internet is subject to weather conditions.  So what do you do with services broadcast live via satellite if the weather gives you trouble?  Hope for the best?  The quick fix, simple solution, just run a long line from wherever to the Camp Church wasn’t possible.  Just get the kids together online.  It’s simple.  No, not really. 

So again, skipping a lot in between, after deciding whether or not to have Camp in-person, the next problem was convincing everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, that a Camp online was worth it, i.e. that it would be good.  What’s good mean?  Remember, if kids come to Camp to be with their friends (and that is the number 1 reason they do come), and if they come for the particular “brand” of fun we have AT Camp (Fun in Christ), and if while they’re here with 100 others their faith is strengthened, could we even “pull that off” with Camp through the computer?  There’s not one person in the room, so to speak, who thought we could, Yours Truly included.  Plenty of us felt we SHOULD have Camp online, but NO ONE felt we COULD, and make it good.  No parent, no camper, no priest, no STAFF MEMBER.  That’s not to shame us.  It means that no one believed Camp in-person could be adequately translated into the virtual world; that it was going to work.  Everyone not only felt that it wouldn’t be the same, but that it was going to be a genuinely awful experience.  I cannot describe to you how big of a problem this was, and in order to fully appreciate what comes later, you need to understand just how big. 

Go ahead and ask any of the campers what they thought “computer” Camp was going to be like.  Better yet, ask any of the 2020 CN Summer Camp Experience COUNSELORS what they thought “computer” Camp was going to be like.  Again, this isn’t to shame anyone.  I am expressing what we all felt from February on:  even though we’ll do it, Camp won’t be the same.  Even though we’ll do it, we really don’t think it will be any good.  Even though we’ll do it, we won’t have any fun (in Christ).  That feeling lasted until the evening of Tuesday, July 21, 2020 (the second full day of the 2020 CN Summer Camp Experience).  That’s when something happened to change ALL of us.  From February up to that point, “computer” Camp could not give anyone what in-person Camp does…Christ!  It couldn’t help our children.  It couldn’t connect them to Him or to each other.  It couldn’t, it couldn’t, it couldn’t!

We were WRONG.  And if I could point to one moment that showed us that we were wrong it would be Cabin Time on Tuesday night of our first week.  That was the first night that the campers and staff really got to spend more time together to just catch up as Cabin Families.  When we talked to the Cabin Counselors about that night (we talked with the counselors each day to find out how things were going), strangely, ALL of them said that not only did the Cabin Times go really, really well, but that the kids had great things to say about the first 2 days of the Program, that they were actively participating, that they were enjoying themselves, and that the Counselors themselves were really excited and enjoying themselves too.  It seemed like that Tuesday night changed everyone’s attitude about the 2020 CN Summer Camp Experience.  Again, we learned that our assumptions about what the Experience was going to be like were wrong.  There was more for us to learn.

We learned at least 5 things from February through July.

First, we learned that our Theme was very important to us (as a Staff) and that it was a timely message for everyone.  “…provided you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the Gospel which you heard…” (Colossians 1:23).  We can shorten it simply to “…faith, stable and steadfast…”  At a time when there seems to be no stability, St. Paul’s words to the church at Colossae seemed to be written directly to us.

Second, there is no distance or separation in the spiritual life.  Prayer and love overcome all distance and separation.  When we could not be together (as a Staff, and as a Camp), could the isolation, separation and distance we all felt be overcome?  The answer that came through the 2020 CN Summer Camp Experience (even in the online world) was an overwhelming “YES”!  God can and DID overcome the distance and separation through prayer and love.

Third, we learned something else that Scripture teaches us.  “Do your work before the appointed time, and in God’s time He will give you your reward.” (Sirach 51:30)  I really can’t tell you how many hours the Staff spent online together learning, training, and planning the 2020 CN Summer Camp Experience.  I really can’t tell you how many hours they spent offline individually or with their co-programmers figuring out what the Summer Camp Experience would be like.  To say it was a lot, would be like saying Mount Everest is big.  But I can tell you that God fulfilled this verse for us.  The verse was part of our training, made the more important because we weren’t going to be together AT Camp, so we had to believe that God would reward us in order to keeping going in the work.  Many hours in preparation and as a Staff we WERE given our reward in the form of campers who inspired us, made us laugh, enthusiastically participated in EVERYTHING we offered AND stayed with us the ENTIRE time.  For both weeks of the 2020 CN Summer Camp Experience we had 100% retention from beginning to end.  Meaning, if 50 kids started the week with us, there were 50 kids ending the week with us!!

Fourth, we learned that having a clear understanding of the Camp’s Mission and Goals was even more important to planning a virtual program than an in-person program.  Simply put, we needed to always be asking the question, “What is most important to the Camper’s Experience of Camp?”  Getting kids together online is the easiest part.  What to do with them that fulfills the Mission and accomplishes the Goals is far more difficult.

Fifth, and finally, we learned that God knows how to feed His people.  I won’t say anything about this just yet, but this was probably the biggest and most important lesson we learned.

Here’s the schedule of a typical day in the 2020 CN Summer Camp Experience.  It will seem simple and boring to you.  Looking at the schedule and being honest, even I would be tempted to say about it, “That’s it?!  You spent months planning to produce that?!”  But, as they say, looks can be deceiving.  Here’s a typical day:


Remember, we struggled in this whole process (as did the campers and parents) to believe that “computer” Camp, the 2020 CN Summer Camp Experience, could connect campers with Christ and with each other in a meaningful way.  Remember also that we discovered we were WRONG.  Wrong to disbelieve.  Wrong if we thought for a moment that God couldn’t feed his children, even in the virtual world.

The schedule is simple enough each day.  A morning routine of 2.5 hours.  An evening routine for the 1.5 hours.  Same for the YOUNGER campers except the evening routine was a little earlier.  Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday there were Moleben Services (to St. Nectarios, to the Holy Cross, to the Mother of God) at 5pm.  The Moleben to the Mother of God on Thursday was broadcast live from St. George Church in Taylor!  Sunday’s and Friday’s schedules were slightly different.  Sunday was just in the evening for 2.5 hours.  Friday’s schedule included Morning Divine Liturgy broadcast live from Camp at 9am, and then concluding activities from 2pm -4:15pm including an end-of-week Slideshow!

To fill in some of the other blanks:

The Morning News was called The Daily Connection broadcast live by CNDC News (Camp Nazareth Daily Connection News).  It was a complete news show – weather segment, sports segment, Cabin Clean-up segment, reporters in the field, the daily scoop on the happenings at Camp, etc.  It was a LOT of work to produce, but it was also a great way to bring us TOGETHER in a shared Camp Experience.

Morning Prayers were broadcast from Camp.

Mind, Body, Soul – Campers watched a 2-4 minute video produced by one of the Staff Family on how they take care of themselves (especially important given our circumstances) and then the campers were asked to do something for 20 minutes or so to take care of themselves (ex.  Read Scripture, exercise, clean their room, do yard work, learn something new, write a card to someone, etc.)  This was one of the ways we asked the campers to “take hold” of caring for themselves after seeing how the Staff do so.

Cabin Rotation – each day a Cabin was doing the same activity (either together or individually).  Activities included Arts and Crafts, Metropolitan’s Time (meeting with His Eminence online), Hiking (video to “Parts Unknown” at Camp.  In other words, places they’ve never seen) or Plain Chant - recording themselves singing Plain Chant for purposes of an all-Camp recording.

Faith Enrichment – an online Panel Discussion between His Eminence and the clergy that week.  Campers could submit questions online for His Eminence and the priests to discuss and answer.  Questions ranged from “Do you have pets?” to “What do you like most about being a priest?”; from “How are you doing?” to “What happens when we die?”

Evening Services (on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) – these were the Molebens mentioned above.  2 were broadcast from Camp.  1 from St. George Church in Taylor.

Evening Activities (on Monday and Wednesday) – one for the Younger Campers, one for the Older Campers.  (Tuesday was an all-Camp Campfire.)  They would start and end as one large group.  In between they were in smaller “Breakout Groups” doing a variety of fun activities.  The Evening Activities included things like Scavenger Hunts inside your home, a CN Cabaret to showcase your talent (voluntary, but we had great participation from the campers!), Dance Productions, games similar to Pictionary (draw and guess), Olympic Games (in honor of the postponed 2020 Games), Jeopardy, and a host of other fun activities produced by the Staff Family.  Again, I can’t really describe everything, but they were fun and interesting activities that allowed the campers to simply have fun and be together, while also learning things about their Faith and Camp.

Cabin Times and Cabin Check-ins with Evening Prayers – Cabin Times were longer - 1 hour, 15 minutes.  Cabin Check-ins were shorter – 30 minutes.   Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday were the longer Cabin Times.  Monday and Wednesday (after the Evening Activities) were the shorter Cabin Check-ins.  During these times you met as a Cabin Family just like you would at Camp each night.  Ice-breakers, other games, stories, talking, catching-up and Evening Prayers were all part of just being together as a Cabin Family.  Not to dismiss any other part of the 2020 CN Summer Camp Experience (including the Services), but this was probably the most important part of our schedule.

2 other notable parts of the 2020 CN Summer Camp Experience:

Care Packages – we sent each Camper a care package before their week began.  Inside the care package were many smaller packages labeled by day or activity.  Campers were instructed to open only THAT DAY’S package each day.  Here was question and here was the answer.  The question was:  How do we capture the “surprise” element at Camp?  The answer was:  A Care Package, but one that includes things to be opened each day.  In other words, we placed an emphasis on surprising the campers, and figured out a way to “capture” that trait of a good Camp program.  Here’s a list of things we included in the Care Packages listed by the activity or the day campers could open them:

Sunday:  Letter from His Eminence Metropolitan Gregory, Letter from the Camp welcoming them “to Camp” and explaining the Care Package, Camp T-shirt, Name Tag, and an Evening Prayer Sheet.

Monday:  Morning Prayer Sheet, Icon Card of a Holy Unmercenary Healer and Wonderworker together with a standing frame.

Tuesday:  Moleben to St. Nectarios Booklet, Campfire Supplies – aerial picture of the Camp’s campfire circle, “wood” for the fire and a battery powered tea-light as the fire

Wednesday:  Sticky Bun Magnet!!, Moleben to the Holy Cross Booklet

Thursday:  Icon card of the Kardiotissa, Myrrh from the Kardiotissa Icon, Moleben to the Mother of God Booklet

Friday:  Balloons and a small wooden bat

Craft Envelope:  small cloth, 3 fabric markers, instructions for the Craft, postage paid return envelope for the craft

Metropolitan’s Time Envelope:  icon card of the Synaxis of the Carpatho-Rusyn Saints, story sheet about the Carpatho-Rusyn Saints, small icon card frame

Senior Care Package – if you were a Senior you also received a Senior Program T-Shirt, a letter from the Senior Programmers, a Come to Me Prayer Book, a Book about how to navigate College, a Senior Craft Journal Book, and pictures for the Journal Book.

In addition, AFTER Camp was over, everyone received another Care Package which included a letter from Metropolitan Gregory, a letter from the CN Staff Family with personal notes from each Staff Family member, and a Camp Patch for having successfully completed the Program.  The Seniors also received an After-Camp Care Package which included their Senior Candle, a Camp-in-a-Bag package, a Camp Keychain with the latitude and longitude of Camp on it, a letter from the Senior Programmers, and a package of Camp tri-fold paper towels useful as packing material and for cleaning their homes because they missed out on Cabin Clean-up their Senior Year!

Senior Program – While not listed in the schedule for each day, we placed an emphasis on our Seniors’ experience during the 2020 Program.  Besides the Care Packages mentioned above, during the week, our Seniors had time with each other and their Senior Programmers, time with Metropolitan Gregory, a Friday after-Liturgy Brunch, Senior Speeches, a Senior Craft, time “in the Camp church” to see their Senior Candles lit at the beginning and burning during the week, a special website page to post pics of themselves in the Camp Program and “Spirit Days” which were themes each day for them to participate in.  As usual, our Seniors came to the Camp Program with great attitudes which made the whole experience better for them.

Now, with a little “meat on the bone”, we begin to see that while the schedule may look fairly simple from the outside, once we “dig in” a little, we find a quality program with a lot of thought, effort and energy behind it.  And honestly, that’s not the half of it, so to speak.  We’ve only given you brief descriptions of the schedule elements.  I would honestly love to talk with you more about the “other half of things” because of what we learned during the whole process, but time and space simply don’t allow it.  However, let me give you just one more tidbit that will show you just how much thought, effort and energy the CN Staff Family put into the Program for our children.

If you look at the first page of the schedule above, there’s a graphic which includes a computer screen, a tablet and a cell phone.  On the computer screen is the Camp Logo, on the tablet is an icon of Christ and on the cell phone are the bars that indicate the strength of connection with the Cross as the tallest “bar”.  It’s Camp, but Camp is just the vehicle through which to connect…really it’s Christ with whom we want to connect…but not just Christ, we want your connection with Him to be strong.  So the Program emphasized connection with Christ, not simply with each other, and emphasized a stable and steadfast faith to stay connected, and wanted that stable and steadfast faith to be strong, always leading us to Christ.  A simple graphic, but a graphic with a lot of thought behind it, to communicate the Mission of Camp, its goals, and the Theme of the 2020 CN Summer Camp Experience.  I’ll mention again 3 of the 5 things we learned that we mentioned above that the graphic reminds us of:  1. How important the Theme was/is, 2. Sirach 51:30 – we needed to do a lot of work before God rewarded us, and 3.  Everything we did needed to be “measured” against the Camp’s mission and goals. 

To wrap everything up for us, remember I said that I would talk about the fifth thing we learned later in the article?  Now is the time to talk about it.  The fifth thing we learned was that God knows how to feed His people.  It was the most important lesson we learned.  I believe the purpose of the “journey” I mentioned in the second paragraph was for us to learn this lesson.  We really didn’t believe He could feed His children through “computer” Camp, but He did.  We really shouldn’t be surprised that He could do it, but like the Apostles at the Feeding of the 5000 we were.  Strangely, the surprise was made all the better BECAUSE we really didn’t believe He could do it.  But again, God knows how to feed His people, He just needed us to “set the table”, so to speak.  He just needed us to get the campers to sit down in the lonely place, i.e. at their computer screens rather than in-person at Camp.  Once we did, and once the 2020 CN Summer Camp Experience started, we saw the miracle first hand.  I, for one, am grateful to be surprised by Him.  I don’t want to lack faith, but I also don’t mind getting to see His good work.  It’s always humbling because you look at what you have, and say, as did the Apostles, “we have here only 5 loaves and 2 fish, but what is that among so many?” (for us it was, we have here only a computer and the internet, what can we really do?), but after He is done, you are simply stunned and in awe that He was able to do so much with so little.

I think the real lesson of the 2020 CN Summer Camp Experience was just this:  God knows how to feed His people.  We just have to help Him “set the table”, so to speak.