Camp Nazareth Summer Camp 2019

Ugh.  Staring at a blank page and waiting for some inspiration to come is not unusual when it comes to writing the article about our Diocesan Summer Weeks at Camp.  Ugh again, because looking at one blank page reminds you that there are two more blank pages after that one that need to be filled with highlights and memories as well.  Ugh one more time, because memories are not as easy to remember, especially when you’ve put some distance between you and them.  Nevertheless, an article is called for and like anything else, asking God for help and TRUSTING Him with and in it calls down the One who is the Giver of All Good, the Giver of All Blessings.

Staring at the blank pages of an article yet to be written about Summer Camp is much like planning Summer Camp itself during the “off-season”…what’s it going to be filled with?  Are there going to be the same things as the Summer before?  Will anything be different?  Will some of the Staff return?  Will we lose Staff to other opportunities?  What’s the menu going to be like?  Will the menu be liked?  Will we change the schedule around?  Should we?  All these questions, and so many more, are asked and talked about, asked again, discussed more, tabled for a time, asked AGAIN, and then MAYBE some sort of an answer is given and then MAYBE accepted…after further discussion of course.  Once again, like anything else, asking God for help and TRUSTING Him with and in the process of planning Summer Camp calls down the One who is the Giver of All Good, the Giver of All Blessings, and further does what we are supposed to do, give ourselves and our will over to God, who’s perfect and most-holy will is meant to govern everything.

And then blank pages can begin to be filled not just with things, not just with program elements, not just with memories of Summer Camp, but most importantly with the presence of God, because He was asked, invited as it were, into everything from the beginning.  Like anything else, the presence of God brings life, even to blank pages, even to (especially to) Summer Camp.

So let’s start with St. Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of Life, and her life-giving presence in the miraculous icon of the Kardiotissa which came to Camp each Thursday and Friday of our Diocesan Weeks.  What’s to say other than our Most Holy Mother makes everything better when she comes.  We’re better as persons and as a Camp Family when she comes.  Camp is better when she comes.  Church is better when she comes.  As if it weren’t enough to have the Mother of Life as she always is in the Church, we have her miracle working icon of the Kardiotissa as well.  And so our Diocesan Summer weeks were filled with the Mother of God, the Mother of Life.

One might say that it’s all downhill from there.  Since nothing can compare to our Most Holy Mother, what’s to say?  But we still have two-and-a-half pages to fill, so hopefully mom won’t mind if we write for a while longer.

Those Thursday afternoons when the Kardiotissa was with us, we slowed the Camp schedule down compared to previous years.  With the younger (8-12) and older (13-18) campers we emphasized a quieter, more reflective Thursday afternoon and evening.  The younger campers participated in an activity that taught them about Confession through a series of small group discussions or stations.  That activity culminated with going to Confession.  The older campers participated in discussion groups which were reflective in nature and which were also meant to help lead them into the Sacrament of Confession.

While this is not an article about Confession, it might be helpful to show you the activity/curriculum for the younger campers that was developed by one of the Staff members for those Thursday evenings.

There were 4 stations total, the last “station” being the actual Sacrament of Confession.  The first 3 stations talked about the “Why”, the “How”, and the “What”.  Meaning, the first covered the “Why we have Confession” – interestingly it focused a lot on St. John the Baptist and his call to the people to “REPENT!”  The second covered the “How we go to Confession” – a sort of practical discussion of the nuts and bolts of the Sacrament.  The third station covered the “What we confess” – in other words what is sin, and the struggle we are engaged in against it.  Just a fragment from each station is worthwhile to see what your children are learning at Camp.

The “Why” of Confession:

“John the Baptist called the people to repentance.  He cleared the path for our Lord by calling the people to repentance and baptism, showing how absolutely necessary repentance (confessing our sins) was for our salvation…St. John brought people to repentance...he knew the only way for us to reach paradise is through becoming…pure…every time we go to Confession, as long as we confess all our sins, we become pure and Christ-like again.  Sin has no place in the Kingdom of God and so we work hard to keep ourselves free from it.”  The teaching was direct and simple and illustrated by the life of St. John the Baptist.  In that way, good for the younger campers.

The “How” of Confession:

Among the other things mentioned at this station:  preparation for the Sacrament.  “Preparation for Holy Confession is a prayerful examination of feelings, thoughts, words, acts, attitudes, habits, values, priorities…and your way of life…you reflect on everything you did or may not have done…”  Part of the lesson at this station focused on the need to make preparation for Confession PRAYERFUL.  In other words, HOW we approach Confession is important to the Confession itself.  Making an examination of conscience prayerful is an important part of making a Confession.  That of course seems simple, and again it was purposefully simple, but so necessary to teach and hear.  Not only are we meant to THINK about what we are going to confess, but asking God for help (making the preparation PRAYERFUL) is essential to our Confession.

The “What” of Confession:

God gave us the Sacrament of Confession.  In that way a gift, a blessing, but a gift to sinners.  A gift to sinners to gain the next “gift” which is God’s forgiveness.  That forgiveness comes, strangely enough, through the admission of guilt, that we’ve done something wrong (our sins).  Completely different from admitting guilt in a court of law which will gain us punishment (fines, prison time, etc.).  In Confession we gain freedom from sin AND healing from its effects on the soul.  Spiritual wounds are wiped away.  They are healed IF we confess our sins and MEAN IT.  In other words, if we are SORRY for our sins.  How is this possible?  Through Jesus Christ Who died for us, Who gained God’s forgiveness for us through the Cross, and Who made it POSSIBLE (only POSSIBLE) for sinners to gain Heaven THROUGH REPENTANCE IN CONFESSION.

Those were the Stations of the Confession Activity which led to the Sacrament itself.  An excellent curriculum with activities at each Station to supplement the learning process.  An excellent learning experience to help slow down those Thursday afternoons and evenings in order to consider more our life while in the presence of the Kardiotissa.  Thanks be to God for His Most Holy Mother.  Thanks be to God for the Kardiotissa.  Thanks be to God for everything that has come from having Her with us!

One never knows how things will work out each year in the Summer Program.  The CN Staff Family work hard to plan a Program that “works”, whose timing is “on”, whose activities are enjoyed, whose pace and tempo are good for the campers.  The CN Staff Family actually perform all (or almost all) of the Program elements during the Training Week prior to the beginning of our Diocesan Weeks.  They perform everything – craft, sports, plain chant, campfire, Faith Enrichment (learning curriculum), cabin talks, etc. in order to be as certain as possible that things “work”, and will work with the campers.  Despite that hard work, one never knows how things will turn out.    That was the case for one old and one new aspect of the camping program this past summer.

The “Religious Game”, as it is called, is an “old standby” in terms of the Summer Program.  It’s been part of the Camping Program for at least 18 years and probably goes back a whole lot further than that.  It is what it sounds like – a game that tests religious knowledge.  The game has been offered in a variety of formats including game shows (Jeopardy-like, Family Feud, etc.), academic decathlons (smaller teams of 4-6 campers), scavenger hunts, clue-based “who-done-it” mysteries in which each team had a piece of the mystery to solve, and in several other formats, and has been played in one location as well as in multiple locations at once all over the Camp.  Traditionally, the questions spanned the entirety of our Orthodox Faith, but in recent years the Religious Game was used as a tool to reinforce the Faith Enrichment Curriculum taught to the campers during their week at Camp.  So the questions came to be drawn almost exclusively from what the campers were taught during the week. 

Again, one never knows how things will turn out during the Summer, especially if you decide to change/alter/remove an element of the Program.

After a fair amount of discussion with Staff (all of whom have been campers – and that is an important and key element in all discussions of the Camping Program), it was decided to eliminate the Religious Game from the Olders’ (13-18 year olds) schedule and replace it with the small discussion groups that were mentioned above on Thursday evenings, and it was decided to move it to Wednesday evening for the Youngers (8-12 year olds), leaving room for their Thursday Confession Activity – also mentioned above.  The alteration in the schedule, and the subsequent alteration in the game itself for the Youngers, led to a really interesting and fun, and hopefully new annual element of the Camping Program.

For the Youngers, the game became not competition-based but learning and experiential-based.  In other words, not using your Faith-based knowledge to beat other teams, but rather to learn through experience something new in your Faith.  I am not sure if you appreciate the subtlety of the change and its implications, so I’ll explain a little of the rationale.  Using your knowledge (especially your religious knowledge) to simply beat someone in a game is not how we want our kids to use, or understand, the purpose of their learning.  Rather, we want them to learn to love learning, to become life-long learners who enjoy gaining knowledge in order to help them increase their faith and draw them closer to God.  If the Camp stresses competition regarding the campers’ learning experience, it misses an opportunity to help foster a life-long learner.  To be sure a Religious Game rooted in competition tests accumulated knowledge, it helps campers have fun, it teaches them to pay attention during the week in the Faith Enrichment classes, but if it stresses ONLY the end result of winning a game by the way it sets up its program, then it fails in the ONE ministry Camp is supposed to be engaged in – glorifying and giving thanks to God by drawing children closer to Him.

In this case, after a fair amount of discussion with the Staff Family members who were put in charge of developing and running the Religious Game, it became a series of experiential (interactive) learning activities in several locations around the Camp that taught groups of younger campers several stories from the Old Testament and one from the New.  Those stories included Noah’s Ark, the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses, David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, and the Samaritan Woman (St. Photini).  What was really fun and helped reinforce the learning of these seminal moments of Salvation History in Scripture, was how the Staff developed and “built” the interactive learning activities.  The highlights included an actual fire representing the burning bush on Mt. Sinai, a trip to the “well on the hill” at Camp representing the meeting place of our Lord with the Samaritan Woman, a Gaga Ball “Pit” where campers met Goliath and had to defeat him, a Limbo “Lions Den” through which the campers had to pass safely as did Daniel in the midst of the Lion’s Den, and a rainbow drawing activity outside the Camp’s ARK building which represented God’s promise to Noah.

It turned out to be a great addition/alteration to the Camp Program for the Younger Campers that taught them something most (if not all) of them didn’t know in a way that hopefully was fun and helped the message to “stick” so to speak.  For example, hearing the story of Moses and the Burning Bush around a fire and having to put the Ten Commandments in order as the activity, was a great way to experience and reinforce hearing and learning the story of the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

That was nearly a page about one part (one small part) of the Camping Program, but it illustrates the work and effort of the Camp Staff Family, the thought that goes into and is behind each part of the Camp Program, the learning our children engage in while at Camp, and the creativity necessary to keep what could be a boring part of the Camp Program fun and interesting while teaching our children to love learning about their Faith.  AND YET, one never knows how things will turn out, but we trust that if our hearts are dedicated to drawing children closer to God and we work hard to do exactly that AND we ask Him for help every day to do His will, then He Himself will help us accomplish what we set out to do.  If it doesn’t work out in some fashion, we continue to trust Him, we continue to work hard at it AND we continue to ask Him for help every day to do His will.  That doesn’t change, but an “old standby” of the Camping Program might.

About a page ago we mentioned we would discuss not just one old part of the Program, but one new one as well.  We’ve talked about the old one, and now we can touch on the new part of the Summer Camping Program. 

That new part was the Wednesday Evening/Night activity for the Older Campers (again, ages 13-18).  Without a whole lot of explanation, but for the sake of a little background…a few years ago we separated the Older and Younger Campers for the Monday and Wednesday Night activities.  The Monday Night activity for the Youngers remained the Pool Party, but the Olders did something more “in their wheelhouse”.  We also eliminated the Wednesday Night All-Camp Movie (kids can do that at home) and separated the Olders from the Youngers again.  The Youngers do a themed adventure on Wednesday nights now, while the Older Campers have done everything from Escape Rooms, to mixers, to Beach Parties on the sand of the newly extended volleyball court.

This year, after again discussing the Wednesday Night Older Camper Activity with the Head Counselor and the Staff Family Member put in charge of that Wednesday Night Event for the Older Campers, it was decided to do a “Concert in the Park”, a relaxed night enjoying each others’ company and listening to some good music.  But then, things began to “snowball” (as things tend to do at Camp).  One idea led to another, and before we knew it we had at least one live band each Wednesday Night.  During two of the Diocesan Weeks we had two live bands entertaining the Older Campers and giving the Camp an outdoor “Concert in the Park” feel.  The one band – a country music band, ironically named Bishops Road, was told to make the music Camp-appropriate which they gladly did.  The other band was a band “discovered” on the very grounds of the Camp.  Turns out, one of our Kitchen Workers, a local yokel, has a band of his own called Forest Resources which became the “Cover” Band for Bishops Road, and which was the “headliner” during one of the Diocesan Weeks.  They were really fun and relaxing events for the Older Campers each week.  Just an opportunity to be together and bond through song and dance.  It may sound strange, but giving teens this kind of bonding and social time is important to producing a certain solidarity in their ranks.  Only once was that solidarity threatened.  When Forest Resources announced they would be throwing some of their band T-shirts out into the crowd of teens we literally thought the band was going to get trampled.  All for one and one for all became every teen for themselves.  It was fun to watch, but only from a safe distance!

Again, you never know how things are going to work out at Camp, but this really was a great event for our teens, and one that will most likely be repeated in some form.

That was just a “quick dip” into the pond, so to speak; a brief review of a few of the elements of the Diocesan Summer Camping Program.  Those few events are a glimpse into the life at Camp, a life that is filled with the presence of the Mother of God, a concerted effort to deepen our faith through learning, and an effort to make a Program fun and interesting for each age group.  As we teach the campers to ask God for help and trust Him, we also ask for the same help and trust Him in the effort to develop the Camp Program.  In the end, as ever, you never know how things will turn out, but with God all things are possible, even the effort to make a Summer Program well-pleasing to Him.