Friends, I have a bunch of blog posts that I started over the summer and never had a chance to finish. I’m attempting to finish them up and post them. Here’s the first – one I started in mid-August!
When I was a camper, Jr/Sr Conference was one of my favorite weeks at ECC. I loved it because it was an opportunity to go a little bit deeper in our conversation, and to reflect a little more carefully on God’s presence in our midst. I’m sure it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to people that know me that a week like that would be right up my alley. I loved the other weeks of camp too – but Conference was always the best.
When I came on as director I was sad to learn that the Jr/Sr Conference had faded into the sunset. I understood the reasons behind it – they had to cancel it the last time it was offered because so few people signed up. And really, “Jr/Sr Conference” is not the most riveting name for a week at summer camp. I can hardly blame new campers for not jumping at the opportunity to go to a conference in the middle of the summer. I thought about changing the name when I brought it back this summer but I couldn’t come up with anything better. So I had to just hope that people would try it, and like it, and that the word would spread that this kind of conference is the good kind.
I’ll be honest – I was VERY worried about bringing this week back. Most of my current staff had not ever attended this week, and consequently had no frame of reference for it. Because I wanted them to get excited I really talked it up, going on and on about what a great week it was going to be. But who am I kidding? I didn’t have the slightest idea how to run a good Jr/Sr Conference at camp! My memory is so bad that I barely even remember what it used to be like – I just know it was great.
So at the start of the week I had a few butterflies in my stomach. I had promised everyone here that it was going to be amazing, and we had managed to convince 64 campers to sign up and give it a shot. But I couldn’t help but think – what if this is a total fail?
To protect myself a bit I decided to use one of my learned leadership practices.
That way, if it was terrible, it was someone else’s fault.
I asked my counselors in charge of the evening program on our first night to put together something a little outside of the norm. I wanted a departure from our regular, manically fun first nights together. I wanted the campers to know that this week was going to be a little different.
My counselors stepped up to the plate, and our first night was very different. In fact, our first night was more meaningful than any of the sessions that we had planned for the rest of the week.
They led us in a name game and listening activity that reminded us about the importance of being fully present for one another. Then they asked a couple of adults to share some “iceberg” stories, telling the group about what parts of our lives were above the surface for all to see, and then what was really going on below the surface.
After the iceberg stories, they led us in an activity called “Crossing the Line”. The premise was simple: the whole camp lined up on one side of the pavilion, and the leaders would read off a statement. If the statement applied to you, you crossed over the line in the cement floor to the other side of the room. Everyone had a chance to see who was on what side, and we then we all moved back to the same side.
Then counselors introduced another component. “We don’t speak during this activity. But if you want to show love or support to someone on the other side of the line, you can just make the sign language symbol for ‘I love you.'”
Then they’d read a statement:
Cross the line if you like chocolate ice cream.
Cross the line if you no longer live with your biological parents.
Cross the line if you don’t feel safe at home or at school.
Cross the line if ECC is the only place you feel like you can be yourself.
I watched members of the group bravely cross the line when the statement read applied to them. Seeing people’s honesty was striking. But so much more striking was watching them raise their hands in the air for one another – silently showing their love for one another.
Then I had an interesting thing happen. The counselors called out “Cross the line if your parents are divorced.” I did, not thinking anything of it. My parents divorced when I was six, and it is so much a part of my story that it doesn’t even occur to me that there’s anything significant about it. When I crossed the line (with 2/3 of the other people in the pavilion) I was stunned when I turned around and saw every person on the other side of the line holding their hands out with the “I love you” sign. Tears sprung into my eyes, and I had to shake my head a little as I realized that the divorce of my parents was something that had broken in my life, and love and support from friends was appropriate. Another counselor who’s parents had split up a long time ago shared feeling the same way in that moment. The people who were showing us love in that moment were helping us heal something we didn’t even know needed healing.
We continued the activity and then finished our program for the night with Compline. The rest of the Conference was incredible, and I think most of the credit goes to the two young women who started off the week with openness, honesty, and love. The rest of the credit goes to the young people who participated in the Conference, who rose to the invitation and fearlessly offered their stories and experiences to one another in small group time, worship, and conversation.
I love working with teenagers for so many reasons. They are funny, smart, and engaging. But more than anything, I love working with teenagers because they remind me to be real. They see through me when I’m not being genuine or when I’m pretending to be fine. They remind me that it’s okay to feel my feelings and that it’s okay to reach out and support someone else when they are feeling theirs. They inspire me to speak honestly about my life and my struggles and they remind me of how God and God’s community can embrace me and help me along my path.
Below is the link to our video from Jr/Sr Conference. The voices you hear are our counselors, who shared their stories and their experience of God and ECC at our Thursday night Eucharist planned by the whole camp. The singing in between is how we sang the prayers of the people that night. It was my favorite service EVER, so I’ll also include a pic that another counselor snapped during the Eucharist. The altar area is glowing, and you might say it’s because of the Christmas lights, but I say it’s because we were all glowing that night. God was so tangible in that space. Here it is:
And here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IY3Qcl27lAU
I hope their words inspire you the way they inspired me. I hope they can serve as a reminder to the rest of us to live honestly, and to love openly.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.