Field trips are not commonly part of the pre-camp experience at ECC, but this year we planned a special one.
After just shy of a week of training and work projects with our Junior Counselors, Counselors, and Young Adult Staff, we mixed things up a bit. On Monday morning we piled into cars and vans and headed west. Our destination was Camp Washington – the camp of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. I had worked with their camp director to plan a joint training day for both staffs. More than just the material we covered (behavioral management, songs, and games), it was so valuable just to see another camp. We had a chance to learn their customs and structure, to tour their beautiful property, and to learn that camp people are everywhere. We had a great experience, and it was worth a long day of travel to be with them.
That said, it was a long day of travel, made longer still by an issue with one of our camp vehicles which slowed us down a bit getting there. By the time we left Camp Washington for home it was well past 7pm and it was almost a 3 hour drive back. A busy day in the sunshine had left us all a little worn out, so there wasn’t time or energy for much. I was so proud of my staff and how great they had been all day (especially the unexpected hour plus at Burger King that morning while we fixed the car situation), I wanted to do a little something special on our way back.
With a little help from Yelp I located an ice cream place on the route home that seemed worth a stop. Turns out it was this totally weird and cool place. The ice cream store itself is nestled in a village of businesses that sell sheds, cupolas, outdoor patio furniture, decks, and hearths. The result is that you can get your ice cream, sit on a lovely adirondack glider in front of an outdoor stone fireplace, and look out over a valley of shed rooftops below you. As we walked toward the line through the patio furniture we learned that there was a fundraiser that night for a local family who’s mom was battling cancer. All in all a total win: good ice cream, many comfortable seats on which to enjoy the ice cream, and our money going to a great cause.
As we were finishing up our ice cream one of my staff asked if we were going to do Compline when we got back to camp. I said yes, and she instantly joked that we should do it at the ice cream place. Without missing a beat, she began the service, “the Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night, and a perfect end…”
This is not actually the first time that I’ve been with the staff of ECC doing Compline some place other than camp. It’s kind of a thing. Knowing the service by heart is something that our camp people pride themselves with, and there’s something silly and fun about reciting the service in a completely different location. By this point we were all standing around a large fire pit anyway, so it felt pretty campy. Once she started it, most of the staff joined in. Someone pulled up the service on their iphone and we just went with it – singing and everything.
Admittedly, some of the staff was embarrassed. I can hardly blame them. We don’t exactly live in a culture where public prayer is a socially acceptable practice. The two staff from the ice cream store who were cleaning up and emptying trashes kept looking at us with weird expressions. But we just kept plowing forward, because once you start Compline it’s not like you can just stop it.
We giggled and snorted through most of the service and sang the Te Lucis a little faster than usual. Not the most solemn Compline service, by any means. When it came time for us to offer prayers for ourselves and others the young man responsible for our prayer list read off the names: Tom, Leo, Elaine.
Just as we were about to plow forward with “Guide us waking, O Lord” one other counselor spoke up from around the fire:
“We pray for the family who this fundraiser was for tonight.”
“Yes,” I whispered. “Yes.”
That’s the thing about Compline. That’s the thing about any church service. You can be there because you feel obligated or because someone dragged you there or because you have to be there (camp). You can be bored or sad or angry or restless or horribly embarrassed while you are there. You can go through the motions and it can mean nothing to you – even if you are there in the first place because it means something to you. That doesn’t mean it reaches into your heart every time. Whatever your motivation or reasons for being there, you can go through the motions until all of a sudden something really special happens: something you didn’t see coming and didn’t expect.
I was so struck by the fact that while we were playfully reciting Compline in front of an ice cream store, that one of my staff remembered why we really do Compline. Not for the routine, but for the supplication. The chance to offer our prayers before God, whatever they may be.
We finished the service, sang our closing song, and headed to the cars. Most of them will likely remember that moment with a combination of laughter and embarrassment, and that’s certainly fine with me. But I will remember it as sacred. Because for one moment there, 30 or so staff from a church camp offered prayers for a family that needed some love outside of an ice cream shop, and there is certainly no embarrassment in that.
The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen.