Camp – Year Four Report


Bill Tune

Note: I wrote an essay on church camps a year ago, so forgive the overlap and consider this an update.

Camp means a lot of different things to people.  For kids it’s time away from the hassles of home, with lots of fun activities and new friends.  For the adult sponsors it’s time away from the comforts of home, with lots of heat and uncomfortable beds.  It’s not something I look forward to, but I must admit the past four years haven’t been so bad.

Of course, there are many different types of camp: scout camp, band camp, gymnastics camp, space camp, computer camp, choir camp, football/baseball/soccer, etc. camp, and cheerleader camp, not to mention boot camp.  However, I will limit this essay to my experiences at church camp.

As the son of a Methodist minister, one would expect that I attended church camp regularly growing up. Not so.  We were poor – only in financial terms, of course, – and with the twins a mere year and a half younger than me, paying for three camp registrations was way outside the budget.  However, in junior high my father pastored three small churches, and one year the churches decided to each sponsor a PK to camp.  [PK = preacher’s kid]  I don’t remember much about the camp, but then that was nearly five decades ago, so I’ve had a long time to not remember.

I’ve been on some family camp-outs over the years with the in-laws and enjoyed communing with nature, but I’m always really glad to get home.  Camping is just not my thing.  Church camp is less rustic these days in that most of our hot, sweltering walks end up in air-conditioned buildings, but it’s still not my favorite place to spend a week of summer.  Besides that, what sane teacher wants to spend a “week off” with adolescents?  In spite of all this, I have on occasion been prevailed upon to be a camp counselor for my church.

The first time I was in my late 20’s.  I don’t remember much about that camp, either, except for some homesick little boys.  We moved soon after that, and I wasn’t asked for a long time, or had a good excuse. 
(No, this was not my primary motivation for working on a Masters in Music during the summers.  It was just one of the perks.)  My wife’s first appointment as a pastor was in Palestine, TX, which just happens to be located 12 miles from Lakeview – THE church camp for our conference.  Part of her duties included youth, so we did camp.  By this time I’m nearly 50 – still young (compared to now).  I had an unfortunate experience that first year involving a bi-polar co-counselor with rage issues.  By the second year Beverly had risen to the esteemed position of camp co-director, so I got promoted to work on the program team, which was a relief from watching kids.  (It’s whom you know!)  When we left Palestine, I did not have to worry about going to camp for the next 7 years because our next two churches had youth directors that took care of it.  I hoped my days as a camp counselor were a thing of the past, but alas, ‘twas not meant to be.

Before I continue, let me explain about one camp I fully enjoy attending: church CHOIR camp.  I go as a camper, not a counselor.  I sing in a 100+ adult choir directed by an amazing clinician, ring hand bells, play my flute in a small band, and play recorder in an early music ensemble.  There are amazing concerts, a talent show, and inspiring worship services, culminating in a grand concert on Friday featuring all the choirs, ensembles, and dancers.  For a lifetime church musician, this is fun!  This camp also has kids who sing in impressive elementary, junior high, and high school choirs, but I let others do the counseling.  This camp is for me.

Now back to church camp…  In 2010 my wife was moved into a district where church camp is a proud tradition and male counselors are as scarce as Christians at an atheist convention.  This is a bad combination for the retired male spouse of a pastor.  I was at choir camp the first time the District Superintendent called asking for my help.  I reluctantly agreed.  Sadly, I was out of excuses.  Camp went better than I expected, but I still hoped it was a one-time occurrence.  Next year, the call came again – earlier this time.  Again, it was not an entirely painful experience, so by year three, resigned to my fate, I signed up for camp in advance.  This summer was my fourth consecutive year to serve as a camp counselor.  The most sobering moment I experienced this time was Thursday evening when I realized that I was the oldest counselor there.

Each camp has its moments of levity, usually unintentional. Here are a few I can remember.

I loved the announcement made at the beginning of the week (over 10 years ago) advising campers that they could wear thongs to the swimming pool.  Equal parts of confusion and excitement spread through the young adolescents until it was explained that to old people a thong was a type of sandal, not a swimsuit.

One of my favorite quotes from this year happened at choir camp.  Our small ensemble was being led by a very hyper, enthusiastic volunteer who was seeking to secure a spot on the grand concert for our impromptu group.  He was very optimistic about succeeding at this quest because, in his words, “I’m very good at getting what I want.”  Our confidence in this ability would have remained stronger had he not followed it with, “If you don’t believe me, ask my ex-wife!”  By the way, he was successful, and we performed on Friday.

Kids, of course, have some of the best one-liners.  I shared in my last camp essay about the young boy who was aware of his intellectual limitations and tried to offset them with his own self-deprecating comments.  Sensing this insecurity, I tried to build his confidence when I could.  However, I had to look away and stifle a smirk when he shook his head and said, “I’m just not the sharpest knife in that place where they keep knives.”

This year we had a camper with cerebral palsy who amazed and inspired us.  He was upbeat, enthusiastic and eager to try anything.  We were all a bit apprehensive when he wanted to try archery.  The instructor found the lightest bow and adjusted the tension to make it as easy as possible.  Fortunately, we had a counselor who was certified in archery in addition to the person in charge.  The primary instructor started the group lesson, but soon after that the counselor took over and gave this student the one-on-one help he needed. By the second day, the student could, with a little help placing the arrow on the bow, frequently hit the target, and he quickly decided that archery was “Awesome!”  On the third day his confidence was growing, and when the instructor came over to check on him, he said, “I appreciate your help, and all, but I think I got this!”

We learn so much from the kids at camp.


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