After dinner yesterday evening, campers and staff covered themselves in bug spray and gathered, once again, near the flag pole in front of the dining hall. Camp Director Rita Yoe from Christ Church, Georgetown, told them we were going to start our evening activity. A short hike into the woods brought us to a lovely and intimate fire pit area near the ropes course. The Rev’d Kent Marcoux from St. George’s, DC led songs, several boys from one of the cabins offered prayers and there was, for a profound moment, genuine stillness in that space, real reflective quiet in that gathering.
“This is God’s cathedral,” the Rev’d Greg Syler from St. George’s, Valley Lee said, “so pray with your eyes open or pray with your eyes closed.” And they genuinely did, they genuinely sat and soaked themselves in prayer, this wonderful and diverse and occasionally fidgety and truly real community called Camp EDOW. Once again, as scripture tells us has happened in the past, there opened one of those “be still” moments: “…take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.”
Technically, we were at the point on the daily schedule that said “Worship/Holy Eucharist/Campfire,” but at Camp EDOW it’s hard to tell where church, proper, begins and another activity ends: scripture stories are opened up at the poolside just as much the cabin just as much as on a porch overlooking the Potomac River; prayer is offered on a walk through the woods just as much as when we gather for Evening Prayer at the setting of the sun; concepts like grace and reconciliation aren’t just talked about as much as they are put in practice, helping campers learn how to live in community with one another; free swim, archery, ropes course elements, canoeing, and arts and crafts are led by staff who have their hearts set on the safety and well-being of these campers and God is truly reflected in the careful practices of love which are the hallmark of all great camping programs.
Back in the woods, another camper stood and read the story of Ananias from Acts of the Apostles, a story about God telling God’s people to welcome the outsider, even one whom they fear and, possibly, greatly dislike. These kids this first week at camp are 8 years old, some of them 11 at the oldest, and they know, firsthand, what anger and violence and fear and rejection feel like. They know this, sadly; some of them all too well. They also know and have experienced that range of things here at Camp EDOW, but they also know, and are experiencing once again here at camp another story: the story of Jesus and those who follow him, the only story we have the audacity to call good news. They know there’s something special about Camp EDOW; there’s something special, but not really unique to camp. They also experience this gift in their families when they hold hands around their dinner table and give God thanks. They experience it in their parish churches and, for some, their schools, those special places in which faith and life are brought that much closer together.
A sermon followed the scripture reading and we took another, longer hike through the woods, during which they were asked whether there is another way beyond anger and violence and what, if there is, this other way to live is. That hike brought us to the archery range, where there was an altar table set and at which the Rev’d Kristen Hawley from Christ Church, Georgetown, greeted the campers. “What is this other way?” they were asked. “Listen to one another,” was a response, or “hope” or “faith” or “love.” Following which, Kristen and this special community called camp celebrate what the earliest followers of Jesus called a love feast¸taking bread and wine, just as they did, and proclaiming that those substances, indeed like us, become through God’s grace and our presence the literal and living Real Presence of Christ.
Your camp kids will also tell you we took another short hike to the fire pit where everyone got s’mores and the staff led the most fun, loud, and festive camp songs you’ve ever heard, the kids joining in with smiles and voices, too. To be honest, that’s probably the first thing they’ll tell you about: the s’mores and the songs and the fireflies and the love they’re feeling and the ways in which they’ve learned to stretch and grow and live in this varied and, sometimes, strange and always holy gift called community grounded in Jesus.
The Rev. Greg Syler is Rector of St. George’s, Valley Lee, Maryland.
More information about Camp EDOW is available here.