By the Rev. Steve Domienik
When I was growing up, my parents sent me to several different summer camps that were all run by Roman Catholic male religious orders. I thought I was special because my five sisters never went to summer camp. It was years later that I found out the real reason for my good fortune – my parents were praying that I would develop a vocation and become a priest. My experiences in these programs motivated me to work one summer as a counselor in one of the camps I attended. Ultimately, my parents had their prayers answered, but they neglected to specify which denomination they wanted me to be ordained in!
I have not had any involvement in summer camps since that time in college, until July, when I joined six other adult leaders from our diocese and we took 72 of our youth to Living Waters Ministries, a Lutheran summer camp in New Era, Michigan that has been operating since 1945. Our diocese collaborates with this Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) camp in western Michigan, (remember, we are in full communion with this branch of the Lutheran Church). There, we teamed up with 48 youth from this denomination and seven of their adult leaders.
This camp has an amazing staff of counselors, cooks and administrators. They did an outstanding job organizing and leading all of the activities for the week. Every day after breakfast, there was an outdoor worship service. Then, our job as adult leaders was to lead small groups of campers in bible study every evening and help out wherever else we were needed. All of the songs that we sang were religious or biblically-based and set to popular tunes that you would recognize in our culture. There were an array of games, rope courses, horseback riding, swimming and kayaking as well as cookouts and campfires. The youth were busy all day long.
For many of our Episcopal youth, this was the first time they had ever been to a camp, so all of these experiences were new. We had a group of five girls who weren’t happy and felt they just couldn’t remain, so two of them went home, but the youngest of the other three changed her mind and wanted to stay. This challenged her two older cousins to re-think their position because they didn’t want to leave their younger cousin “alone,” so they stayed as well. Amazingly, their attitude and behavior changed drastically once they made this decision. They went from non-participation to full engagement in the activities. God works miracles all the time!
Other signs of transformation were apparent as well. Several of our small group discussions turned to prominent social issues of our day. Youth and adults from different social, racial and economic groups found themselves listening to each other tell of their varied experiences about the shooting deaths of the young black men and the police officers, the Black Lives Matters movement and what it is like to grow up in inner-city Detroit as opposed to suburban or rural white America. These kinds of discussions are critical to breaking down stereotypes, prejudices and racism that still pervades our society. We have become very polarized in our perspectives on these issues and it becomes very easy to dismiss the “other” who is not like us or does not hold the same opinions. This creates an “us” vs. “them” mentality and often ignites fear, distrust, hatred and violence.
This kind of separation, attitude and behavior is called sin. This sin is what our God wants to abolish in our world. Christians of all stripes are called to be involved in restoring our world to the way God intended it to be. A T shirt I saw at camp summed it up very well, “God’s plan, our hands.”
These discussions were not always easy, but we are reminded that building relationships takes time, effort and commitment. This camping experience laid a foundation for our youth and adults to begin this process of restoration within our diocese and our larger community. Will you join us in these healing conversations?
I strongly support this camping ministry and I have already signed up to return next year. Please consider coming with me as an adult leader or send your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Together, we can do amazing things for God.
The Rev. Steve Domienik is priest-in-charge at St. John’s Church, Westland and Church of the Nativity, Bloomfield Twp.