Every year, the Director of Cherokee Retreat Center, Kelly Howington, and the Program Director, Jean Howington, invite clergy from our Presbytery to come and spend a day, an afternoon, a morning, or an evening at camp. This week I wanted to go, since we had 1o campers from our church who were there. Kelly and Jean Howington will say that they ask the pastors to come and simply be a pastoral presence, to experience the day with the kids as they experience God. What they don’t say (and is a really well kept secret that needs to be shared) is that is is really an excuse to leave behind the sermon, scheduling, writing, planning, and administration for a day and simply go be present and have a lot of fun while you do it!
I did not get to go to summer camp as a kid, and so a lot of this is new to me. As soon as I walked in, the day campers cried out “we’re going canoeing! Are you coming with us?” and we were off. Now, I have almost zero canoe experience. I can kayak and paddle a raft, but this canoe thing is newish to me. After a quick lesson from the counselors, I was off with a little girl I know well and one of her friends. We did not go far (apparently it is common for the younger kids to quit paddling), and we did not go fast. As we pulled into a cove, the little girl in front called out “look at that dragonfly.” We sat for probably 2 minutes watching a dragonfly. Our attention was called to the other side of the both by a jumping fish. Listening to the chatter about fish and bugs, I thought about Jesus doing a lot of his ministry in boats. Then it was time to swim in the lake and so off we went.
The afternoon went by so quickly, but in a really relaxed manner. I left my watch in the car, and my phone in my bag (except for when a camper and I sent a text message to mom and dad to help with homesickness). I made friends with some of the counselors, and greeted others that I know from the presbytery. They included me in their game of “goggles” and several opened up about some things I did not expect. Pastoral care in a bathing suit is not really all that different from pastoral care in my office. Watching these young adults and adults interact with kids was life giving. I saw in them hope for the future of our church.
If you are a parent looking for a safe place for your child to spend a week this summer learning about themselves, God, and even how to make their bed, send them to camp. Preferably Cherokee Retreat Center, but for those of you who are farther away, find a camp near you and support them. If you are a pastor, take a day, or a half day and throw on your shorts or swimsuit and build relationships with the kids in your congregation and in your presbytery at a different level. My job does not include much work with children and youth, but this was a perfect opportunity to build some relationships with those who will not be children forever. Show your campers that your church cares and show up for a few hours. Eat the food, swim in the pool, shoot some arrows. Be present. You may find that as you are being present to the camp community that they will be present to you, and welcome you in with open arms. Kelly, Jean, and the Cherokee Retreat Center Staff – thank you for a wonderful afternoon and evening. Thank you for the hard work, long hours, sweaty days and short nights that go into doing this very unique, and important work that you do for the children of God. You are appreciated, and I will be back!