Living in Christ's New Creation
The Rev. Rebecca Tankersley writes about the important role that church camp can play in youth formation. Photo credit: Richard Hill
In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Each summer, I spend a week serving as a dean at Camp All Saints on Lake Texoma. As a dean, my responsibilities include nurturing the faith of children through lessons in dean’s time, worship, and impromptu conversations throughout the week. In short, deans provide spiritual support to campers that help them to grow in their knowledge and love of the Lord.
In 2013, our theme for camp was “fortified.” We are fortified in many ways, most especially through participation in the Holy Eucharist. During our teaching time with the campers, we focused on the actions involved in the Eucharistic meal: Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples. Then he left them with an action of their own: do this.
Halfway through the week, we held a healing service. Campers were invited to write a prayer at one station, light a candle at another, assist in creating a prayer tower by writing prayer on Jenga® blocks, or to come forward to one of the deans with a prayer concern. The campers' prayer concerns were powerful. Many were concerned for their families: they asked God for jobs for parents, healing for grandparents, and peace for chaotic homes. I had often served at the healing prayer station in my church and prayed for requests such as these with adults, but I had never prayed with children carrying the same sorts of burdens. It was moving.
One child who came forward – let’s call him Charlie – who was ten years old. Charlie was a “tween” – still a child, not even a teenager, and yet he living with one foot in each of the two worlds. He was not focused on illnesses or emotional problems within his family. Charlie was struggling with our Christian faith – walking a line between Christian immaturity and maturity. He wanted God to help him manage his anger; he wondered why Jesus had to die to save us; then, hesitatingly, he said, “I know that we are saved by our faith, but what happens when … when … sometimes it’s just so hard to believe. Sometimes I doubt.” At the heart of Charlie’s concern, he needed to know: what does it mean to have faith?
“Way to go, Charlie!” I told him. “Keep asking questions like that, and you’ll be on your way to seminary in no time!”
I have never met a 10-year old who articulated this kind of concern about his faith. Frankly, I’ve not met many adults who are willing to articulate this concern either. But if we’re honest with ourselves, all of us – at one time or another – have wondered whether our faith is enough. All of us have wondered what to do with that voice in the back of our heads that tells us that the mysteries of our faith are too much to believe.
Charlie has been raised in the Episcopal Church, has faithfully attended Sunday School, and has absorbed the basics of the faith as they have been given to him. And at camp, Charlie was looking back over what he’s learned and realized that there were deep questions to be asked… he’d been taught different viewpoints on significant tenants of our faith and was seeking to reconcile them. He was hungry for something more substantial than basics. My responsibility as his dean – as dean to all of the children at camp – was to provide that substance. My job was to assist these children in grappling with the mysteries of our faith and to help them grow into mature, Christian adults.
Charlie’s story reveals the powerful impact that camp has on a young Christian’s life. Like any Christian, they are learning what it means to follow Christ and trying to understand where to go with the Good News. They need Christian teachers to provide them with the basics – the rules and boundaries within which Christians live. Specifically, they need to be in relationships with adults who will challenge them to question bad theology when offered and encourage them to ask deep and meaningful questions so that one day, they can take their place as disciples charged with the Great Commission just as we are.
Have you have ever been present at the baptism of a child? If so, think back on the service: the candidates were presented, they made their commitment to renounce evil and turn to Christ, and then the celebrant turned to the gathered congregation and asked: “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” If you were there, you very likely joined the congregation in responding: “We will.”
As Episcopalians in the Diocese of Dallas, one of the ways we honor that commitment to “do all in our power to support these persons in their life in Christ” is by supporting Camp All Saints, where they can – like Charlie – become fortified in their faith by interaction with adults who earnestly seek to live in Christ’s new creation. Though the actual cost incurred by the camp for one week of camp is $800 per child, the registration cost per camper is only $435. This is made possible by support from the Diocese. Many families, however, are unable to afford even this reduced rate. They are not turned away: All Saints’ policy is that no child will be turned away for financial reasons. This is possible because of generous donors who underwrite scholarships.
I heartily encourage each of you to support the camp with your prayers and – for those with means – with your finances. If your own children have not yet been to All Saints, I encourage you to consider sending them.
The Good News of Christ today is powerful: it’s not the earthly details of our lives that deserve our focus, but the way in which we allow Christ to transform us into members of His new creation. We are called by our Lord to share with everyone that the kingdom of God is near and to proclaim the freedom that Christ has to offer to our suffering world. The harvest is plentiful… the world is full of Charlies… but the laborers are few. Come, labor with us. And as we raise the next generation of faithful Christians, we’ll all rejoice together that our names – and theirs – are written in heaven. Amen.