I spent last week at the Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersville, NC. Over 150 people gathered for the Christian Formation Conference, including individuals, families, and lots of children.
A highlight of the week was listening to keynoter Walter Brueggemann, a noted theologian and writer. But to me, its success was the result of the total package—worship, meditation, community meals, leisure, physical activity, workshops and simply being together and telling our stories.
Going to camp is an experience we often hold sacred for our children, not realizing how much it can touch the hearts and minds of all of us. We get a reminder of its power at parish weekend retreats, but the challenge of letting go of work and responsibilities at home can limit the benefit.
The hardest part of camp is often letting go of the things that tether us to our lives at home. Smart phones make it possible to be connected almost anywhere. We have to be intentional about their use and occasionally leave them behind. At the same time, we can share our experiences through social media. I discovered that tweeting key ideas during Dr. Brueggeman’s presentations anchored them in my heart.
The activity that frames my experience at camp, conferences, and retreats is worship. This past week, a hearty few gathered each morning before breakfast in a small garden for prayer and silence. The garden is hidden in a grove that overlooks the camp lake—as we sat in silence we watched the mist rise over the water to the sounds of birds and an occasional bullfrog.
A more formal prayer service, which always began with music, preceded the morning plenary; time and space was set aside during the service for centering silence. At night we gathered for compline, a healing service, and a final community Eucharist.
Perhaps it is our willingness to be vulnerable together that makes the camp experience so rich. We set aside reticence to share the joy and pain of our stories, both current and past. Unintentional miracles of connection and rediscovery occur just by our proximity to one another. A friend I had not seen for over 20 years reappeared in my life unexpectedly. We had shared a time of sorrow in the loss of her infant son in that distant past. We reconnected to celebrate our lives and the joy that we had experienced since that difficult time.
On the last night of the conference, an older woman approached me and asked if I had time to hear her story. When she finished talking later that evening, we both sat in silence. The life she described was well lived, full of moments of helping others with creativity and compassion. It was a moment of grace for us both.
In the busy-ness of life away from camp, we either don’t ask that others hear our stories or offer them up so freely. We rarely set aside a few minutes in silence each morning before hurtling into the day’s work. How often do we end our day by reflecting on its ups and downs or leaning on a community for healing?
Camps aren’t just for kids—we never outgrow our need for each other and God in sacred space.
Dorothy Linthicum (@dslinthicum)