When my friend and colleague Kristen Hawley asked if I wanted to preach at morning worship during my visit to Camp EDOW yesterday, I was a little anxious.
It’s not that I was intimidated by the venue. I grew up at camp and was thrilled to be heading back, if only for a day.
But I knew the “only for a day” part meant I would be crashing a faith-forming celebration that had been up and running since the beginning of the week.
I knew about the kinds of relationships that the immersion experience would have created. I knew about the opportunities for creativity and improvisation that worshiping outside would have offered. And I knew it would take me a few hours to shed my usual seriousness in favor of the goofiness that rules at camp (thanks be to God).
“Why don’t you just let me officiate?” I asked her. It was the easy way out, and I was sure it would make for a better experience for the kids.
But then it rained. Rain always means changes to the camp schedule. And that turned out to be a good thing for me.
I got to take in both sessions of “Faith-nastics,” the daily reflection and Bible study hour with a dangerously catchy theme song. I saw girls and boys perform wordless skits of the stories of Moses on the Nile (how do you pantomime floating downstream in a basket?), Samuel’s late-night calls from God (the Oscar for comic timing goes to the young woman who played Eli), and Mary and Elizabeth’s joyful visitation (yes, there were improvised baby bumps and no shortage of giggles at same).
These stories from earlier in the week were pointing toward today’s Bible passage, about Jesus’s baptism by John: Moses was precious in God’s sight. Samuel was precious in God’s sight. Mary, Elizabeth, John, and Jesus were precious in God’s sight. They were loved from the beginning, and they were called at appropriate times to do God’s work, especially the work of giving that love away. Baptism is our special reminder of God’s love as free gift and as sacred mission.
So the kids wrote the homily for me, is my point. All I had to do was stand up and remind them in words what they had been telling each other all morning in drama. And then we renewed our baptismal vows and were sprinkled, liberally, by members of the day’s “service cabin.” All that holy water pointed to the outward and visible sign of the grace we received when we were “brought in and sent out” in baptism.
To make that sign a little more visible, we let the newly doused kids run a colorful “holy powder” gantlet in the afternoon drizzle following the service. I stayed out of the fray, mindful as I was of my inevitable bathroom stop on the drive back to Virginia. Kristen, of course, was bolder (see photo above).
Maybe next year I’ll come for longer and let the grace of camp take a bigger dent out of the inhibitions that I, like so many adults, carry as a burden or a crutch.
Either way, I’ll spend the summer giving thanks for the kids who will continue to teach me so much. And for the daring women and men who share the love of Christ and the faith of our tradition with those children, in ways no other kind of religious programming can.
Kyle Matthew Oliver (@kmoliver) is the digital missioner and learning lab coordinator in the Center for the Ministry of Teaching and an assistant priest at St. Paul’s Parish, K Street, in the Diocese of Washington.