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The Chaplaincy of Camp

I got to spend the last week as a Chaplain for students and staff at Camp Stevens down in Julian California. Camp Stevens is an Episcopal Camp with a storied 70 year history, and is an absolutely lovely place to spend a 90+ degree week.

Staff and chaplains all arrive late Saturday afternoon to begin the preparations for students to arrive the following day. My fellow chaplains and I (there are three of us this week) get to know each other and throw out so possibilities and ideas for what we could do. It is definitely the calm before the storm.

As campers arrive the following day, the energy is quite mixed. Parents and students who have been coming for years greet staff and counselors, and kids run off barely glancing back at their parents. Other families walk slowly to the registration table and look worried, some tears from kids, and counselors do their best to ask lots of questions and get to know their campers for the week. Some new parents take a tour of the cabins and facilities and look a little more worried. Us chaplains make small talk with kids, direct some lost parents and just try to check in with everyone. There is a lot to do, and this small 130+ person community is about to embark on a real journey.

Nights 1 & 2 are ROUGH. Lots of tummy aches, wanting to call home, scared of the dark, etc. One of the chaplains named Eva is up most of the night as her wife is one of the medical staff for the week. The role of chaplain begins pretty simply as just to offer an extra layer of support to staff and counselors. However, how we show up in that work, really changes as the days progress. Night 2 finds me helping an older group make dinner, and found the youngest group's counselor playing his guitar and singing them all to sleep for an hour.

By day 3, things are feeling better. One kid who has been asking to go home since day 1 has decided that he's gonna stay and is having a great time. Everyone is starting to find their place in this budding community. I am the default pool chaplain during free time which means I am in the pool and all of the younger campers are showing me their best tricks and asking me to time how long they can hold their breath underwater.

Day 4 is the second campout, and counselors are a little worried, but the campers themselves are excited now, having learned more about each other in their groups and offering suggestions to each other. My offering as chaplain now is teaching some games and handing out decks of cards for campers to use on their overnight.

And just like that, it's our last day. It feels different now, things are running smoothly. Campers know their roles, they know most everyone's name, counselors are proud of their campers and how they have grown over the week and have tried a lot of new things. We are all tired, but we are all happy to be there. The last day ends with a Eucharist, as Camp Stevens is an Episcopal community, so my chaplain duties today are to tend to making that happen, but being careful to make as much space as possible for all of the campers and staff who are not of the same tradition. Eucharist happens and is a sweet ending to the week, but the fun part is still to come: the end of the week celebration, complete with dance party and slideshow.

With all of that, we sleep and the next day our little community is disbanded. Hugs are given and promises of seeing each other next year are thrown around. Quite simply my week as chaplain was a joy and, very helpful reminder that just showing up can be just what someone might need.

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