In my ongoing series about my personal faith journey, last week I picked on ultra-conservative youth camps that I worked at back in college. However, being an equal-opportunity offender I now offer my experience going to a liberal youth camp the very same summer.
I won’t mention what denomination this youth camp was affiliated with–but I’ll just say that I hadn’t been exposed to this kind of religiousity to that point in my life, having grown up in the midwest in the holiness-movement-of-sorts (albiet one that had abandoned their past whilst fleeing legalism and thus becoming mainstream evangelical church growthy by my teens).
MEANWHILE… We rolled into town in our run-down University van with boxes of t-shirts to give away and our own clothes badly in need of laundering. The first item of business was a camp staff meeting. “Morris Chester” was in charge of the meeting. He, oddly, wore matching tan shorts and button down shirt with many pockets–as if he was going on safari. He had on hiking socks and big boots from the 70s, and used a walking stick for short journeys toddlers could traverse, completing a walking, talking, bizarre parody of the J. Peterman catalog.
Mr. Chestnut started the meeting. We were in a big circle. I would come to find out that liberals like to sit in a big circle all the time–with nobody in a clear sense of “in-charge-ness.” I kinda liked this quality of the liberals, to be honest. It’s sort of like the Knights of the round table, without the table, and also without swords, or assertive principled convictions perhaps.
Many items about the week were discussed, and some very meandering training was given for how to deal with the teens who would descend up on the camp as locust in a matter of minutes. Two things then happened which would shape the week to come:
1) First off, we were exposed to more than we would have liked to Mr. Chestnut. Let’s just say that the safari shorts were a bit shorter than is appropriate. My travelling troupmates noticed right when I did and when I caught their glance they all had weird expressions on our faces and proceeded to try not to laugh out loud for the next 15 minutes. I don’t mean to imply that liberal camp directors make a habit of this sort of thing. I’m just sayin.
2) Next we were informed that they were very happy to have us at the camp, and that the meeting space was ready for us to run the services all week. We were in shock. We were just a drama troupe–we didn’t sing nor speak at the camps we went to. But they were hoping, no–expecting–that we were going to lead the services from front to back. We expressed some reticence to do this–but they said that the services were’n’t that big of a deal as long as we kept it short and simple things would be fine.
This was amazing to us. Everywhere we had been the services, and the sermons in particular, were the central part of the week. This was a religious camp–but they put way more emphasis on the crafts and nature walks, and other activities than on the services.
We proceeded to plan out the services all week, and since my buddy Brendon and I were “sorta called to the ministry” we were elected as the camp speakers! At the age of 19, then, I preached my first few sermons right in a row–to a bunch of liberal church kids at a camp. My sermons were no doubt horrible, perhaps heretical. But the kids were encouraging and in fact we heard that the services were the best they had ever had. I honestly don’t remember one word I said all week, nor what my buddy said. I’m so glad no recordings of these sermons exist today!
My faith wasn’t shaped all that much by this week–other than that necessity forced me to start to communicate spiritual matters to teenagers with conviction. I’m not sure if I had many convictions yet. But I faked it pretty well I guess. Or at least I had more convictions it seems than the liberal youth camp people. My overall impression of my first taste of true liberalism was not that they were all that wrong… not that they were mean or unruly or antagonisitic at all. They were just sort of boring. They were the “bland leading the bland” (to borrow Mark Wilson‘s phrase).
At minimum this week I developed the conviction that wearing short safari shorts in a round-circle meeting is a questionable habit for leaders. Your faith has to start somewhere.