By ALLYN STEELE
I’m not good at “planned fun.” Ask anyone who has ever worked with me, and they’ll tell you that I can spend all day theorizing, organizing, and implementing a “serious” workshop, but I avoid the “planned fun” and leave it to others. To me, the serious stuff is fun.
So when I moved to Juneau in August for a year-long gig and learned that organizing youth camps at Eagle River United Methodist Camp was part of my job, I just closed my eyes: “Way too much fun to plan. [Sigh.] This, too, shall pass.”
It didn’t take long for my mind to change. I spent a Thanksgiving Day out at Methodist Camp, where an intergenerational group of folks gathered in fellowship around amazing food, sharing memories of camp and singing songs.
I then had the privilege of organizing an early March weekend retreat for fifth through eighth graders from throughout Southeast Alaska. Over the course of the weekend, I brought the plans, but the youth brought the fun. Most of the campers knew songs from their previous experiences at Camp and new campers joined right in.
But something bigger happened at the winter retreat. An exploration of the Eagle River watershed, led by outdoor educators from SAGA, deepened our reflection on scriptural references to water and what it means to thirst for a relationship with God. A day-long art project transformed recycled boxes, chicken wire and duct tape into a growing tree that would bear fruit — an active reflection on Jesus’ parable of the barren fig tree, found in the Gospel of Luke. Southeast Alaskan youth built community with each other and their elders, many of whom had been participating in camp for decades. Amidst it all, I started to realize the power of tradition that having fun at camp can foster.
Being in community with others is a way of celebrating God’s Creation, especially if we take time to retreat and surround ourselves with the beauty of an earth less obstructed by the stuff humans put on it. I have spent a lot of time with a friend in Juneau who talks about the importance of “re-Creation,” which I have grown to interpret as renewal, revitalization or, dare I say it, having fun.
Every time we spend time outside together, every time we work with each other to navigate the world in loving community with one another, we have the opportunity to re-create the Love shown to us by God through our interactions with each other on our land-base. Being “out there” together helps us develop a sense of empathy for each other and, just as importantly, the resources upon which we depend to survive. Methodist Camp is not primitive camping, wilderness survival or subsistence living by any means, but it’s an invitation to step closer to finding the kind of solitude that allows us to tap into a different way of experiencing God’s Love.
Methodist Camp will offer its Discovery Camp for third through eighth graders July 14 through 19. It will turn right around and offer its Action Camp for high school youth July 21 through 24. I hope folks will check out the website to learn more: http://www.methodistcamp.org/
As for me, I am part of the small team that gets to plan both summer camps. In the spirit of re-Creation, I am discovering new aspects of my vocation, and I look forward to immersing myself in the challenges and joys that come with youth events. To be sure, there’s a lot of fun to plan.
• Allyn Steele is a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tenn. He is currently serving as a year-long Seminary Intern for Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Douglas Community United Methodist Church and Northern Light United Church.