I grew up in rural Pennsylvania: exploring cornfield rows, climbing trees, and running barefoot whenever possible. I wore high heels and dresses only when the occasion required it (namely, Sunday morning church or Halloween).

It seems helpful to start with this tidbit of personal history, because many people who know me today have no idea that I know how to “dress down” (or at least, they’ve never seen it in person): ripped jeans, t-shirt, muddy shoes, hands rough from building campfires.

As a professional adult, I love my high heels (love them!), but once a year I put them away in favor of old sneakers, and I spend seven days leading young people through the joys of outdoor, overnight, send-you-home-with-a-suitcase-full-of-rank-clothes, church camp! This week marks my 14th year at Hartman Center, the much-beloved UCC outdoor ministry facility where I began my church camping career at the age of ten, and my 20th summer overall participating in outdoor ministry programs.

Here’s why I continue to return to church camp as an adult:

– to watch kids discover that you can learn something about the nature of God by hiking a mountain;

– to get caught in the pouring rain and not care;

– to see another side of church life;

– to marvel at the ferns and rhododendron, the mist at dawn and the stars at night;

– to remember how to play: to stain my hands with tie-dye, launch water balloons from a slingshot, and sing ridiculous songs like “Stirring the Purple Stew”;

– to teach another generation to observe “Here is God” in the created world and in all people;

– to be quiet;

– to affirm the goodness and worth of every child;

– to be startled and scared every year by the same seven-foot-tall tree stump that becomes a standing bear each evening at dusk;

– to soak up God’s joy in a different kind of sanctuary;

– to remember that
God is like the wind, wrapping around us and hugging us…
like an ant, strong enough to carry us…
like water, cooling and refreshing us…
like a tree, shading us from intense heat…
like the sun, brightening our lives.
[These phrases developed in conversation with my campers this week.]

Take the time to experience God beyond your church building through an outdoor ministry program near you. Can I recommend Hartman Center (www.hartmancenter.com) and Camp Mount Luther (www.campmountluther.org)?

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