On the day that most people will be reading this article, I’ll be up early leading a bunch of church campers in singing “Rise and Shine” and “This is the Day.” I’ve been counseling or directing at church camp for 20 plus years. I’ve done camps for all ages, but the past several years I’ve been co-directing a camp in Indiana called “Grandparent and Me.” It’s for grandparents (or grandparent-aged substitutes) and grandchildren in grades kindergarten through third grade. Our camp commission in Indiana came up with this idea about ten years ago, and asked me if I would direct it. I asked a member of my church if she would help me. She has directed it ever since and except for a two year break, I’ve been there from the beginning as well.
Of all the different camps I have done, this is probably my favorite. The age of the children is probably the best age for me to work with. I love their wide-eyed enthusiasm. They even get excited about cabin clean-up because the word has been passed through the years that I do accept bribes for the cleanest cabin contest. The bribes have gotten pretty creative over the years and my candy drawer at church always gets restocked during cabin inspection. I also like creating the space for grandparents and grandchildren to deepen their relationship. We’ve had grandparents travel from Florida and California for the sole purpose of spending three days with their grandchild. At this camp, we move a little slower, have a little more free-time, and overall have a fairly relaxed schedule. The most important part of this camp isn’t the lessons or the crafts, vespers or campfire. All of them have their place at our camp, but the most important thing is the relationship nurturing between children and older adults.
I think one of the most important ministries for the church to be engaged with in this time is that of relationship building and community formation. Providing opportunities for people to connect with one another across generational, racial, cultural, political and ideological divides. An important hope for Christians is that in the love of Christ the barriers that separate human beings from one another can be overcome. So, however it is we can help people deepen relationships and form bonds of community we need to be about that work.
I remember one year at this camp, we had a great-grandmother come with her great-grandson. She used a walker to get around and so it wasn’t easy for her at camp. The reason she came was because the boy’s grandmother, the woman’s daughter, had died about two weeks earlier from cancer. The grandmother had signed up for the camp with the hope that she would be able to come. After her death, the great-grandmother told her great-grandson, who was really looking forward to his first time at camp, that she would go with him. She told me, “I couldn’t let him have another disappointment so soon.” I still get deeply moved when I think of that great-grandmother and her great-grandson working on crafts together, going to the pool together – he swam, she watched, and eating their meals with each other. Great-grandma couldn’t participate in the “all group activities” when we try to wear everybody out, but she was there cheering us on. As I talked to great-grandma during some breaks in the camp, I think our camp experience helped her and her great-grandson to grieve together and also to discover the joy that life still had in store for them.
Amidst the many tasks of ministry, I’ve been handed this one of creating time and space for helping grandparents and grandchildren connect with each other. In one small, yet significant way, it exemplifies what I believe the Christian faith is ultimately to be about, building relationships in love, forming community across our differences. I am grate for church camp. And now I’ve got to go fill some water balloons . . . the grandparents are the biggest kids of all when it come to the water balloons.