Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Adventures of a summer camp chaplain, #1.

Greetings, all!  

For almost three weeks now, I've been learning what it means to be a summer camp chaplain at Camp Chestnut Ridge, a United Methodist camp and retreat center just outside of Efland, North Carolina.  Along with fellow chaplains, Juli Kalbaugh and Josh Luton (respectively referred to affectionately by campers and counselors alike as "Chappy Ju-Ju" and "Chappy J"- I'm "Chappy A"), I've been growing to know and appreciate a large, engaged, and interested summer staff of counselors and other persons from around the world.  While there's a ton of people from North Carolina in the mix, we also have four Kiwis (New Zealanders) and two folks from Scotland among the counselors this year.  It's an international crew, and I'm grateful to be working (and laughing, and learning, and sunburning) with all of them.

For the unfamiliar, Chestnut Ridge focuses on three areas: food, faith, and fellowship, all of which I want to explore in this initial post:  
  1. FOOD: In recent years, there's been a massive shift here within the realm of 'camp food' - rather than being what I had come to expect to emerge from a camp kitchen, the kitchen staff at Chestnut Ridge works had to create ridiculously tasty meals whose ingredients are natural, organic, and as locally sourced as possible.  Artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners?  Nope!  All gone.  Vegetables, eggs, beef, pork, fruit, and more grown/raised in the camper garden and farm attached to the camp?  Oh, yes.  To top it off, the campers themselves help to plant, nurture, and harvest almost all of this food over the course of the summer, giving many young people their first insight into food that isn't automatically available in colored plastic packages.  It's been an inspiring and challenging experience for me so far, forcing me to consider the food I eat at home as well in light of the camp's focus upon Creation care.
  2. FAITH: I was deeply encouraged by the interest and sincerity with which the counselors (to whom the three chaplains also provide support) approached staff training.  Naturally, there was a whole lot of laughing and getting to know one another, but during our presentations about religion vs. spirituality, the history of United Methodism, and an intensive session with a local pastor regarding theological questions, these young people dug in deeply, asking questions about Church history, Christian spirituality, ethics, and theology that made us chaplains very grateful for our ongoing Duke Divinity experience.  These conversations have been ongoing, and I'm excited about them - for instance, I was discussing spiritual warfare, paganism, and questions about Wicca with a counselor yesterday, concerned as she was for some friends of hers who practice.  The staff and counselors at Chestnut Ridge are showing themselves to be persons of vibrant faith, growing and being shaped in any number of different ways, and they bring that vibrancy to our engagement with the hundreds of kids that come here every week. 
  3. FELLOWSHIP: Having spent two weeks of training coming to know our staff and counselors, I've found a community of developing fellowship among Brothers and Sisters in Christ that promises to serve as a crucible of community awareness for the children we serve.  Holy run-on sentence, Batman.  The focus at Chestnut Ridge about building an awareness of our place within the Body of Christ (and the fact that being part of a Body inescapably means attentively caring for and sharing with the other Body parts/people who make up the eclectic community of the Christian faith) has been encouraging, being something I'm personally pretty passionate about.  Watching seeds of this fellowship awareness and the need to care for one another begin to develop among the kids during this first week has been pretty amazing - I'm excited for the rest of the summer to unfold.
I'll leave you with some photos of some of the highlights of Chestnut Ridge.  More to come!
in Christ, Adam Baker

At first glance, you might think this horned beastie is something from a scary metal band album cover - think again.  He's one of the Jacob sheep at Camp Chestnut Ridge, a heritage line thought to be the kind of sheep that Jacob herded in Genesis 29 and 30.  CLARIFICATION: this actual sheep wasn't one those that Jacob herded.  A camper asked, so I didn't want anyone else assuming incredible age for this guy (photo via Google).

One of the campers of yesteryear with a horse friend (photo via Google).

Some of the "lake toys".  And here I was, thinking that when they said "lake toys" they were talking about water noodles, or maybe canoes at the most.  They do have both of those, but the "lake toys" are more along the lines of this giant water slide, water trampoline, a giant inflated jungle gym, and more.  Pretty amazing (photo via Google).

The last thing I see of camp as I drive out and away each day.  It pretty much echoes the heart of this place: incredible food, deepening faith, developing fellowship with one another (photo via Google).

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