By Daniel Potter
Summer camp is a magical place. In some settings, it provides the perfect opportunity to experience growth that will change the course of a person’s life. When I entered the auditorium of Stetson University’s campus on a hot summer night in 2006, I had no clue that I might begin the discernment process of my own sense of calling. After the one-hour worship service, though, I found myself wrestling with different questions, emotions and ideas that eventually formed the trail-head for my journey to divinity school.
I am currently finishing my fourth summer on staff with PASSPORT camps, as the director of their Missions2 (M2) West team. While there are myriad reasons for my decision to work camp, two elements of this unique ministry keep drawing me back. I have no doubt that these elements contributed to my own growth and to my decision to pursue vocational ministry.
First, summer camp provides a necessary retreat into a Christian community that stimulates spiritual growth. Each summer at camp offers a unique window into the new heaven and new earth that Jesus describes. It begins with removing the normal distractions and noises that clutter minds and distract attention.
Students arrive in a new place, with new people, and a new routine. They step out of their comfort zone on mission sites and in small group discussions as they wrestle with questions of identity, faith, and purpose. A community that is equally uncomfortable, equally out of place, equally challenged, surrounds them, however. In that mutual vulnerability students experience and provide grace to one another. Jesus’ message of universal acceptance and love exudes from those present.
While retreat provides space for growth, equally important is the element of empowerment that exists at summer camp. Each day, students are met with opportunities to engage and own their faith differently. At Passport, this takes various forms. For some, this comes through work done at mission sites. For others, an opportunity to help in worship can prove that they, too, are capable of being leaders in church.
Either way, youth gain valuable experience that can shape the way they embody their own understanding of faith. Camp enables youth to realize a certain level of agency that they may not be afforded in their normal routine. A generation that is too frequently labeled as “future leaders” gets the chance to take charge now. Lessons learned here translate directly into church leadership. The youth are willing and ready to learn and lead. At camp, they really get the chance.
In all, working at camp has been a fantastic experience. It has been an absolute honor to get to serve numerous youth, chaperones, and youth ministers from the CBF and other denominations. And, as much as I enjoy working youth camp as an opportunity to serve, I must admit that I work camp because it does something good for my soul. It never fails that each summer the students teach me something about my own faith experience.
As I begin my first church internship of Divinity School this fall, I hope to take the camp model with me. I hope to bring my knowledge and experiences to young persons. I also hope to learn from and alongside the youth. If I can learn life changing lessons from youth during 6 weeks of camp life, I can only imagine what they will teach me in vocational youth ministry.
Daniel Potter is a student at Wake Forest University School of Divinity and one of CBF’s Vestal Scholars.