Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Dean and Mindy go to ... camp?

“And we put the couch in the showers,” Elliot added as he listed all the things he and his brother had moved into the showers as pranks during camp. I believe other items included were office equipment, a canoe, and pretty much everything from the girls’ tents.

“That was my grandfather’s couch!” Chip exclaimed in mock horror.

We were visiting Chip and Cathy, the parents of our daughter’s roommate. (Relationships get rather convoluted in this cross country trip.) A number of years ago, Cathy had a summer camp in New Hampshire. Elliot, one of their former campers, was visiting for the evening as well. As happens with people who were at camp together, many stories were told, usually with a bit of wonder that more people weren’t injured in wild camp adventures in the woods. Anyone who went to summer camp as a kid (or has read any of the multitude of kids' books about summer camp or watched Meatballs or Friday the 13th) knows that camps have a knack for building lifelong memories.

I think I might have been envious of their camp stories if I hadn’t known Mindy and I would be going to camp the very next day.

We heard about Pilgrim Pines Camp and Conference Center from Mindy’s dad. He pastored a church in New Hampshire before Mindy was born, and he remembered Pilgrim Pines as a special place. Since camps play an important role in the life of many churches, we decided it was time for us to go to camp.

During the summer, Pilgrim Pines hosts a series of family camps. Along with cabins, the camp rents out campsites for trailers or tents. We reserved a tent site for three nights, which allowed us to be a part of the camp activities. Friday, the day we arrived, was the last night of one family camp (Week 5); after those campers left on Saturday morning, Week 6 would begin on Saturday evening.

It was fun but a little odd to attend the Friday night talent show that served as a culmination of the week’s activities. There were musical numbers by children and teens that ranged from adorable to excellent. A kid named Owen demonstrated his prowess with the Rubik's Cube. There were classic skits such as the immortal Banana/Bandana skit (it gets messy.) Individuals and large families had their moment in the spotlight.

Then a couple of the age groups did presentations. Throughout the week, kids are divided by age group for lessons and activities. The presentations from the younger kids happened earlier in the day, so we missed those, but we did see a comic video by the junior hIgh students on the theme that God loves us even when we fail. The high schoolers saluted their week by singing a parody of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.”
The next morning, Saturday, we saw campers saying their goodbyes, taking farewell photos, and making sure they could keep in contact through social media. And then we got to see new campers excitedly arrive. In that way, we got a taste of the life of summer staff at the camp, who see people come and go to the Mayflower Family Camp from the beginning of July through mid August.

We had a number of opportunities to spend time with the quite delightful staff, both those here for the summer and those who work at the camp year round. (The summer staff includes a mix of volunteers and paid positions.)
We met Andrew as he served us our ice cream cones (only $1 for kiddie cones!) at the snack shack. He’s going to be a high school senior and was serving at camp along with his older sister Teresa. It’s his first summer on staff, but he’d attended as a camper for many summers. We asked what he liked about the place. He said it’s like a “second home” and it’s very “Christ-centered.”

We also had the opportunity to spend time with the camp programming director, Jim. I asked him what the goals were for families that came for the summer program.  He listed three. “Number one is to draw people closer to Jesus. Number two is to draw families closer together. And number three is to have fun, because if you don’t have fun, what’s the point of camp?”

We did have fun in our time at Pilgrim Pines. We took advantage of the opportunities to kayak, swim, join in with the family games, and crafts. Of course there were many things we missed. We left on Monday morning and activities planned for that day included blueberry picking, a tea party, parachute games, archery, competitive basketball, water kickball, and a potluck dinner for people staying at the campground.

Some of our more particular readers may be asking, “I thought this was Dean and Mindy go to church. You’re supposed to go to church in every state. Did you not go to church in New Hampshire?”

I’m sure that those readers with too much time on their hands will be glad to know that we did go to a worship service at Pilgrim Pines. At family conferences there are times of worship throughout the week, but there is also a Sunday morning worship service at 10:30 am. A variety of people attend that service. Of course, the people attending the week’s conference attend, along with the camp staff.  But some people “summer” at Pilgrim Pines, attending Sunday worship (and sometimes the daily worship and teaching time as well) throughout the season. And there are some people who live in the area and attend Pilgrim Pines worship as their church.

Sunday morning’s speaker is generally also the Pastor of the Week (P.O.W.) for the conference. As the conference center is a ministry of the Covenant Church, speakers tend to be from that denomination.

Our pastor for the morning was Will Barnett, lead pastor of Highrock Church in Acton, Massachusetts. His theme for the week was “Soul Posture,” and In the Sunday morning message he fleshed out that theme a bit. He said that as Americans and Christians we tend to be very focused on decision making, making the right choice. Many people are focused, for example,  on the choice in November, “Should we choose Hilary or Donald? What do you do when there aren’t great choices? Should we vote third party or move to Canada?”

Though decision making is important, Will pointed out, it’s more important to focus on being the kind of people God wants us to be, and then good decisions will come naturally. I appreciated his message and wished I could hear him discuss it more over the week. Instead, I was glad of the opportunity to ask him a few questions.*

Pilgrim Pines just went through an interim year without an executive director, but a little over a month ago, Scott Lee was hired as the new camp director. He was introduced during the opening gathering on Saturday. He introduced himself when we registered, and seemed excited about our journey to go to a church in every state, “We’re all about making new friends here,” he said.

Scott told a great story about the importance of camps. “I was talking to a grandfather who’d been eavesdropping on his grandchildren. The grandchildren were making plans to someday bring their kids (when they had them) to Pilgrim Pines. ‘Well, we better be there for them,’ I said.”

On Monday morning, we left camp just after the summer staff presented camp rules in the guise of Olympic News Coverage. Derek, one of the high school directors, was playing the part of an Eastern European athlete with a really terrible accent. But he said the primary rule for Pilgrim Pines was this: “Number one rule while you’re here, ‘Love the Jesus, and have the fun.’” That’s really not a bad rule for life.

Sermon length:  19 minutes
Service length:  50 minutes
Visitor treatment: We were all visitors, and all were welcomed.
Follow up by Tuesday morning: none
Our rough count:  186
Probable Ushers’ count: 200
Snacks: none, although breakfast for campers was available before the worship service and lunch was served after (for those who’d made reservations)
Musicians: pianist (man for songs, woman for offertory)
cello (woman)
drums (man)
bass (woman)
acoustic guitar (man)
vocals (2 women)
Songs: "Your Grace is Enough"
"10,000 Reasons"
"Come Alive" (offertory with vocals, cello and piano)
"Give Thanks"
"Lord of Sea and Sky"
Distance to church: a short downhill walk from the campsites
Miles from start: 33,934
Total 2016 miles: 33,638
Church website: http://pilgrimpines.org/

*When we go to bars we always ask two questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?”

A few people at bars have asked me, “Do you ask pastors those questions? I’d like to hear the answers.” So I asked the questions of Pastor Will Barnett.

I’m sure his congregation will be glad to hear that the answer to the bar question did not come quickly. But when it did, he said, “Good beer. Not just Budweiser but craft beer from the area. A good environment where people can connect. Booths set up for conversation.”

As for what makes for a good church, he said, “A culture of authenticity. A welcoming place where people love each other. There should be a clear connection between the Gospel and the concerns and questions that animate people’s lives.” I asked him to explain what he meant by the Gospel (a question I’ve been able to ask a few times in bars) and he said, “The Good News that God can give you a future in Jesus Christ through the power of the Spirit.”