Prayer in the Pines

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Let’s talk about prayer and camp.

Every night at Camp Chickagami, after a day spent running and swimming and singing and playing, campers and staff wind down with Compline, a contemplative nighttime service out of the Book of Common Prayer.

After singing and swaying along to a few calming songs like “Sanctuary” or “Jen’s Song”, they pray my favorite prayer in the entire prayer book, “Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.”

Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.

Before heading off to brush teeth and climb into sleeping bags, someone starts a popcorn prayer, asking everyone to pray silently or aloud to give thanks or ask for help. It is basically “free intercessions” without calling it something as confusing and terrifying to an eight year old as “free intercessions.”

There is rarely a moment of silence. The prayers flow into one another, overlapping and interrupting. There is laughter, “aww”s, and “AMEN!”s. There is so much to ask for and so much to be thankful for.  The prayer is unstructured, unscripted, and undignified. They know they can say whatever they want. They know He is there.

“Thank you for Cabin Mary.”

“I pray that everyone sleeps soundly and has a great day tomorrow.”

“I pray that the last day would make more days because I don’t want these days to go by.”

“I’m thankful for all the little fishies out there.”

“I’m thankful for who I am!”

“I’m thankful for the love that all you counselors share with us.”

“I’m thankful that I get to share this place with my sister.”

“I’m thankful for the Church!”

“I pray that we have a good last day tomorrow because tomorrow is our last full day.”

“Please heal my grandpa who just got out of surgery and help my mom not be sad.”

“Thank you for my cabin mates who made me feel welcome for my first year at Camp Chickagami.”

“I’m thankful for pudding.”

“I’m thankful for having a new family here at camp.”

“I’m thankful for being a part of something so wonderful.”

I’m thankful for being a part of something so wonderful.

“I’m thankful that I got to spend my birthdays here for the past three years. They’ve been the best birthdays ever.”

“I really thank you for bringing me to this camp.”

“This week was the best week of my life.”

This year, I had the opportunity to return to Camp Chick after having spent 11 summers there as a camper, volunteer, and counselor.  While there, in an effort to reach families and churches back home, I made a short YouTube video every day. (Check them out on our YouTube channel).  This involved a lot of setting focus, hitting record, asking questions, and demanding to see silly faces.

For the very last video of the very last week of camp, I asked the question, “What is your favorite part about Camp Chick?”

The answers were astounding. Some were expected, like swimming in crystal clear Lake Esau or experiencing the rush of the rapids at Ocqueoc Falls. Some were more introspective, focusing on the incredible Christian community, the family-like atmosphere, and the way long-distance camp friendships can just pick up from where they left off the summer before.

When I asked 10-year-old Daniel what his favorite part of camp was, his answer took me completely by surprise.

Daniel is a staff kid. His mother carefully prepares the wonderful meals that keep the campers and counselors well fed and healthy throughout the camp session.

By the time I asked him my question, Daniel had already been at camp for over two weeks. I expected him to be tired, overspent, and excited for a couch and temperature controlled air conditioning. His answer? “Compline and Church. I like singing songs and praying with everyone.”

Daniel – who has never been a regular church-goer, by the way – had found a place in God’s love at Camp Chick. He understood the church community and worship in a way that adults rarely do. He’s not concerned with building renovations or with potlucks or with golf outings. He just wants to go to church and sing songs and pray to the Lord with his friends.

Camp Chickagami, like many summer youth camps, features all of the classic rustic camping activities. Kids splash around along the shores of Lake Esau. They go boating in old canoes that are either simply wet or leaking, you’re just never sure. They snooze each night in dorm-style cabins with the biggest bugs they’ve ever seen.  They get scrapes, they get dirty, and they get mosquito bites.

Camp Chickagami goes beyond these things and becomes something more.  I don’t know if it’s the northern air, the aesthetic wonder, or the fact that you’re usually exhausted out of your mind but I never experience God more in my life than I do at Camp Chick. It is “thin space”.  Whether you’re sitting elbow to elbow with seventy youngsters in the chapel with steeples of pine trees, or walking through the natural labyrinth built by campers past, or dipping your feet off the boathouse dock as the waves lap the shoreline, you feel Him in every moment. That is “thin space”.

The challenge is to bring the thin space home. To make our kids feel as welcome in the parish hall as they do in Fletcher Hall. As important in the Eucharist as they are in St. Andrew’s Chapel. As loved in the congregation as they are at Camp Chick.