Yes, I know that Christmas is over, but for me … this time of the year is among the most exciting and hopeful in my work in ministry. Outdoor Ministry sites across our country are praying, discerning, recruiting, interviewing, and hiring our summer staff teams. Those 18 to 26ish year olds willing to get excited about countless s’mores, Bible study daily, all camp games, swimming, archery, and so much more. Young adults who are sensing a call to mentor youth, engage deeply in a faith-filled Christian community, and grow in new ways; passionate enough about this unique experience that they will agree to very limited cell service the majority of the summer.
One of my former bosses and mentors, Phil DeLong, once shared with me when he often was asked how he has such hope for the future, he would respond, “because I work with the leaders of today and tomorrow. I see how deeply they care for others, I see how they want to put their faith in action, and I get to gain energy from their enthusiasm for life.” I couldn’t agree more! As I close out summer staff training each season, we do a special blessing and commissioning ceremony. I pray for each staff member individually and give them an outdoor ministry cross, a small wooden cross with a pine tree in the center. I also tell them (usually through tears) that my job is the best on-site because my “kids”, the staff, stay for ten weeks not one week like most of our campers.
One of the devastations of 2020 for me was walking with the summer staff we had hired as we discerned what programming would look like for the summer and in the end decided the safest choice was not to hold traditional programming. Their grace, understanding and hope for the future astounded me. As I began discerning how Luther Heights would go about recruiting summer staff for 2021, knowing full well that I would not be traveling all over to college campuses, I reached out to many who had experience at Luther Heights as campers and some alumni staff. I hosted two Zoom informational meetings to both explain where we were at as a ministry, how the Board sought to make final decision as summer 2021 approaches, and answer any questions. Our Board chair and I listened to these young adults, wanting to make a difference and have an opportunity to grow in their own faith, willing to serve however we asked of them. Sharing their excitement that sure things will be different with masks and temperature checks and other things, but CAMP WILL STILL BE CAMP. One potential staff member, Logan, articulated that he deeply wanted to be part of the healing for people as we begin to get on the other side of life with COVID. He further shared, if he could help families and youth engage with a small community of people in meaningful ways again, off a screen, lead worship experiences, and invite people to take a deep breathe in the beauty of God’s creation, he would be deeply honored.
As I read through essays on some of our early applicants I gave thanks for Luther Height Bible Camp and the many other sacred outdoor spaces set apart to explore faith and life. I smiled as I read Fletcher share, “I would really value the experience of giving back to a place that allowed me to find myself, what it meant to be Lutheran, and just human and belong to a positive and supportive community.” I get excited to see how he or others will answer the goofier questions in their hour interview like, “share a favorite joke” or “how do you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?” For me to see different responses to questions they don’t expect gives me great insight into their personality, adaptability and willingness to serve alongside a staff team. I often laugh when new applicants, ones who likely have very little camp experience ask me if they really get paid to do all of this. The opportunity outdoor ministries sites create that are different from home, faith-centered, participatory activities centered in community are transformative experiences to both the campers of all ages we serve and the staff.
2021 poses some differences and uncertainty still, but I do draw joy from the Spirit and from the young adults I get to engage with this time of year. I am thankful for their current calm in waiting and desire to adapt in whatever ways needed to make the best possible camp experience for youth and families. I am reminded of the importance of these young disciples in 2 Timothy 2:2 … “what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others well.” I know supporting this group of young adults called to serve this summer will take extra care and effort and is something I hear a lot about in the webinars and Zoom meetings that are part of my week. I have many ways to be involved in doing just that, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in learning more about supporting our 2021 staff team.
Good and gracious God, we give You thanks for this moment. We ask Your guidance on outdoor ministry sites across the country as they discern what programming at camp can look like this summer and we ask Your stirring within many young adults to serve in the many needed roles to create memorable experiences for many. We pray for guidance and wisdom as we hire, lead and equip the Saints for the work of ministry. We lift up families trying to juggle jobs, school, and many differences during this time, that moments of peace would be experienced weekly. For Your willingness, O God, to walk with us now and always, we give You thanks. Amen.