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Finding a Home at Camp Stevens

It is rare to a find a place where you feel at home. I don’t necessarily mean your experience of the family you grew up in, but home in the truest sense of the word. A place where you can be known and seen. Where your most authentic self can be nurtured and shine through. Where you feel safe. Where you are connected to something bigger than yourself—a network of people or something transcendent like God or nature.

This is my experience of Camp Steven’s. It is a home for campers, counselors and staff, and chaplains like myself—in the truest sense of the word.

This summer I had the privilege of serving as a chaplain at Camp Steven’s alongside Charlette Preslar and Rev. KC Robinson (not to brag, but I got an amazing team). I knew we were off to a great start when Charlette had three shirts made for us that said in bold, cheerful rainbow colors: “This Chaplain Loves You.” That was essentially our role, loving around 200 campers under the age of fourteen who came from the San Diego and Los Angeles Dioceses. Many campers didn’t have a church affiliation, and this will likely be their only experience of religion and spiritual formation.

As chaplains, we provided emotional and spiritual support to campers, counselors, and staff, both through our presence and in coordinating the spiritual components of camp. This mainly included giving homilies at the evening gatherings, leading Spiritual Sunrise in the mornings, and celebrating the final Eucharist.

Spiritual Sunrise was particularly meaningful to me. At the break of day, we hiked around to all the cabins to collect campers. Our most enthusiastic were the youngest, who were already awake and waiting for us. After prompting sleepy kids to put on their shoes, we walked along dirt trails to the outdoor chapel. As the sun rose, we sat on pews that consisted of logs, under a thick canopy of ripe, green grape vines.

Campers from other sessions had put sacred relics around the altar—stones, sticks, shells, expressive pieces of original art. It is a space that has been formed within, and exists through, the beloved community and the creative vision of children. Each morning, we entered into this thin place to practice mindfulness meditation, reflect on scripture, and pray. Without fail, I had a fresh sense of God’s presence as I engaged all my senses, heard the kids’ perceptive insights, and witnessed their growing love for one another.

Our final Eucharist also met in this outdoor chapel. A handful of kids were in leadership roles, and the bread and grape juice was made by campers earlier in the week. I had asked one of the younger girls to be my chalice bearer, and she carefully practiced her lines with me in preparation. When the time came, kids approached the altar, and I broke off hearty pieces of homemade bread to give each one of them. One by one, my petite companion took the bread from kids’ palms and dipped it in the juice, dying the bread a vibrant purple. I heard her words, “the body and blood of Christ, keep you in eternal life,” as each camper was spiritually nourished.

It is hard to put into words the inner transformation that happens at camp. In just a matter of days, kids who didn’t know each other have formed a family with their peers and counselors. Kids who had never been away from their parents overnight have a newfound sense of independence. Kids who have only spent time in cities’ bright lights and busyness have been re-connected to nature, the dark night’s sky, and their body’s natural rhythms. Kids who don’t normally have family dinners or quality food have eaten three wholesome meals a day, including vegetables grown in the garden and eggs from the resident chickens, alongside a table full of lively children.

This is the sacramental life. These are the means of grace that put campers in direct contact with Christ’s Presence: friendship, family, nature, food, interconnectedness, homemade bread and grape juice, and chaplain’s that love them. Joining our lives together through these ordinary, everyday sacraments is what makes Camp Stevens a home.

Registration for 2024’s Summer Camp will open in March 2024.

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Category: #Worship & Formation, #Youth, Children, & Families

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