An Orthodox Christian summer camp experience is a life-changing opportunity for our children. If you have not yet sent your child(ren) to an Orthodox camp, find a way to do so next summer. Orthodox Christian camps offer our children a taste of living in heaven on earth. What more do we want for our children than for them to successfully live their faith and surround themselves with friends who do the same?
What exactly is it that makes Orthodox Christian camp so wonderful? First and foremost, although it seems obvious, an Orthodox Christian Camp is so wonderful because it is ORTHODOX. Camp may be the only place besides church where our children are surrounded by other kids who are also Orthodox Christians. In this era where some Christians’ very beliefs are being swayed by whatever is currently popular in the culture, it is imperative that our children have friends who are also remaining steadfast in their Orthodox faith. Camp offers our children a safe and fun environment in which to meet these friends, worship together, and practice living out their faith each day of camp. It is a beautiful, heavenly experience.
And then all too soon, camp is over and our children need to leave there and come back home. Home to where everything is the same, despite the change they have undergone inside. Home to chores, to squabbles, to “real” life. It is not always heavenly, and our children, besides missing their camp friends, are also missing the peace-filled, Christ-centered atmosphere of camp. How can we help them to successfully make the transition home again? Better yet, what can we do to improve ourselves and our home so that the learning and growth can continue rather than stagnating until the next camp experience?
We want what is best for our children, which is why we send them to camp in the first place. So it is important that we not just write camp off as “a great chance for our kids to be in an Orthodox setting for a time.” Rather, we need to talk with our children about their experience after the fact. And together we need to make a plan for maintaining as much of the growth that they’ve experienced as is possible, and even growing it further, throughout the year.
The purpose of this blog is to offer some ideas of ways to do so. It is our hope that these ideas will help all of us. We also hope that you will share your own suggestions and ideas as comments below! My son reminded me that every camper is touched at camp in his/her own unique way, so there is no true “formula for after-camp success.” But here are a few ideas that can help to that end:
An excellent place to begin is to listen to our children’s stories from camp and ask questions about their experience, their learning, and their growth. Once we get a good sense of what our children have experienced, we can begin to get an idea of how to best support them in the days ahead. It is important that we ask them for their ideas of how to continue that learning and growth. They will be able to help us to think of ways to incorporate that learning into our family life.
It is important that we do everything that we can to encourage friendships that our children have made while at camp. We need to provide stamps, allow phone calls or skype/facetime chats, encourage emailing, etc. After all, God has provided our children with these fellow Orthodox friends, and we need to make it possible for them to maintain these friendships. Mind you, they will likely pick up right where they left off when they get back to camp again, but maybe they don’t really have to “let off,” if we afford them the opportunity to stay in touch throughout the year.
If possible, we can visit other parishes where camp friends attend. We can also visit a parish where one of the camp priests is the priest. What a joy to watch our children interact with these friends and spiritual leaders outside of the camp context! It is well worth the effort.
One friend said that sometimes her sons came home from camp missing all of the services and wishing for more. She suggested that we can help our children to adjust after camp by taking them to additional services such as vespers or matins. Along the same lines, we can go through our family calendar and block in all of the services that happen throughout the church year, prioritizing them in the family schedule and attending as many as we possibly can.
One of my friend’s sons suggested that one thing that has been helpful to him (both as a camper and a camp counselor) to stay strong in his faith after camp is to establish and maintain a prayer rule. My own son also suggested that it helps him to set up a prayer routine during the day. When children are younger, we can do this together as a family. As they age, children arrive at the point of being able to take over this responsibility for themselves. We can allow them opportunities to help with family prayers.
Correspondingly, we should provide anything that our children may need to set up a quiet place of prayer in their own room. We can purchase icons for them to establish their own prayer corner. We can provide them with prayer books, prayer bracelets, perhaps even candles. We must also allow our children some time in their schedule to be prayerful and quiet each day.
It is important that we help our children to gain access to Orthodox Christian books, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, etc. that can continue to stretch their faith. As we listen to their “after camp” talking, we will hear what they’ve been learning and perhaps a theme or a book that they began studying at camp. We can use these ideas as cues to know what to provide for them, and help to find/provide resources that will continue their learning.
We can send our children back to camp throughout the year, if the camp offers additional programming. The camp that my children attend offers a winter camp over a long weekend in the middle of winter. They also offer family camp for whole families to attend together during Memorial Day weekend. These “mini-camps” can be just what our children need to help them on their journey. (The anticipation of a weekend at camp during the school year, along with revisiting memories of the weekend after it is over, is well worth the extra effort it takes to get the children to camp on that weekend!)
We can also invite some of the camp staff to visit our parish at some point during the year. While they are there, they can offer a taste of what it’s like to go to camp within the familiar setting of our home parish. This is especially helpful to families who have not yet sent their children to camp because of the time commitment or the uncertainty of whether or not their children will like the camp experience. But a camp-at-our-parish visit is also helpful and encouraging to the children in the parish who have already attended camp, since it reminds them of what they have learned/gained at camp, and acts as a “booster” to help them continue growing in that direction.
All of these opportunities allow our children a chance to continue to walk in the great blessing that they receive at camp. As we pursue these and other opportunities for continued growth in their lives throughout the year, we will help our children not to “lose ground” on their spiritual journey. We will also likely be challenged to be better people ourselves, and to grow in our own faith along the way.
Author’s note: many thanks to my family and friends, all camp veterans and enthusiasts, for sharing their input as I prepared this blog. Their insights were heartfelt, and their ideas are invaluable. Some of them are friends that I met at – of all places – church camp!
The following links can help with the adjustment back home after camp. What other ideas or suggestions do you have? Please share them with the community!
Find an Orthodox Christian camp near you here: http://orthodoxcamps.org/directory
“Orthodox Summer Camp was a changing factor in my life story.” ~ Presvytera Vassi Makris Haros, in http://myocn.net/whats-your-summer-camp-super-power/
“…Camp offers a simple lifestyle where the focus is living in community as Christian brothers and sisters. There is only one option for meals, church services are offered twice daily, and eight to ten campers live together in one cabin, sharing a bathroom. Yet it is a haven of joy for our young people.” ~ Khalil Samara, from http://www.antiochian.org/content/works-order-action-learning-christian-living-through-orthodox-camping-experience
“Eternal salvation is the goal of our earthly life. This goal requires our constant striving to live as Christians—a task, in any age which is difficult to accomplish. The influences of our contemporary world with its atheistic, humanistic and secular approach to all aspects of human life has made it extremely hard to live as a true Christian. The parish church and the home are the only bastions where God can be praised, glorified and entreated. These are the only places where Christianity can be taught and where one can gain the courage to begin living a Christian life.” ~ from “Marriage and the Christian Home” by Fr. Michael B. Henning, http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/xc_home.aspx
Prepare for listening to your teen’s camp experiences with these helpful hints: http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/teens/tips-for-parenting-teens/tools-for-listening-to-your-teen
Listening to this podcast from the Antiochian Village Camp can be one way to help our children stay in tune with the spiritual side of their life which they nurtured at summer camp: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/avillage
Listen to this interview with Fr. Philip Rogers, director at Camp St. Thekla in South Carolina, on CAMP (Christ Awakens My Personhood): http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/goforth/camp_st._thekla_2015
Listen to Elissa Bjeletich’s ponderings on her experience with Camp St Sava in Jackson, CA: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/raisingsaints/camp_st._sava_talking_about_miracles_and_the_butterfly_circus
Find an audio snapshot of camp life from Camp St. Raphael here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/orthodixie/gotta_go_to_camp_now