When talking to young adults about serving at a camp, I often hear the same train of thought from them: "I have to work this summer." I fully recognize the importance of education. I understand that having that internship this summer might eventually get you a higher salary later. I get it. But how did we get here? What are we so easily casting aside?
When we are kids, it’s all about going to camp in the summer, going back to that magical place to see those amazing friends we made and relive those memories year after year. Our Archdiocese has more camping options for our children than any other Orthodox jurisdiction. Wherever you are in this country, our camping ministries have evolved rapidly over the past 40 years, and these programs have become the centerpieces of youth ministry both at the local Metropolis and national levels. And rightly so! Camp is a special place where our children can go to escape the pressures and fears of the "real world," meet other young Orthodox Christians and most importantly, be a part of something special.
Then, they grow up.
They graduate high school and move on to college, often far away from family and the church. Suddenly, they find that they are no longer "teenagers," but "young adults," with an entirely new set of pressures and responsibilities. They explore majors and career possibilities, make a new set of "college" friends, and delicately balance their social and academic life. Maybe they take a semester abroad.
Literally classified as "adults," they are expected to be responsible, to have it all together, to formulate a plan for the rest of their life. And they have to do this quickly. With the economy the way it is, they better get that internship at that big company so they can get their foot in the door from now. Many have student loans to pay off or law school or med school to start thinking about.
As they enter the "real world," this generation of young adults is faced with more pressures than ever before. And yet, they forget the most important tool. On their journey to become adults, they find themselves - often unintentionally - on a sabbatical from their spiritual life.
All too often, these young adults "forget" the lessons they learned at camp just a few years ago. They "forget" about going to church on Sunday, or having a prayer life. They begin to see the church as something that will always be there, that they can leave on the back burner and come back to later.
They are growing up, becoming the people who they will be for the rest of their adult lives. Too often, amidst all these pressures, they leave behind the most important part of themselves - their Orthodox Christianity.
So then what? How do we keep our young adults active and engaged, how do we give them the tools to own their faith and connect with God? By serving at summer camp.
As we look to conquer the world, sometimes we lose sight of the horizon. For our young adults, serving at a camp, even just for one week, can do wonders in helping ground you as an Orthodox Christian. It can give you that shot in the arm, that rejuvenation we so desperately need to reconnect with our faith. Camp is the bridge to that other, forgotten part of yourself.
Our young adults must take time for camp. Contrary to popular belief, serving at a camp is not a vacation. Camp is fun and exciting, but it is also tiring, difficult, challenging and even frustrating at times. Camp is an opportunity to experience the church in a more direct way, working with kids and building bonds, practicing leadership skills and using your creativity. Fostering a connection between your campers and Christ and reenergizing your own connection with Christ is, ultimately, what makes camp so rewarding.
You will see and experience things as a Staff Member that almost feel otherworldly. When you reenter the "real world," you'll be longing for the days sitting in the grass with a group of your campers, talking, growing, and forming a family. Most importantly, you will fully be yourself again, rejuvenated not only physically, but spiritually. That "real world" suddenly won't seem so daunting.
As a "young adult," yes, you have myriad responsibilities that you never had as a teenager or as a child. But the most important responsibility that you have is your faith. And for you parental readers, do right by your young adult children and encourage them to serve a summer camp this year. I promise they will make you proud.
So…as much as some parents with high hopes and aspirations may not like to hear it, work can wait, work must wait. You will have your whole life to be in the job force, these summers pass you by quickly, as does your ability and schedule to participate in their amazing camping programs.
Whether you have grown up going to camp your whole life or have never been, now is the time. Whether you go for one week or two months, find the time to serve as a Staff Member at one of our Archdiocesan camps. Being a part of youth ministry from this unique perspective is so important for your own growth, not just as an Orthodox Christian, but as a young adult struggling to find who it is you really are.
Let camp be that bridge to that other part of yourself. Let camp, together with the relationships you form with others and with Christ, be the bridge to the best version of yourself.