For many children, this is the season for summer camp. Here in Connecticut, we have a long tradition of reaching the lives of young people through outdoor ministry. In 1957, the same year that our United Church of Christ was formed as a denomination, the Connecticut Conference began using the property now known as “Silver Lake” as a summer camp and conference center. Since then, thanks to the volunteers who give of their time and the pastors and conference staff who work there “on alternate assignment,” thousands of young people have experienced outdoor recreation coupled with Christian education.
When I served Connecticut Conference churches back in the 1990s, I always made a point of spending a week each summer as a dean up at “the lake.” Back then, I ran a conference called “The Clown of God,” named after the book by Tomie dePaula, in which Giovanni, a traveling juggler who has seen better days takes refuge in a church on Christmas Eve and offers the Christ child the only gift that he has. During those weeks at camp, my co-dean and I would teach our kids the skills that they would need to be clowns: juggling, make-up, and skits. We taught them more than that, though, as we discussed the unique gifts each of us can offer to God and in service to all people.
When Ian was old enough to go to summer camp, even though we were living in New Jersey at the time, we brought him up to Silver Lake, knowing that he would not only have a good time at camp, swimming at the waterfront, making s’mores around the campfire and going on hikes, but that he would also find a place where his spirit was nurtured and his faith encouraged.
A couple weeks ago, from July 5-10, I got to be a part of Silver Lake’s summer program for the first time in ten years, when I went up to be a counselor for “Rhythm of the Saints,” a conference that focused on drumming and the rhythms of spirituality. It was exciting to be back at SLCC, working with our conference’s young people, but it was also a lot of fun to spend time with old friends. I got to see other pastors and members of churches that I served years ago, including some of my kids from the Naugatuck church who are now all grown up and leading programs at camp.
Norwalk was well represented, too, with John Ramos, Jr. and Sienna Dryden being on staff this summer, but I also got to spend some time visiting with Nellen Dryden and Minnie Yordon, who came by to visit with their “camp family.” Kat Mulvaney was leading another conference. Beth Yordon was working on the cabin I was staying in and, of course, Tim and Ann Hughes were all over the place, just as you’d expect the camp directors to be.
Highlights of the week were drumming with the kids on water-cooler jugs and various found objects, tackling the high ropes challenge course and climbing Bear Mountain with a group of kids who weren’t all sure that they would succeed, but did. It was a delight to be back at Silver Lake and I’m already looking forward to next summer and spending time with the children of the Connecticut Conference in God’s back yard.