What a joy it was for me to be chaplain at Camp Kintail for Senior Teen Co – Ed Camp last summer!
I learned that the teens who attended camp come back year after year (some as long as 10 years) and that most do not attend church on a regular basis and some never do. I heard that they like to come because this is the only place they learn about God. (For this reason alone we should never stop funding our church camps!) They don’t come just for the fun and games, although that’s part of it. It’s about relationships, first and foremost, and isn’t that what a community of faith is supposed to be about? They told me that they feel free to talk about their faith here in real, open, honest ways.
I was invited by the cabins to join in their FLASH (Faith, Learning and Sharing) times and I invited them to ask whatever questions they had. And they had so many questions! Questions about life, about faith, questions that they are struggling with. Questions that they thought they were the only ones wondering about. Questions folks decades older are still struggling with; questions theologians have wrestled with over the centuries.
How do we know there’s a heaven/hell, and what is it like?
If God already knows what we are going to do, why do we have to do anything? (Actually the predestination question came up a lot!)
How does Genesis fit with evolution theories?
Will God still love me if I smoke/do drugs/cut/am gay?
These are questions they have never had the opportunity to ask before. No one had ever engaged them in that kind of conversation, allowing them to ask anything. They wanted to ask the questions, they wanted to be listened to, and they didn’t want the “pat” answers. They didn’t want rhetoric. They wanted discussions and conversations and honest, open dialogue. And if I didn’t know the answers, they wanted to hear that, too.
They want to go to church but find that their churches don’t address their questions. Their words were “it’s not relevant,” “it doesn’t speak into my life,” and “it’s not real.” They want to hear about real life, real experiences, not “shoulds” in an abstract, dictatorial way. They want to be engaged. They don’t want to feel that they have not said the right thing, thought the right thoughts. They want to speak and be heard. They don’t want to be told what they should think, what they should do and what they are doing wrong.
I learned that they like ritual. Camp life is full of it, and they participate fully and freely. They just don’t want the rituals of their grandparents, necessarily. I say grandparents because I learned that more often than not, it is their grandparents’ church they went to when they did attend, because their grandparents had encouraged them. Not their parents. We, as a church have lost that transitional generation so connecting is a whole lot harder and transitioning will be all that much tougher. But, if we take the time to ask them the questions, and more importantly listen to their answers, open up the conversations—not once, not twice, but over and over—then we can connect. We can be “their” church and not “our” church. We will lose the barrier between “us” and “them” as we have the conversations, as we ask the questions and learn about them. Because the more you know someone, the thinner that divide gets until, one day, you look around and it is our church, all of us, together.
What did I learn at camp from these great kids? I learned that campfires are great and that they love silly songs and spiritual songs. I learned that they love squirt guns, running through the woods and swinging in hammocks talking about their faith. I learned that they love s’mores and apple pie. I learned that their generation is anxious to have a church that they can call their own and a faith that they can question and embrace. I learned that they are a lot like me.