Summer camp is more than childhood memories. Wesley Woods was where a disciple was made.
Retired pastor, Michigan Conference
Coming across a little paperback songbook brought back a flood of memories of my summers at church camp–really too many memories for one Monday Memo, so here goes a series of summer reflections.
The first one comes from Wesley Woods, a United Methodist camp perched high on a hillside in northwestern Pennsylvania. It’s a beautiful site surrounded with deep forests, just what you would expect from an summer camp…in the “Woods”! I never quite understood why my parents were so willing to send Jim and me to three weeks of camp at three different sites every summer until I had kids of my own. More to their credit, I think they realized how valuable the experience could be for us to get out of our small town setting, to find ourselves in a different mix of people and hopefully to grow in our faith. On all counts, they were right.
One of the things I remember about Wesley Woods was the deep sense of Methodist history pervading the place. First, of course, the name was an obvious reference to John and Charles. Then the cabins were all named after important leaders in Methodist history, including women. For example, the Isabella Thoburn cabin was named for an early Methodist missionary to India who established a college for women in 1870 which is still in operation today.
And that songbook…sure enough, it includes silly songs like “Vive L’Amour”, “Pastsy Oree-ay”, and “Green Grow the Rushes.” Of course there are campfire songs like “Kum Ba Yah”. But it also includes challenging hymns like “Be Thou My Vision” and “Make Me a Captive Lord”. It exposed me to African American spirituals and James Weldon Johnson’s great anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing”.
Years would pass before I would learn about the profound ministry of Harry Emerson Fosdick, but this little songbook at a summer camp introduced me to his great hymn “God of Grace and God of Glory”. No dumbing down here. No settling for zippy little ditties and 7/11 choruses (seven words repeated eleven times). In addition to having great fun and enjoying the forests, they obviously wanted us to be exposed to stuff of substance and depth, to experience something of the tradition of the people called Methodist and to take home more than poison ivy, sunburn and short-lived memories of a summer camp girlfriend.
I remember walking into the dining hall and seeing a mobile hanging from the ceiling with the saying “The World is My Parish”. It was the first time I had heard this familiar Wesleyan motto which has inspired global mission for 250 years, ever since the first time John Wesley said it while he was preaching on his father’s tomb.
I hope that passion for the world has been reflected in my life and ministry over the years. That passion has taken me to dozens of countries and to places I never even dreamed about when I was a kid at Wesley Woods. In a day when a kind of xenophobic nationalism and “America First” is coming to mean “America Alone”, I hope the church still holds up before our kids a global vision, hope for the whole world not just ourselves, the willingness to see the world as our parish, rather than our little parish as the world.
For me, that passion started at Wesley Woods and it moved me out into the world. Thanks be to God.