Bearing Fruit: What gifts do we have to offer the world?
1 Samuel 3:1-10, Psalm 139, John 15:1-8
Sunday, June 3, 2018 – A Celebration of the Ministry of Lumsden Beach Camp
Knox-Metropolitan United Church – Regina, SK – Treaty 4 Territory
Vicki Nelson, LBC Executive Director
Like some of you in this community, a few months ago I read a book called Rebirthing God by John Philip Newell. This was a book Cam used in a study during the winter. In case you didn’t get the chance to read it, broadly it is about the general decline of Christianity—not just mainstream, but all Christian traditions are in some sort of decline these days.
In this book, Newell muses about what Christianity may look like on the other side of this great change. He talks about Christianity’s resurrection. Borrowing from Carl Jung he makes the bold statement that resurrection is not resuscitation. The Christianity of tomorrow will not look like it does today, or has in the past. Newell shares his opinion of the things we need to reconnect with—the foundations of a new “church”—to see this beautiful resurrection. Compassion, Light, the Earth, Spiritual Practice, Love and more, paint a road map for a very broad and beautiful experience of religion embodied in the Christian Faith.
John Philip Newell worked as the Director in Scotland’s Iona Community. Much of his book is informed by and refers to his work there, which due to the Abbey’s focus on ecumenicalism, personal connection to God, and the natural world, made it easy for me to read the book through a Lumsden Beach Camp lens.
If you are sitting here today, you are probably at least a little like me. You like Sunday worship. You feel grateful for the intergenerational and diverse group of people that a church brings together. You are a bit nostalgic about the church of the past—busy, full of children and families, women’s groups, and socializing. Regardless, you are proud of the United Church’s stance on justice issues, the apologies to First Nations people, the unapologetic and ongoing work to welcome and affirm sexually and gender-diverse people. If you are like me, maybe you think that most, or at least more, people would get something out of attending a United Church or belonging in some way to a faith community. However if you are like me, most of your friends and family don’t, which you don’t judge or despair about, it is what it is.
Although I have the privilege of speaking about Lumsden Beach Camp (or LBC) to folks on a regular basis I would like to take a quick minute to share a bit about us for any new folks here today.
LBC is located on Last Mountain Lake, about 40 minutes northwest of Regina. The camp was originally founded in 1905 by Methodists—one part of the United Church’s founding folks. We are Western Canada’s oldest summer camp. After several years of sustained growth, now the camp welcomes about 400 children and youth out to the site for overnight camps during July and August. Alongside Knox-Met, LBC also runs Day Camps throughout the school year, which see around 100 participants, plus we will welcome school group, girl guides, family reunions and more to our site in June and September.
Activities at our summer sessions are what you may expect—canoeing, archery, hikes, swimming, but the camp has long also had an eye to justice issues—reconciliation, environmental stewardship, radical welcome, and more are at the center of our culture and are part of the memories we hope campers take home with them.
For many who have spent time in the hills and gullies of LBC this little nook is sacred—a thin place where connecting to God and finding a sacred spark in yourself is within reach.
These thin places exist all over. They are as individual as each of us. I want to invite you to take a second right now and think about your sacred place. Breathe in and return there.
Where have you felt a profound connection?
Where have your felt relaxed, certain, loved?
Where has your brain and heart transported you?
Try and let yourself feel that tingly sense of awe and clarity again….
Newell says, “To Shine, we need to keep returning to these places to remember that we and all things have come into the world to be filled with Light and to shine.” In this case he uses light, and means God or Spirit. At LBC we talk about being the best version of ourselves out at camp – to shine.
Now I won’t go around asking each of you where that special place or memory is, but I suspect that some of you travelled in your mind to somewhere outdoors.
Maybe some of you stayed in this room…this is a beautiful worship space, and undoubtly has played a role in feeling loved and connected to the sacred, but if you didn’t, if you found yourself transported out of worship and to a forest or at a cabin or near a lake or river, I think that is ok. Worship, prayer, meditation, community singing, all the wonderful things we think of as “church” give us the wings and the grounding to move out into the world and recognize the divine. But those beautiful, often outdoor places connect to a deeply, less cerebral state.
Newell insists that the primary sanctuary is the Earth. Temples, shrines and churches are indeed holy, but surely the Earth is even more so. The land, water, the sky are our source, our home. When we allow ourselves to be outside, to quiet our minds, there we find room for the spirit.
In the scripture we just heard, Jesus shares that when we are cut off or removed from Him, or from our source we wither, we are unable to produce fruit. At LBC we truly believe that kids NEED to be outside more. They need to get dirty, sleep under the stars, feel challenged to try things they think they can’t do, they need independence, they need to connect with their source, they need space to be made for the sacred in their lives.
We are trying to help these young people bear fruit—however that may look—in their lives. I won’t promise that coming to LBC will result in a person becoming a regular Sunday worship attender. Only about 30% of those who attended LBC in 2017 identified as being affiliated with the United Church, but we have seen that people who move through Lumsden Beach Camp over the years become leaders and contributors in their communities (faith or otherwise). They are grounded and able to find the divine in others and the world. I have heard young adults, when asked what church they belong to name LBC. “To Shine, to be the best version, we need to keep returning to these places to remember that we have come into the world to be filled with Light and to shine.”
Maybe, just maybe one form of a resurrected church may look a lot like a summer camp. But not a summer camp of the 1950s or even today. Our team of leaders is nimbly working to find ways for a very old summer camp to offer a community and activities that meet the spiritual and emotional needs of children and their families today and into the future. Like in the scripture from John, we want our campers to bear fruit in the world whether they consider themselves disciples or not.
About 45% of Lumsden Beach Camper families consider themselves either non-religious or come from a tradition outside of Christianity. I hope that these campers feel welcome and supported to explore their faith, however that looks. We are careful and intentional about how we talk about God at LBC, ensuring that it is clear that God’s love is available for all and there are no special statements, requirements or professions needed to feel it. Newell says, “The historic religions of the world are given not to compete with each other but to complete each other.”
If we can think about Lumsden Beach Camp as a “church” like those young people I mentioned do, then we want to be like this. Offering gifts of our Christian roots without expecting something in return—whether that is professions of faith or attendance at Sunday worship. I suspect this resonates with some of you too in your understanding of personal and denominational faith. This also makes LBC unique within the culture of summer camps in this region of Saskatchewan.
It is a beautiful vision–a generous, true faith that gives much, and expects little in return. And like I mentioned over the last few years LBC has been working hard to find this balance, to offer a faith-based camping experience that is welcoming and attractive to all. And I think we are doing a good job. Last summer we had a record number of campers out. This summer is shaping up to be the same. In fact the Board is spending more time these days talking about growing our infrastructure—getting more people to fit in the Dining Hall for example—than worrying about promoting the camp. It is a very encouraging trend, and I pray that we can keep working to move this momentum in the right direction. All of this positivity aside, LBC leadership still works hard to fundraise and attract monthly donors –who we call Sustainers—to provide the financial groundwork to make any of this happen.
What I do know to be true, from witnessing the beauty of friendship and self-esteem development out at LBC, is that when we do it right, if we offer something that people need, if we tap into the roots of what Jesus brought through his ministry– offering it freely without judgement, people respond. Families see their children come home happier and more helpful. We see campers with violent or challenging pasts soften. We see alumni from decades past glow as they recall their days in this sacred place.
Last summer I was out at the camp for a day during a teen session. Full of questions, inside jokes, and longing to fit in, teen campers are the best, most fun, most difficult age group. It had been a bumpy first couple days for the staff, but things were starting to coalesce on this, the second full day. I arrive just after lunch when the campers are in the cabins taking part in FOB-Flat On Bunk—nap time.
I was setting up my computer in the staff cabin when there was a polite knock on the door. Cheryl, the Camp Director whom most of you know, answered it and started chatting with Ibrahim, a camper who came to LBC through the Regina Open Door Society with funding from the Community Initiatives Fund.
We have received this funding for the previous 2 summers. It has allowed LBC to work with youth serving organizations and welcome kids who would never have found their way out to summer camp, but who need and deserve it more than anyone. For this coming summer we have received a reduced amount of this grant and have been informed that in the future we will be unlikely to even get that much due to government cuts. We have way more kids that need funding than we have dollars available and our reputation keeps spreading…more school programs, and youth groups reach out to us for major sponsorship…
But Back to Ibrahim. He was in grade 8, had been in Canada for 6 months and now was at a Christian summer camp under the hot prairie sun. I imagine he reflected on the oddness of life. His English wasn’t very strong so it took a bit of time for Cheryl to figure out what the issue was.
He had a cellphone that was completely in Arabic and was trying to get help to fix it. Cellphones are not allowed out at the camp, we make that pretty clear in all our communications with families, but obviously the memo hadn’t got to Ibrahim since here he was having tech problems and earnestly asking for help without concern. Thanks to the wonders of google translate we figured out that he had an app on his phone, which wasn’t working. The app sounded and called him to pray at the appropriate times throughout the day. It also showed which direction Mecca was, no matter where he was, along with some other functions we never did decipher. Eventually, we got him set up with the correct direction and alarms, found him a place and made sure his cabin leaders knew where he was (and would be from time-to-time).
After 7 days Ibrahim went home. Probably shared with his dad stories about the weird songs, silly staff, and fun he had. A few weeks later he started high school having a bit more knowledge about Canada, having a few familiar faces in the halls, and knowing there is this Christian community that is pretty great.
We have already received registrations from 2 more Muslim campers through the Open Door. And if we can find the funding the Open Door will send even more kids. We have learned about how to be more welcoming and set them up for a really amazing week.
That is the true-ness I am talking about that LBC embodies well. A Christianity that doesn’t feel jealous or preachy. A space where we can share our rich tradition with whomever, believing it offers value to all, and where we, as a camp, as an organization, as a “church”, can be touched and changed by all those who enter our gates.