A couple of weeks ago I got back from eight days at Lee Abbey in Devon, helping to run a week of the Camp for 13-18 year olds. For each week of the camp about 100 campers plus 40-odd leaders descend on a (normally) soggy field and form a community. Simply put, it’s the best thing we do as a family.
Earlier in August, Christian camps came in for some criticisms in an Guardian article entitled Christian teen camps are wicked, innit. It criticised Christian youth camps for two main reasons: 1) the tactics used at camps are manipulative and 2) the messages presented on the camps can be damaging to young people. Of course some ardent secularists love to associate everything that Christians do with the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition and lots of the on-line responses reflected this. Christian camps do need to be careful in how they are organised to avoid these dangers but I thought the accusations were pretty weak. I wished that the journalist could have come to Lee Abbey and been a part of what we do.
But perhaps the interest of a national newspaper should be taken as evidence of the effectiveness of these Camps because the scale and vibrancy of such work is clearly rattling some cages. Isn’t the Church supposed to be quietly dying?
Remember the bigger picture: nationally Churches now employ far more youth workers than local authorities, and often their work has an energy, a creativity, a volunteer base and a moral purpose that secular agencies envy. But the faith that these qualities are rooted in will never be truly understood or endorsed by secular commentators.
We have only been involved for a few years and many have been involved for far longer, but already it feels like the Camp is a fixture in our family’s year – that we are part of something vital and important.
Its because the Camp reflects the values that we aspire to and are passionate about. An inclusive community which lives and learns together in a spirit of friendship, tolerance and openness. A simplicity of living where there are no video games, no TV, DVDs and best of all no mobile signal so people actually talk rather than text and facebook. It means that everyone gets a break from the hectic and complex lives that teenagers and adults live. It allows vital space for thinking, contemplation and a better sense of perspective. And, before I make it sound too heavy, the whole thing is surrounded by loads of fun, games, silliness and lots and lots of laughing.
And all these qualities don’t appear from nowhere: they are rooted in the faith and hope that comes from following Jesus. This is what lies at the heart of the whole thing and has done since it started in 1947. So this is why I love Lee Abbey Camp: inclusivity, simplicity and a great laugh- a little slice of what the world is waiting for.