This past week, I served as a dean at Junior Camp at Camp Mikell, which is our diocesan camp and conference center up in Toccoa, Georgia. Part of my duties as a priest is to work in the ministries of the the greater diocese and working at camp is one of the ways I really enjoy. Camp was one of the first experiences I had of Christian community and it’s what led me on the spiritual path I’m on today.
A “dean” is someone from the clergy or a Christian educator who plans a program for the kids who are attending camp. At Mikell, deans get the whole morning to spend with the campers. We had a theme of “Living Water” with which to design a 5-day program around. I got to serve with my dear friend the Rev. Mary Demmler, who is the rector of St. Matthias in Toccoa, and who served with me in the past in the Diocese of Georgia.
Camp Mikell is such a special place. The director, the Rev. Ken Struble, has trained an amazing group of young adults to serve as the summer staff. They have the perfect balance of humor, responsibility, and creativity which is necessary to take care of over a hundred kids every week. Junior Camp, which is for 6th and 7th graders, had 110 campers, so we had a huge group to play with all week. During the camp, the campers swim, go on nature hikes, do arts and crafts, play sports, and build community. They get to watch the summer staff perform the “Cherokee Pageant” which is a retelling of Native American folklore that the staff has performed since the camp was started over 50 years ago. (For the second year, I got to play the role of the Raven Mocker, who comes to carry the soul of a fallen warrior to the realm of the dead. It just means I wear a black sheet and screech like a bird.)
Molly and the kids joined me for most of the week, so our kids got to experience camp again, which is always fun to watch. Perhaps the thing they loved the most was eating in the dining hall, where they have some really great food. My new favorite Mikell food is the “seaweed salad” on the salad bar, which had a sesame flavor. Truly, this is not your common camp food.
Like I said, our program was on “Living Water.” We taught the kids about all the places they can see God’s grace in the water that makes up our world. The main project we worked on was giving the small groups video cameras and letting them come up with ways to explain “living water.” Here is the result:
Overall, I came away exhausted and refreshed at the same time. I renewed old friendships and made a lot of new friends. I am always impressed with the work of the staff, and I’m grateful for their openness in letting us into their community. I’ve worked and attended many camps in my life, and without a doubt, Mikell has the best staff I’ve seen.
Pretty much anyone can be a camper at Camp Mikell. Tai went to Mini-Camp with me at the beginning of the summer. Families are invited to Guest Camp at the end of the summer (September 2-5). There are camps for grades 1 and up. They even have outdoor camps! Why wouldn’t you want to send a child, grandchild, or neighbor to camp? If you don’t have one of those, you can always give money to send kids who need financial assistance to camp.
Camp Mikell is one of the treasures of the diocese and is a resource to us at St. Nicholas. We’ll be taking our youth there August 26-28. I would love for our budget to cover sending our Vestry up there on retreat next year. Or, if there was enough interest, we could always organize a parish weekend there. There are lots of ways that we can use this magical place.
Any excuse to eat seaweed salad…