In my office framed above my desk, there is a letter written in orange marker. It’s the second page of a two-page letter. The first page was dated summer of 2006. The letter was written to me from one of my favorite counselors at the United Methodist church camp I grew up at in Tennessee. The letter above my desk doesn’t say anything too profound. My counselor was responding to my letter that must describe a concert I’d been excited to go to, and really, that’s about all that’s contained in the substance of the letter. But, still, I look up about once a week and read it again. There’s not much to gain from that letter anymore. It’s there now more as a token from the road that got me here, sitting at this desk, writing this blog now.
If you asked me to try to pinpoint my motivation to do the work I do now, as a leader in United Methodist camping, I’d probably ramble first, but ultimately come back to the people that first challenged me to grow, to question, to accept others, and to pursue justice and kindness from myself and others -- the counselors and staff at that childhood summer camp, Lakeshore.
I know that I made it as far as I have today in the camping ministry because of those letters. I made it this far because those people invested in me. Many of those staffers helped to shape my faith. They were there later down the road, when I began to question what Christianity was when it looked so different to every person practicing it and many people claiming it stood for things I didn’t believe. Some of those same counselors still write me now and hear me out when I try to figure out healing and how to do the work I do now with continued compassion and joy.
I believe in the work I do now. Outside of a spontaneous gaga ball game outside of Carrier Dining Hall, the favorite part of my job is training and working with the summer staff, counselors, and volunteers. Many of them express dissatisfaction with what they’re being offered at church, but find solace in the work they are invited to do at camp. I’m hopeful that we can help those that haven’t yet found their place in the church to find a place in the ministry here. I want them to know we believe in the gifts they have and invite them to serve and offer to support them, even if they feel they have more questions about their faith than answers.
I hope I can show them what those letters with my counselors showed me: that those doubts and those questions are what make us leaders. Those questions and those doubts will help us find compassion and motivation for justice and kindness. I hope I have the wisdom to trust what they tell me, what they point to, and if and when they call out, “something is wrong about this.” I should know the power of that trust; I’m the product of growing up guided by voices, by people who listened to me, that guided me to where I am today.
I’m still learning what I think being a Christian means, but I’m also learning that most of us are. So now I still write letters, even though emails would be easier, and I could just as easily call or text most of the people I write. In 2006, I wrote letters to stay in touch with those camp staffers for as long as possible, but now it helps me focus on my daily life and reflections and to share those with others. These days, I write to a few campers, too. Seemingly, those letters don’t say much either: piano lessons, basketball games, school presentations, and anticipation for the next time they’ll be at camp. But I hope that they’ll find themselves like me, drawn to do the work, to be a part of the ministry that keeps us writing letters long after summer is over.