In the late 1980s and early 1990s I went to an Episcopal church camp in Northern Wisconsin. It was called Camp Horstick, named after a late bishop, but due to the unfortunate pronunciation of that name, most people called it by the name of the Victorian house on the grounds of the camp: Bundy Hall, or even just “Bundy” for short. My older sisters went there first, and they had so much fun that I counted down the days until I was old enough to go. My mom also went as a volunteer for a few sessions before I was old enough to go, and everyone always seemed to have a great time there. And so, at the tender age of seven (a rising third grader), I packed my bags and off I went to Bundy Hall, the church camp for the Diocese of Eau Claire. Our diocese was known as one of the more Anglo-Catholic dioceses in the “biretta belt” of the Upper Midwest.

Most people who went to an Anglo-Catholic church camp will probably not be surprised by what I’m about to say next. And most people who have never heard of Anglo-Catholic church camp will probably think I’m making this up. We went to church four times every day–before breakfast, before lunch, before dinner, and before bedtime. We sang a table blessing from the Psalms before every meal, too (complete with Thee and Thou). There was a clergy chaplain, but campers participated in the worship service as lay readers, ushers, and musicians. We polished brass plaques with Brasso and toothpicks. There were “best bed” awards for the most neatly-made bed. There were cleaning contests to see who could clean their dorm (really more like barracks) better. Every day. The winner of the cleaning contest got to display a painting of an angel on their dorm for the rest of the day, and the loser had to display a devil. (I’m not kidding.)

The camp was set in the woods, but we weren’t actually allowed to go into the woods, because there was poison ivy. There was a pool, so we could swim, but only after the cleaning and a morning of religious instruction, and between church services. The middle schoolers had the special treat of having the Bishop as our camp chaplain, which meant that if we sang (yes, sang) Compline (the before-bedtime church service) incorrectly or without enough spirit, we had to do it over again. One time, they brought in a missionary from Africa (yes, from Africa) to teach us about God, but he didn’t dance, because he was saving that for heaven when he could dance with Jesus. Another time, a representative from the national church came and argued vehemently with an elderly deacon about what constituted a consensual sex act. They had to take it into the hallway to cool down. One year, an aspiring chef put prunes on the table at every meal.


I’m prone to exaggeration, but I am not fabricating any of these details. I swear on a can of Brasso.

And we loved it. I don’t know if it was like basic training, and we all had a trauma bond, or if our home lives were just that boring. We probably just didn’t know any better. We made lifelong friendships there, and we loved our time there. We experienced the liturgy outside of our home churches. We wrote letters to our camp friends once we were back home. We found a community of believers there, and it was different from our communities at school. Our faith was formed there. The grace of God transcended the ridiculous tasks and schedules, and I’d even say the grace of God was in those ridiculous tasks and schedules, because we did them together, in love. Working together to clean our dwelling spaces, we built our own community, and we loved one another. We still love one another. More than a few fellow campers, my brother included, grew up to marry their camp sweethearts. But beyond that, our friendships and agape love for one another grew and flourished at that camp.

But…surprise! The camp no longer exists. It’s a small wonder that nobody has sued the camp for brass polish inhalation injuries.

And so, I’m preparing to send my very own rising third grader off to a different church camp this summer. I’m willing to bet that there aren’t any brass plaques to polish, and I don’t think anybody is going to make him re-sing Compline like he means it. This morning, we watched the promotional video that the camp produces every year. The video shows campers doing all the camp things–ropes courses, swimming, canoeing, a giant water slide, horse-back riding. He’s going to have so much fun that I can hardly stand it.

The videos also show the community worshipping together, and I found myself crying at the breakfast table as we watched the campers hold hands around the Communion table. I didn’t just tear up–this was a full-on ugly-crying, can’t-swallow-my-toast-or-I’ll-choke cry. It took me by surprise. Why was I crying over a camp video? Am I having a hard time letting my baby grow up? (Yes.) Am I jealous that he gets to spend a whole week doing all of these amazing things? (Um, also yes.) But mostly, I realized, I was crying because I know that worshipping community. I know that sun-drenched, wet-haired, exhausted feeling of standing together in worship. I want that so badly for him. I want him to make those friends, and experience those feelings. He may or may not have that at camp, but I want him to have the opportunity, and I want him to have it away from his familiar home and family. I need him to know that there is Big-C Church beyond the walls of our little-c church and that he can experience God in ways that he didn’t know existed. I’m sending him away for a week so that he can get to know Jesus in the piney woods of Texas.

We’re packing his bags, and checking off the to-do list. Toothbrush, flashlight, jeans for horse-back riding, swimsuit, sunscreen. He’s practicing all of the self-care skills he’ll need–washing his own hair and getting all of the shampoo out, and getting out of a sticky swim shirt by himself. He’s a clergy kid, so he’s comfortable with God talk, but there’s no way that I can describe to him the joy and wonder he’s about to experience, and the friends he’s about to make. I can’t wait to hear about it when he comes home.