Friday, July 20, 2007

Peace Camp

Sunday, July 15 through Thursday, July 22, I served as a chaplain for the first-ever Peace Camp at Camp Stevens, near Julian, California. The camp was designed for middle school students (seventh, eighth, and ninth graders) and explored various dimensions of peace. We had 17 campers (18 counting the nine-year old daughter of the Peace Camp Director) from varied ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, four counselors, three chaplains, a program director, and a camp director. In addition, two of Camp Stevens’ counseling staff assisted with a number of the activities, and other Camp Stevens staff took time off from their regular duties just to participate in some of our sessions. During the four days, we discussed such topics as conflict, violence, escalation and de-escalation, and what it means to be a peacemaker. The central structure for the camp was the Baptismal Covenant from the Book of Common Prayer, and various Bible passages regarding peace.

In the course of examining peace, we looked at racism, heterosexism (the kids brought it up, not us), economic justice, and environmental justice. We used a variety of teaching tools, including Bible study, making origami peace cranes, Dr. Seuss books (some, like The Butter Battle Book and Horton Hears a Who have wonderful moral messages), videos, the
Millennium Development Goals, and various community-building and team-building exercises.

One of the most exciting team-building exercises was an afternoon at the ropes course, where teams of two had to (if they wanted) climb up a pole to cables suspended 25 feet above the ground. The team members had to support each other as they inched their way across the diverging cables. It was amazing to see several young people who were initially terrified of the idea go through a transformation thanks to the loving support of the other participants. Several of these got up the courage to go through with the exercise and did fantastic. They looked like pros and even wanted to do it again. Alas, this chaplain and his partner did not do so well. We were a little too enthusiastic and not as patient as we should have been. In the course of trying to place our hands on each others’ shoulders, we lost our balance on our respective cables and went tumbling to the ground. In the process, I attempted to stabilize my partner and ended up scraping my arm against her cable, getting a nasty burn.

The campers also enjoyed some arts and crafts projects (including making a peace pole), hiking, and swimming (which was a big hit). The Camp Stevens staff also provided us with a tour of their organic garden and a hiking experience intended to raise awareness regarding the environment. Every evening we had community time, where we sat around and sang lots of great songs. We ended the camp with a closing Eucharist, in which the campers provided various parts of the liturgy (e.g. music, prayers, homily, etc.) After communion, we commissioned everyone as peacemakers. Their first acts was to then lay hands on and bless the peace pole they had made. We then presented the peace pole to the Camp Stevens.

I think this was a transformative week for many of the campers (as well as for the Peace Camp staff). They are still a bunch of unruly middle school students, but I saw glimmers of hope that they were getting some of the concepts, and trust that throughout their lives, what they learned at Peace Camp will inform how they live and function in the world.

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