Church Camp Blues

I have this recurring dream that I am at church camp.  I can feel something bad is coming.  Sometimes it is a hurricane, or giant robotic man-eating insects, or just a dark shadow.  It is coming and I need to get out.  I try and rescue my kids,my family and my friends.  Finally I know I have to leave without some of them.  Usually then dramatic heroics happen and I get to do car stunts I’ve never even seen on movies.  Is this about me having a saviour complex?   Maybe.  But strangely I still miss church camp.

Last week was our church’s biggest annual family camp.   About 700 people spend their vacations travelling to a semi-rural campground that was once an aircraft training compound.  People come from India, South America, all corners of the US and  Canada too.   This was our yearly vacation, as it was for many families.  A few times we went to a smaller camp in the US.

After breakfast, there was church until lunch.  After lunch there was Children’s Church and Young People’s.  Then there was supper.  Then church until almost curfew.  In between was some time to play sports or visit, unless you were working since all the meals were done by volunteers.  In order to get more out of church and ‘fellowship’ we weren’t supposed to use cell phones, computers, watch TV or even listen to the radio.  If it was a youth camp we were supposed to get permission from the elders to leave the grounds.  I know I wasn’t the only girl to have to ask a crotchety old man who loved to preach on the sins of female flesh permission to go buy extra pads or tampons.  I also wasn’t the only one to run away without permission.

Church was long.  Hours long.  Sometimes 4 hours long.  The preachers weren’t trained orators and one of my favourites mumbled so much I could only understand every 3rd word.  Not exaggerating.    Some had accents so strong we weren’t sure what language they were actually speaking.  The music dragged, with the front third of the church always a word or two ahead of the back half.

And I miss it.

I miss it because it was a familiar tradition.  We never missed July church camp.  Aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents would be there.  People were there who cared about us.  Sleep deprivation made everything seem louder and more important.   We were a small, tight-knit community pulled together by how few there was of us.  Prophesies about how we were a First Fruits company helped unite us too.  But I do miss the community.  I am the third generation of my family to be involved.  As a third  generation Canadian, that is a lot of my history.

There was a feeling of safety on the grounds.  This may have been rooted in naivety.  After all, a friend has the same feeling when in small towns, never mind that his wife was raped as a child in a small town.  But regardless of reality, the camp felt sacred.   I used to want to get married there.  Of course, my wedding plans included a weiner roast and blob tag.  (I’m not a stereotypical romantic.)

Now that the illusion has been shattered, I wonder what it is that I miss.

I miss the illusion

of safety

and superiority : that I belonged to a special group that had a special revelation from the Divine which would change the universe.

I miss the illusion that I belonged.


Its still a wonderful group of people.  But when I think of bringing my daughters there, I get a sick feeling in my gut.  Once upon a time I didn’t think I could live without camp.  Now I don’t think I could live with it.

12 thoughts on “Church Camp Blues

  1. Ahab says:

    Some degree of ambivalence is normal when we leave a way of life behind. When we leave behind religious communities, we leave behind illustions and suppression, but also (usually) community.

    On another note, what is blob tag?

    • prairienymph says:

      To play blob tag the person who is it in blob tag holds hands with whoever they catch. When the group gets to 4, they split into pairs, and keep catching other people until everyone is holding hands with someone. The last person to get caught starts as the blob next time. Best played at night in a large field. This was one way of holding hands with someone. The other was Mennonite dancing, another favourite game, except we didn’t even hold hands in that one.

  2. TWF says:

    I think you’ve captured here, in what you wrote, what a lot of us ex-Christians have felt, and still do feel from time to time; even though our exact experiences vary. Well said.

  3. Grundy says:

    If you need a feeling of superiority, just know that you’re right and they’re wrong. Works for me. 🙂

  4. Kirstin says:

    I think we all seek and desire that that feeling of belonging, community, support, of shared experience that your church camp provided. That doesn’t HAVE to come from such an insular Christian situation, but it is one form.

  5. Lorena says:

    I don’t think it was an illusion. You did belong. And you hang out with lots of people. And it felt good. Being around people — lots of people — who, right or wrong, believe the same stuff you do provides a high. I bet you what happens is that hormones like serotonin are running high at that time. It makes people feel as if they were on a very strong anti-depressant: relaxed, happy.

    I just wish there were other ways to do stuff like that, going to retreats and such.

    Meditation provides such a high, actually. It makes me feel as if I am invincible.

  6. prairienymph says:

    I meant it was an illusion that I belonged because of me instead of just for what I believed. I still felt out of place for the most part and now that I see a few things differently I feel like I don’t belong at all.
    Yeah, the high was nice. I did go to a retreat a while ago through the University and it had that same high and group cohesion, but with a lot more respect and diversity.
    What kind of meditation did you do?

  7. David says:

    that’s one thing that the church offers that atheism really doesn’t; the community. it’s often said that getting us into a group is like herding cats. I agree with what Lorena said, but I too am curious about the meditation thing…

  8. Lorena says:

    Meditation? I sit there for a few minutes every day and try to quiet my mind. I do anything that will stop me from thinking, like counting from 1 to 10 and seeing the number in my mind, or concentrating in my breathing, or listening to some classical music concentrating on every note.

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