Summer camp is so cool, but Christian summer camp is utterly amazing. I should know, I was in the business during the late eighties and early nineties.
In those days, the Presbyterians in the central and southern parts of Western Washington had joined forces to produce a very dynamic camp and conference program. We had Buck Creek Camp and Conference Center (the Creek) in the old growth timber country of the Cascade Mountains, and Sound View Camp on the Puget Sound with an enormous waterfront and dock. My job title was “Program Assistant”. I wasn’t really in charge of anything, but I laid a lot of ground work to make things work well. For a period of a few years I was part of an exceptional staff, and we were blessed to make our program a leading light of Presbyterian camping for a while.
It’s all gone now, the Creek is in other hands, and Sound View is on it’s own. But there are stories from that time that are worth telling. This is one of them.
Training summer staff was something we took seriously. We expanded training to ten days and there still wasn’t enough time to do everything we would have liked. One reason was because we set the general curriculum themes and then had the counseling staff develop the daily details. It was excruciatingly time consuming and painful, but the end result was the staff got it, knew it, lived and breathed it. One of the biggest challenges was making sure it was “age level appropriate”. It had to work for eight year olds as well as fifteen year olds, which meant the curriculum had to have three different age level versions – by the time we were done the words “age level appropriate” were the cause of many a nervous tick.
At the Creek campers arrived on Sunday afternoon and left Saturday morning. For some reason it took three days for campers to get what camp was all about, and on Magic Thursday, it all jelled and everybody got it. It was so cool. Every Thursday, you could put it on the calendar. But the staff would lament that left only twenty-four hours to enjoy the Magic Thursday effects before campers went home. So, we invented ten-day camps.
Ten-days were awesome. Extra time resulted in all the fun stuff we wanted to do but could never work in to the normal week, and at the same time slowed the pace a little. One of the big ten-day activities was Genderfest. After dinner one night the guys and girls would go off-site in separate directions to have a slumber party camp out. One summer during junior high ten-day, someone got the bright idea to play it up a lot, and spring Genderfest on everyone in the middle of dinner. The plan called for a CIT (high school age Counselor in Training) to burst into dinner in a panic, screaming that a meteor was headed straight for camp. “Ah ha”, we would cry, “We need to evacuate to prearranged safe zones, boys to one site, girls to the other, everyone hurry to get prepared!” It worked great! Paul the CIT was a sensation, and the kids ate it up.
What ever works for one camp session will work for many another, so of course there would be a repeat performance for the next ten-day. This was a group of upper elementary kids, some of whom would be experiencing their first extended stay at camp. Everything was going according to schedule right up to launch time for the Epic Genderfest.
Dinner was humming right along as usual, when Paul the CIT burst in, the herald of impending disaster. Actual disaster. You see, Paul believed that more is always better. Whatever he had done in his virtuoso performance in the previous ten-day could only be improved by amping it up. What burst through the door that night was a soot covered, raving maniac in full ricochet mode. It Paul was so covered in soot he must have rolled through the campfire pit; he screamed incoherently about meteors as he wobbled at high speed, crashing into and over counters, folding chairs, program directors, everything. Clearly a man driven to the despairing depths of terror, given what he had glimpsed outside.
“Oh, brother”, I thought turning back to my table, “he’s so over … the … top … Uh oh.”. Across the table from me the little girl was sobbing in hiccups, her half-dollar-wide eyes glazed and full of tears. Two more kids at the table were in similar shape. I looked around the room, every table had crying kids; a little boy was at a window, wildly looking for the end of existence. A chair suddenly shot to the floor as its recent occupant rocketed to his feet, ricocheted around the room, pinballed through the door while shrieking “we’re-gonna-die-gonna-die-gonna-die-we’re-gonna-dieeeeee” in distinctly painful octaves. The Great Meteor Disaster had hit.
I forget what happened when the rubble finally got cleared away; I don’t remember if Genderfest happened that ten-day or not. I have no recollection of the following staff meeting, but I suspect it went something along the lines of:
Village Director Jeanne: “All right, let’s talk about Genderfest…”
Staff: silent, stunned, thousand yard stares.
Jill, nervous tick around her left eye, in a monotone: “Age-level-appropriate”.
Unidentified voice snaps: “Okay, yeah, we get it!”
More thousand yard stares.
Village Director Jeanne, eventually: “Well, okay then. Moving on. Did we finally get all that camper underwear washed?”