"I’ve been blown away by their generosity and openness, and our meetings have often lasted well beyond our scheduled time, at their request."
Summer Camp Ministry
This summer I’ve gone to camp - as a chaplain, that is. I live with 12 “permanent” (read: summer-long) staff members at Camp Bratton-Green, the camp of the Diocese of Mississippi. I never went to camp as a kid, and I had no real experience with college students - other than being one myself a couple of decades ago. So I was a little nervous about my 10-week stint as the chaplain. Despite myself, I worried whether they would like me, whether they would be willing to talk to me about their lives. If not, it could be a long summer for both them and me, since we’d be seeing a lot of one another.
A Chaplain for Staff
As a camp chaplain I knew I would be dining and worshiping with the staff each day (along with a new group of about 150 campers and volunteer staff members each week). I would also be meeting with staff regularly for some reflection and processing, and I would be their go-to person for any on-the-job spiritual or personal crises. My bishop assured me it would be a good learning experience, either way. Thank you, Bishop!
Thankfully, things have gone smoothly. More than anything, this is due to the deep generosity and openness of the 12 permanent staff members.
Camp permanent staff in the Diocese of Mississippi is a big deal. The staff members I’m with this summer have been coming to Bratton-Green almost as long as they’ve been alive, and permanent staff is something they’ve long aspired to - as have most of the hundreds of kids who spend a week at Bratton-Green each summer. Permanent staff is a coveted position, despite a whole lot of responsibility and very little time for sleep. The group goes from 8 a.m. till about 11 p.m. six days a week, for almost ten weeks. They work with camp directors and counselors to plan and supervise tons of activities—everything from zip lines to paddle boarding to field games to tie dying.
Camp permanent staff have the constant demand to be “on,” whether leading activities, performing chapel skits or hanging out with younger volunteer counselors after campers have gone to bed. It’s a lot, and it’s all done in the service of ensuring that each and every camper feel truly welcomed; that each one of them is made to feel safe, included, and loved.
Asking the group to ponder what they’re learning about themselves and where they see God working in their lives might seem like too much to ask. After all, this reflection time comes on top of a grueling schedule (we usually start our meetings around 10:30pm on Monday nights, after a day of welcoming a new group of campers). But, again, I’ve been blown away by their generosity and openness, and our meetings have often lasted well beyond our scheduled time, at their request.
During our time together, we delve deeper not only into their struggles, but also express gratitude for God’s gifts and to one another. It’s been remarkable to witness, and has been a great gift to me. I give thanks for the good example of their open hearts and minds. These are the qualities that allow them to welcome so many new campers and volunteers with such grace and joy.
I can only hope that these qualities of grace and joy keep rubbing off on me.
Jennifer Southall is a rising senior at Virginia Theological Seminary and a postulant for holy orders from the Diocese of Mississippi. She hopes to return to Camp Bratton-Green for many summers to come.