Thursday, April 10, 2008

    Rethinking Church Camp Pt. 4: Night of Silence

    This continues our series of posts contemplating a less program/activity-driven approach to summer church camp. You can read the previous posts here, here, and here.

    Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)

    As we continue to rethink church camp, I begin to wonder more and more how we might incorporate spiritual practices into the daily routine of camp. I don't mean just a little lectio divina here and lighting some votive candles there. Rather, what if the week itself were designed around experiences of spiritual practices aimed at opening campers to God's presence in nature and the gathered community?

    One suggestion that some colleagues shared with me is planning a "night of silence." I know that some camps already have a time each morning when campers sit alone in silence and pray or journal about the upcoming day. Amidst all the noise of their regular lives, and even the noise of camp activity, what a unique gift this time of silence could be. At our camp, we take time each night at our closing campfire to stop all talking and to just sit and listen to the sounds around us that we can't hear in the city: frogs croaking, locusts and crickets chirping, birds calling to one another. It's my favorite part of camp.

    Using these smaller moments that happen throughout the week, build toward a "night of silence" to take place perhaps on the next to last night. To prepare, invite each cabin or family group to spend some time thinking up and creating an interactive prayer station that they can set up on the campgrounds. You'll find lots of ideas for prayer stations here, here and here. On the day of the event, have the teams set up their prayer stations at easily accessible places around camp. Consider creating a walking tour map showing where and what each station is. Then gather for an early evening vespers service, providing each camper with a lit votive. End the service by having campers extinguish their votives, symbolizing the silencing of their voices. Next, in silence, invite the campers to move in groups throughout the camp, exploring the various activities at the prayer stations. It might be a good idea to have an adult present at each station. At the end of the time, meet back in your worship space and relight each person's candle, symbolically restoring their voices. Take some time together as a community to reflect on the power of this experience together.

    A few additional thoughts. One, it's important to prepare the camp in advance for this event. Don't just spring it on them. Build anticipation from the first day so that everyone is ready when that special night comes. Secondly, consider the age of your campers. Younger campers would likely fair better under the structure I've suggested above. Some leaders have found that older youth are capable of extending the silence the entire evening and on through the next morning's breakfast, ending the silence at morning worship.

    You'll find a host of ideas and thoughts on the spiritual practice of silence here (be sure to see the list of resources in the left hand menu). If you've tried a variation of this idea, we'd love to hear your reflections or suggestions.


    Sean said...

    We've been doing nights of silence for many years. They continue to be one of the highlights of kids every year. We also try to get the camp as dark as possible - every light out. This takes some coordination with the camp but it is worth it... Ps 19.