ECC Welcomes Sara Clarke!

Sara Clarke.jpg

The Episcopal Conference Center  is thrilled to welcome Sara Clarke as our new full-time Director of Administration. The creation of this position was a result of our strategic planning process.

Sara is no stranger to ECC. She grew up here as a camper and counselor and worked as the City Camp Coordinator when she was young adult staff. 

Over the last 15 years Sara has worked as a volunteer and staff person to help plan fundraising events for ECC and City Camp. Most recently Sara served as our part-time Director of Development from 2012 to 2015. 

In addition to her vast experience within the camp community, Sara brings with her a wealth of administration and development in experience from her other employment history. Sara will be leaving her job as Events Manager at the Providence Children's Museum to join the team at ECC in mid March. 

We are confident that Sara's gifts and talents will help ECC to effectively implement our new strategic plan, and will enable us continue to provide meaningful ministry to the Diocese of RI.

ECC Bridge Camp 2016

By: Charles Cowen

I am a fiercely independent person. I like to take care of myself, and I don't like to ask for help. I take great pride in doing good work, and I do it on my own. Even when I was in school, I used to dread group projects. I never trusted anyone else in the group to do the project in a way that upheld my personal standards, and I usually ended up either doing all the work myself or clashing with other leader types in the class. I help me. Look out for number one before you step in number two, as a friend of mine once put it.

Of course, when I only worry about myself or try to solve all my problems on my own, it becomes abundantly clear how inept I am when it comes to survival. I suspect that I am not alone in this. Over and over the Bible talks about communities: the people of Israel, the disciples of Jesus, the host of heavenly creatures. God created us all in community, and we do best in that community. I got an excellent example of this in last week's Bridge Camp.

Bridge Camp is a camp where teenagers sign up to be "helper campers" to a group of "bridge campers" with special needs. The helper campers come a day early to do a pretty intense training with professionals in the field of serving those with special needs, and then we have three days with our bridge campers. The bridge campers have special needs ranging from those with autism who only need some slight guidance to campers who are non-verbal and unable to care for themselves in any way without the help of another person. Some had sight impairment, some cognitive impairment, some had physical limitations, some could get easily over-stimulated, and every single one is a beloved child of God.

The greatest thing about Bridge Camp is that everyone can be themselves. If a camper with autism started making loud noises during church, no one gave them the stink eye. We just knew that that camper needed to make some noise, and we let them. If a camper with autism had difficult social skills and repeated themselves over and over, we didn't get annoyed with them. We just knew that that was one way they communicated, and we listened patiently. There was no judgement and no annoyance. Just love and acceptance.

When I think about my own fierce independence and need to take care of myself, I marvel at these campers who so readily accept the help they need. I also was deeply moved to see how selflessly the helper campers gave of themselves to care for their bridge camper. Every single helper camper went out of their way to make sure that their bridge camper had the best experience they could have, and I was particularly moved by the helpers who worked with campers that needed assistance with everything they do. Some of the bridge campers could not feed themselves or get around without assistance and couldn't do simple human things like take a shower or go to the bathroom on their own.

Think about that for a moment. Teenagers gave up a week of their precious summer vacation to help a person with special needs come to camp. They gladly served that person in some of their most personal moments by helping them bathe and go to the toilet. (I should add that they all had to complete safe church training and special needs training and were supervised by adults trained in the field of caring for others.) Watching those helpers with their campers was an incredible experience of servant ministry--of loving without exception and giving fully of themselves.

When we were doing our training about self-care for bridge campers, Meaghan, our camp director, said something that really stuck with me: "You might think it's awkward to help someone bathe or go to the toilet, but it's all they have ever known. That's their experience of the world." I think about myself in that situation. If I was in a position, as all of us could be, where I could not bathe myself or get to the toilet on my own, what would I do? Would my pride get in my way and cause me to self-destruct? What if no one showed me the incredible love that our teenage campers showed to their bridge campers.

You see, I think one of the great gifts that our bridge campers have is that they know that they are dependent upon others for their survival. In the words of the great Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, "I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers." The rest of us think that we are independent, but really we all need each other. It's the South African idea of Ubuntu. The notion that our humanness depends completely on others. We are all interconnected. I am because we are.

One of my favorite moments of Bridge Camp came during the talent show. One of our bridge campers on the autism spectrum was performing a song and dance number on the stage. Those of us in the audience were clapping and cheering her on when another bridge camper who has Down Syndrome started dancing wildly in front of the stage. I spent a decade as a professional performer, and if someone were to upstage me like that, I would have been furious. I was debating whether or not to go ask the dancing bridge camper to sit down until it was her turn, when something incredible happened. The performer on the stage came to the edge, held out her hand, and helped her fellow camper up onto the stage. The solo act spontaneously became a duet. It was a beautiful, humbling, joyous, Jesus moment. Whereas I would have been annoyed, this bridge camper had the foresight to see that the act was better when they performed together. It was an incredible act of love and humility.

Friends in Christ, that is what Jesus came to earth to establish--a world where we are inextricably woven into the lives of everyone we meet. Our God and creator has so woven us together that God came among us as one of us so that we might not only be interconnected with one another but with God. It's a concept that boggles the mind--unless, of course, you've been to Bridge Camp. If you have, you've seen God's Kingdom come to fruition here on earth. 

I was lost, but now I'm found. The first week of ECC Summer 2016

By:Charles Cowen

As part of our ECC University training week for camp staff, we have been looking at safety protocol and emergency planning. One of the things we’ve been working on perfecting is our missing person action plan. Hopefully, we will never have to use this plan, but it’s always better to be safe and have a plan that moves us calmly and efficiently. Of course, if we were going to see how well the plan worked, we needed someone to get lost. I volunteered.

 

After dinner, I packed my book satchel with a bottle of water, a good book, and some Off bug spray and headed down to the waterfront. It was such a beautiful evening, and the walk was peaceful and full of the sounds of nature. It was actually pretty hard to sneak across the road without anyone watching—a testament to how carefully we account for everyone at camp. As I walked through the winding paths of the woods toward the water, I reflected on what it means to be lost.

 

Growing up in an evangelical tradition, much emphasis was placed on finding those who were lost and bringing them to God. Think of the line from that old hymn Amazing Grace—“I was lost, but now I am found.” I remember in my Sunday school classes hearing about those who were lost and how it was our job as Christians to bring those lost souls to God. Like a search team we would seek out those wandering in the spiritual desert and save the lost. One frequently heard question in our Sunday school was asking when someone was “saved”. They could usually pinpoint a time and place. The implication was that we were all born “lost” and needed to be “found” before we could attain salvation. 

 

My experience at camp has made me think that this model isn’t exactly right. All of us wander. All we, like sheep, have gone astray, but we weren’t born that way. I think each and every person always was, is, and will be a part of God’s family and loved by God. When the emergency bell began pealing, all the camp staff immediate gathered on the ball field to await orders. Even though they were told right away that it was a drill, everyone responded with the urgency and seriousness of a real lost person. Charles was lost. One of our own. A sheep had left the fold, and we as a community must find him. 

 

Even though I was hiding pretty far from the main camp area in a rather secluded little grove by the water, I’m proud to say that it only took twelve minutes for a team to find me. With the proud and official voice of any rescue team, the teenagers radioed back to headquarters, “We’ve found Charles. Repeat. We have found Charles. Over.” It was simultaneously laughable and laudable. Even though they knew it was a drill and that I was in no harm at all, I got hugs, warm smiles, pats on the back, and assurances that I was a beloved member of the community.  

 

 

I think that Jesus calls each of us to care for one another the way the councilors at ECC care for one another. All of us, every single human being, are members of the family of God, and when one of us goes missing or wanders from the path, we should seek them out. Just as the teenagers that ran through the woods looking for me met me with hugs and celebration, we should rejoice in finding our missing brothers and sisters. No one chastised me for running away or scolded me for not leaving a note. No one shamed me for causing panic and told me what a bad person I was for scaring them. They simply noticed I was gone, ran to find me, and warmly brought me back into the fold. Even when I was lost in the woods, I was still a part of the family. Being lost doesn’t mean being a bad person. It just means that we’ve strayed from the path and need some guidance. I am so grateful for the youth that warmly welcome not just me but everyone into their fold. As the rock outside camp says, “He who enters here is a stranger but once.” We’re all a member of the family. We’re all a part of the cool kids. We are all loved as Jesus loves—unconditionally.

ECC Jr/Sr Conference and Summer's End

Dear faithful blog readers,

I know you have been beside yourself with grief that there hasn’t been a new blog entry in so long. I can’t blame you. I write riveting stuff here. (For those of you without a sense of sarcasm, you might note that I’m attempting to be ironic.) If I’m being totally honest, I haven’t posted anything about our last two weeks at camp because I’m still trying to process everything that happened. The final two weeks of camp were wildly emotional, joyous, enlightening, and profound. Even as I sit here typing this out, I’m not sure how to put into words what went on.

First of all, both of these weeks were intensely personal. It’s hard to convey to someone not at camp exactly what happened. I certainly hope to share the sense of joy and closeness to God we experienced in these final two weeks, but I also want to respect the incredibly personal stories that were shared at camp. It’s been many, many years since I was in Junior High or High School, but the stresses of those years stay vivid in my mind. I am blessed to have lived a very privileged life with two supportive parents in a nice home where we never went without. Even living with this privilege, my teenage years were filled with emotional struggles and fears. It’s so easy for adults to write these struggles off as melodramatic teenage angst, but what I learned in the past two weeks is that these struggles are very real. They certainly felt real to me as a teenager, and I cannot even begin to imagine the stresses piled on top of those already difficult years by those who do not enjoy the privileges I did as a teen.

The most powerful aspect of the last two weeks of camp for me was how open the teens were about sharing their struggles. There certainly were campers who didn’t say much, but by and large people felt comfortable sharing intimate details of their lives. They shared joys and friendships, but they also shared hurt and betrayals. It was deeply moving to see how even those who had never been to camp before instinctively knew that camp was a safe place for them. Perhaps even more moving was how campers received these stories. I never once saw a camper judged, mocked, or ridiculed for sharing stories of vulnerability. As a matter of fact, there was much hugging, smiling, and affirming. I know that I have a tendency to focus on my own problems in life and try to hide them from the rest of the world. We all want to look like we’ve got it together. Let me assure you right now, brothers and sisters, none of us has it completely together. We are a broken, hurt world. That doesn’t mean we are without hope, however. In the midst of all the brokenness and hurt shared by the teens at camp, there was incredible love and support. Naming our fears and struggles, we joined together in solidarity knowing that we did not have to navigate life’s struggles alone. We are a part of a community of the faithful.

I think the entirety of the summer can be summarized in an illustration done by Ben Sword, the head boy counselor. For those of you familiar with the barn at ECC, you will know that there is a cross over the altar with a relief carving of the risen Christ. For the cover of the annual Staff Magazine, Ben drew a simple but beautiful version of this cross. Each point of the cross has the symbol of one of the four Gospel writers, and there in front of the cross, but no longer bound by its torture to the point of death, is the glorious resurrected Jesus. With his hands outstretched in a wide embrace of all of humanity, Jesus looks out into the beauty of creation. In Ben’s version of the risen Christ, however, Jesus’ face is blank. There are no eyes, ears, nose, mouth—just an outline of a head devoid of features. When I looked at this simple drawing, I realized that Ben had captured the entirety of our summer and our life in Christ. The face of Jesus could not be drawn because Jesus has many faces. At our closing Eucharist I looked out at all the campers, staff, and adults that make up our camp family, and on every single face I saw the face of Christ.  Maybe Ben was just being lazy in not drawing in the details of Jesus’ face (sorry, Ben), but I like to think that he was making a profound theological statement that all of us can be Jesus to one another.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The beauty of the Christian faith is that we worship a God that knows first-hand what it is like to be human. God, incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, walked on this earth and knew the same joys, fears, and sufferings that we know. He endured torture and ridicule at the hands of his oppressors and was able to overcome not only their scorn but death itself. The people of ECC have been Jesus to me. They have shared in my fears, and they have rejoiced in my successes. They hold me up when I fall, and they celebrate my accomplishments. The Kingdom of God is a place where we all follow Christ’s commandment to love God and to love one another. ECC has given me a glimpse of that future reality. I am deeply grateful for the time I have spent in this joyous place. If you are a camper reading this, thank you for showing me the face of Christ in your joys and your sorrows. If you are a staff member reading this, thank you for showing me what Christ-like leadership looks like in caring for these campers and putting their needs above your own. If you are a parent of a camper or staffer, thank you for sharing your child with me just as Mary shared her child with the world. Everyone else, thank you for praying with all of us and living into the unfolding of God’s Kingdom.

If my post today seems a bit rambling, it’s because I don’t want it to end. I don’t want camp to end. I don’t want to wake up without hearing that big cast iron bell announcing that it’s a new day. I want always to bask in the love I have experienced this summer at ECC. At our staff closing Eucharist, there wasn’t a dry eye in the barn. None of us wanted the love and community we experienced at ECC to come to an end. Here are my words of consolation: It doesn’t have to. When the risen Christ appeared to his friends he gave them the Great Commission to go out into the world spreading the Gospel and baptizing in his name. That is our task. We must take the love we know at ECC and spread it throughout the world. It’s a difficult and draining task, but the joy it brings far outweighs the work. I pray that all of you know the love I have known at ECC. May God bless every single one of you as God has blessed me. You are truly God’s beloved. 

ugust 17, 2015

by Charles Lane Cowen

Older Children's Camp

by Charles Lane Cowen

This week at Older Children’s Camp I had the great pleasure of working with the Rev. Becky Gettel to develop chapel time. The greatest thing about Older Children’s Camp is that we’re working with kids that still have that child-like sense of wonder and imagination, but also have the ability to engage in deeper conversations than many of those at Younger Children’s Camp. The second greatest thing about Older Children’s Camp was our week-long theme of Harry Potter. As a self-professed geek and Potter-Head, I was sooooooooo excited to talk about being God’s beloved in the light of the Harry Potter books. Examining Harry’s journey in the books, Becky worked out a lesson plan that looked at themes from the book as gifts from God:

 

I am God’s Beloved, and God has Given Me the Gift of…

            Friendship

            Animals

            Nature

            Conscience

            Self

 

Each day in chapel we explored how these gifts remind us that we are God’s beloved, and how we act toward our friends, animals, nature, and ourselves reflects God’s love for us. For me, the lynchpin for the entire week came in the gift of Conscience.

 

In the Harry Potter books, Harry is always getting in trouble for breaking rules, but he almost always does so because he is trying to help a friend. I realize the danger of teaching kids that sometimes they need to break the rules, so we also emphasized that Harry had to pay pretty severe consequences for breaking the rules. He also rarely, if ever, acted alone. There were always friends, trusted adults, and teachers guiding him. In chapel time we explored ways of making good choices in life through prayer, Christian education, and relying on our friends and family. Becky came up with a great idea of having the children walk the labyrinth behind the Tower of Silence. Each child picked out one plain, heavy river stone representing bad choices and one smooth, polished, colorful stone representing the right choice. The children walked into the labyrinth, left the ugly stone, and returned into the world with the colorful stone.

 

I know that when I look back on my choices in life, I often have to carry around the weight of uncertainty. From simple things like who to sit with at lunch to more complicated choices like do I go back to the camp buffet line for a second helping of Chef Jeff’s amazing banana bread (the answer is yes). For kids, life is full of choices that will dramatically affect the rest of their lives. Who will be my friends? How hard will I study? Do I go to church? What kind of person do I want to be? Learning to do the right thing at an early age can make making those choices easier. The beauty of youth, however, is that even though every choice has lasting consequence, there is still time to correct those choices. Just as the children journeyed into the labyrinth, their lives will be filled with twists and turns that often seem to take them away from the center. If you stay on the path, however, you will always reach the goal.

 

If you’ve never walked a labyrinth, I highly recommend it. (Come visit ECC, and I’d be glad to show you ours!) Unlike a maze that has dead ends and tries to trick you, a labyrinth twists and turns in one continuous path from the outside, to the center, and back out again. Praying with the labyrinth is one of my favorite forms of prayer. As I walk into the center I imagine retreating from the world and into the presence of God. I was amazed watching the children in chapel time because, with very little prompting, they took this exercise so seriously. Most of the children walked slowly, purposefully, and with great awareness. Holding the heavy stone in one hand and the lighter stone in the other, the children explored the burden of journeying with the weight of bad choices. Once in the center, the burden was placed at the feet of God, and the children could journey out of the labyrinth with the beauty of the small stone reminding them of the warmth and beauty of God.

 

I went back later that day for my own daily practice of praying the labyrinth. As I worked my way into the center I found myself standing at the pile of stones the children left behind. It was an incredible moment of feeling the closeness of God. I noticed the beauty of nature that surrounds the labyrinth. I listened to the birds singing all around me. I marveled at the choices the children had brought before God to pray on, and I felt connected—to God, to animals, to friends, and to self. The entirety of our week’s lessons was summed up in this little exercise I had been doing since arriving at camp about a month earlier. I began my journey out of the labyrinth, but something felt different. Whereas before I always spent my moment of quiet in the presence of God at the center of the labyrinth and then journeyed back into the world, this time I felt as if that presence were following me. It was a sensation like a bungee cord tied to the rocks at the center of the labyrinth. Even though I had to go back to the noise and chaos of camp—and in a few more weeks to the real world—I felt a strong pull connecting me to God. It took seeing these campers and their great faith to help me realize that.

 

If you haven’t figured this out yet from my previous blogs, I think that camp is a pretty amazing place. Celtic spirituality, which also utilizes labyrinths, teaches that there are thin places and thin times when the veil between heaven and earth becomes transparent. In these times and places we can catch glimpses of the divine. When I’m at camp, I feel like I see what the Kingdom of God will look like. It’s full of people singing God’s praises, and loving one another unconditionally. It’s a place where we carry the burdens of tough choices, but we carry them surrounded by friends who help us understand that we can give those burdens to God. A camper last week asked me about heaven. I don’t believe heaven is just some place we go when we die. Life’s not a board game where the winners go to heaven and the losers go to hell. I believe that the living Christ teaches us how to live our lives in such a way that we love God and love one another. Heaven is the achievement of that goal. The Kingdom of God is most certainly at hand, and I believe that I see a glimpse of it in the children playing at that thin place we call the Episcopal Conference Center.

Younger Children's Camp

Whew! That’s the word for Younger Children’s Camp. Even though this camp runs fewer days than the other camps this summer, I am beyond exhausted. I have aches in places I didn’t even know I had. Turns out that supervising, teaching, playing with, and keeping track of dozens of younger children wipes me out. If you’re reading this blog I’m assuming you might know one or more of the children who came to last week’s camp, so let me assure you that my exhaustion comes not from any one child, but from the collective. While certain young personalities proved challenging, I can honestly say I never encountered any “problem child.” As a matter of fact, I was really touched at how the children interpreted the Bible lessons for each day and how they seemed to really strive to live into the lessons learned. Their enthusiasm, exhausting though it may be, is something I hope to emulate in my own ministry.

Along with The Rev. Peter and The Rev. Veronica Tierney, I spent my days in the Tower of Silence doing not-so-silent chapel. We began every chapel time by asking the kids to remember the Bible lessons from that morning’s church service. I was surprised and pleased that the kids always remembered the stories. The best part, though, was the ways in which they remembered the stories. I grew up having the Bible read to me by my mother, so I know my Bible pretty well. I go to church regularly, and am taking Bible classes in seminary. I like to think I have these stories down. Amazingly, the kids were always able to point out things about the lessons I had never really thought about, or their focus would be on some detail I had only glanced over. Taking this idea to heart, Peter and Veronica thought it would be fun to split each chapel group into three sections. Peter, Veronica, and I would tell a familiar gospel story to each group and then have them act it out for the other two groups. This ended up being my favorite day of chapel.

My group got The Good Samaritan. In an effort not to put my own spin on the story, I simply read it straight out of Luke. The kids had some great questions for me: What’s a Samaritan? What’s a Levite? Why are the religious people in the story being mean? How much money is two denarii? After answering all their questions, I asked them what characters we needed for the story. After casting a traveler, a priest, a Levite, a Samaritan, and a band of thieves, I said, “Well, that’s it.” For the first group of the day, I honestly thought that was it, but the kids shouted out in protest, “No! What about Jesus?” I explained that Jesus wasn’t really in the story, but they insisted that there be a Jesus on the stage. Not one to squash creativity, I agreed. With very little prompting, the boy playing Jesus stepped up next to me and began telling the story. Every now and then he would whisper to me, “What comes next?” or “What’s that person called again?” Otherwise, he told the story flawlessly. I was amazed at the enthusiasm with which the kids performed the well-known tale. They even modernized it with the robbery and robbers resembling something more like a mugging by a city gang. Their ability to make Jesus’ story their own was powerful. I’ll admit that watching them perform made the parable I’ve heard a million times seem much more real—much more understandable.

The other two groups in chapel had similar experiences as they told the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand and The Good Shepherd. Even more amazingly, each of the three sessions of chapel that day insisted, without prompting from me, that there be someone to play Jesus and tell the story. Maybe I’m reading into this too much, but the kids’ desire to literally embody the person of Jesus seems to be the complete understanding of our Christian faith.

Do you remember the WWJD plague of the mid 90s? I do. As a kid growing up in the Bible Belt, everyone I knew had WWJD plastered all over their lunchboxes, notebooks, clothing, accessories, you name it. What would Jesus do? Buy all this stuff to sell his cause? Probably not. I think the kids at Younger Children’s Camp actually answered this question. Jesus would teach. Jesus would tell stories, and he would tell those stories in a way that was fun, funny, memorable, and transformative. Jesus would live a life in accordance with God’s will that we love God and love one another. Watching these kids show genuine compassion in helping the beaten Samaritan, sharing their few loaves and fishes, and leaving the flock to find the one lost sheep, I saw Jesus at work.

Once again (sorry I keep beating this drum—it’s my favorite one right now) the kids taught me something. This is the model for evangelism. By living into the life of Jesus, we share Jesus’ message of love, acceptance, and hope with the world. Over the course of the week, we explored the theme that “It’s a Small World.” If all of us truly approach one another with the love of Jesus, the world indeed becomes quite small as the one Kingdom of God. I’m not advocating for a universal theocracy here, but I do think there’s a simple and profound truth in finding the commonality amongst our differences. Campers at ECC come from all kinds of backgrounds, yet within our beautiful and exciting diversity there is a beautiful and exciting love modeled on the love of Jesus that pervades our camp.

I started out by saying, “Whew!” The exhaustion of Younger Children’s Camp still sits with me, but so does the love. Those of you who have kids of your own or teach or babysit, or just happen to get annoyed at those kids at the Stop and Shop being little terrors: Look closely at them. Watch how they love. Look into their eyes, and see the love of Jesus looking right back at you.

written by: Charles Lane Cowen

Teen Camp

And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. . . After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding. (Lk 2:42­­-7)

Reading this passage from Luke’s Gospel during Teen Camp last week gave the familiar text a whole new meaning to me. When I asked how many kids in the barn were twelve years old, a sea of hands went up. The story of twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple suddenly had a face to it. Here I was, a seminarian at the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, looking into the faces of dozens of little Jesuses. (Is that the plural of Jesus? Jesuss? Jeesi? #thingsWeDontLearnInSeminary) That whole “made in the image of God thing became really clear to me. It was my own little encounter with the incarnation

The beautiful thing about twelve-year-olds is that they’re in that strange and trying age where they aren’t still children, but they certainly aren’t adults. They often retain that child-like imaginativeness lost in adolescence, but have the intellectual capacity to really engage in deep conversations. Coming from a background in the theatre, I really appreciate the melding of play and intellect.

As I preached on Luke’s story of twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple, I pointed out to the campers that Jesus is actively asking questions. I’ve often heard this passage referred to as “The Boy Jesus Teaching in the Temple,” but that’s not exactly what’s going on. Sure, it says that the teachers were amazed by Jesus, and they surely learned from him, but the chief verbs in the story are “listening” and “asking.” I think most adults expect a lot of listening from kids. All day long I hear things at camp like “Listen to your councilor” and “Listen up.” Obviously, listening is important, but how often are kids encouraged to question leadership? To question the most learned? Yet that’s just what Jesus, the twelve-year-old, does.

I told the campers that our faith doesn’t require us to check our brains at the door. As a professor of mine once said, “There is no virtue in blind faith—you have to ask questions and attempt to understand.” I don’t know that our kids are often asked to question authority. As a leader at the camp, I want campers to follow instructions, particularly when it pertains to their safety, but when it comes to their faith, I want them to own it and come to as full an understanding as possible.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I spent the remainder of our week together at Teen Camp fielding what felt like millions of questions: Is Jesus God? Why is there evil in the world? Why can’t I hear God speak like people in the Bible? How can I believe in my religion and study science?  I was so proud of the campers for not holding back. They asked the same questions that have frustrated and confused theologians for centuries, and they showed no shame in not having the answers. More astoundingly, even in the face of these difficult questions I found that the campers have enormous faith. Their love for one another and their love for God permeate our camp property from the waterfront, to the barn, to the edges of the Back Forty. Furthermore, when they asked these tough questions, they offered their own thoughts on what an appropriate understanding would be. More often than not, I could stay silent and listen to the campers discuss among themselves. I felt just like the teachers in the temple. Even though I’m the seminarian studying theology, I was amazed at their understanding.

I’d like to take some credit for inviting the campers to ask tough questions, but I don’t know that I can. I think there’s something about the culture of camp that has been here for generations. There’s an understanding here that all are welcome, and that means all ideas and questions are welcome. It’s a powerful thought that these campers have no fear of sounding wrong or inviting ridicule. It’s a mini glimpse at the Kingdom of Heaven where all people come together to understand, love, and serve the Lord. 

written by: Charles Lane Cowen

Music and Creative Arts Camp

When Meaghan Brower, the director of ECC, invited me to spend the summer at camp she gave me two warnings: Camp is exhausting, and camp is transformative. Both items have proven true. I have bags under my eyes, my joints ache, I have mosquito bites, sunburn, and I’m sweating in places I didn’t even know I had. That’s all after just one week of six I will be here! I also am having the time of my life. So far my accomplishments at camp include but are not limited to:

·      learning how to whip and nae nae (Google it)

·      creating a life-size paper mache llama

·      kayaking

·      the subtle art of scream-singing on a big yellow school bus

·       coming to a deep appreciation of the effect of humidity on one’s personal comfort level

·      strategies for dominating in a game of Connect Four

I also have learned enormous amounts about God and my neighbors. When Meaghan said camp would be transformative, I assumed she meant for the kids who camp here. That certainly is true. I am amazed at the faith and love the campers bring to this place. I beam when I see  teenage counselors uplift a camper sitting alone and empower the camper to join in the day’s activities. What I didn’t know was how transformative the experience would be for me. I hate to lean on the old cliché, but the kids I came here to teach have taught me so much. I am astounded by the talent, compassion, and generosity these young people posses.

Our theme this summer at camp comes from Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism. After John baptizes Jesus, a dove appears and the voice of God says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11 NRSV). All week long we stressed to the campers that because we enter into Jesus’ death and resurrection through the waters of baptism, we, too, are God’s beloved. There’s some pretty powerful incarnational theology at work here—because God became human in the person of Jesus, we worship a god that knows first-hand what it means to be one of us. Jesus knew suffering, joy, friendship, betrayal, anger, and all the complicated emotions of human life.

Thinking back to my own teenage years, I can remember feeling like an outsider. I had horrible acne, I was bad at sports, I was far from popular, and it felt like the pressures of social expectations would suffocate me. I have had a blessed and wonderful life, but you could not pay me enough to go back to being a teenager. When I look at the campers at ECC, though, I see a community where all are loved and uplifted. The greatest moment of the week for me was watching the much-anticipated talent show. While Music Camp ends with a large performance for family and friends, the talent show is just for the camp community. It’s performed in the outdoor pavilion while we all sit at picnic tables or on the ground. There’s no pomp and circumstance—just lots of fun, laughter, and play. I am not exaggerating when I say that the talent shown by the campers was astounding. We are blessed to have in our community brilliant musicians, poets, singers, dancers, comedians, and artists. What amazed me the most, however, was how supportive every camper was of their fellow campers. Every single performance, no matter how complicated or simple, received thundering applause and loud cheers of approval. Whether it was a large rock band rivaling the charisma of the Beatles or a single camper reading her poetry, ALL of the acts were greeted and received with outrageous acceptance. Furthermore, these cheers of approval were far from put on. They cheered because every act on the stage was performed by one of our own—an ECC camper, counselor, or staffer. Just as God shouted from the heavens that Jesus was his own Beloved, our campers shouted from the pavilion that that was their beloved friend. Without exception. Without hesitation.

The most valuable lesson I learned at Music Camp came straight from the young people: God loves each one of us without exception, and we should love one another without exception. Life’s tough. Sometimes the Roman oppressors crucify you. Sometimes kids call you names. But in the midst of all of it the voice of God rings from the heavens, “You are my children, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Charles Lane Cowen is a postulant in the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island. He is pursuing a Master of Divinity at the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and is serving at ECC this summer as a chaplain. Charles most recently lived in Newport, RI where he performed with and was administrative staff for the Marley Bridges Theatre Company. He loves the outdoors, Biblical studies, and puppetry.