SEYMOUR, Tenn. (Oct. 26, 2018) -- These are challenging times for the church. We rightly wonder what will become of our United Methodist family. Some even cynically ask whether or not we’re really better together (implying, not terribly subtly, that they don’t think we are).
While many may be hunkering down in preparation for the storm of General Conference 2019, and others are considering their evacuation route, our conference camps are showing us the kinds of things that God loves to do through us when we work together. If the times are so serious, how can we be having so much fun at camp?
This was a record-breaking summer for Holston Conference camps. Our five camps (Bays Mountain, Camp Dickenson, Camp Lookout, Wesley Woods, and Camp in the Community) welcomed 3,280 children this summer.
This was the first summer for Camp Bays Mountain in Kingsport, Tennessee. As our newest conference camp, Bays Mountain has emerged to fill the void left by the closing of Buffalo Mountain Camp. Six years ago a destructive flood devastated the property of our beloved Buffalo Mountain, forcing it to close permanently. After more than half a decade, conference camping is back in the Tri-Cities.
Camp in the Community (CITC), another one of our newest camps, served 1,167 children this summer. This is a 37 percent increase for CICT from the summer of 2017. Camp in the Community, which grew out of the ministry of Wesley Woods, is different from the traditional summer camp.
Four of our camps are residential, meaning children travel from their homes to spend a week at camp. CITC, though, takes camp to the neighborhoods where the children live. This summer a gifted and diverse staff set up camp at host churches and parks across all nine of our districts. Camp in the Community happened in our conference’s urban, suburban, and rural settings.
Each of our camps minister to children from all backgrounds. All the camps have scholarship funds, and countless local churches across Holston Conference work hard to raise funds which will offset the cost of camp so that more children can attend. This leads to a richer experience for everyone.
The United Methodist Church is facing some real problems. We don’t know what the future holds. So what should we do? I suggest we learn from Holston Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries: Start new things. Get out in the community. Celebrate. Sing. And, yes, laugh. Maybe above all, we should laugh. God knows there’s a lot of laughter at camp.
Perhaps part of our problem is that we take our problems too seriously. When we do that, I wonder if we are letting the devil win. I remember hearing Stanley Hauerwas say that the one thing the devil cannot stand is to be laughed at. Because when we laugh at him, we remind the devil that he’s nothing.
Well, here’s an opportunity to laugh at the devil: Of the 3,280 children who came to camp, do you know how many made a first-time commitment to Jesus Christ? Six hundred sixty-six. That’s right. The number is 666.
It’s surely just coincidental, but I’m not above using a coincidence to mock the devil, death, and the grave.
The forces that are trying to pull our church apart demand to be taken seriously. Deadly seriously. They demand to be revered as god-like. What if, instead, we defiantly laugh at them?
Six hundred sixty-six, as you know, is the mark of the beast from Revelation 13. It’s a number we’ve grown to fear and about which we’re often superstitious. Truthfully, we stay away from the whole book. But we shouldn’t. Revelation is ultimately about true state of things, namely, that despite appearances, God is firmly in control; all the company of heaven is singing praise; and the future belongs to God. The beast may look ferocious, but he’s a defeated foe.
At the close of his book, The Coming of God, the German theologian Jurgen Moltmann writes,
“Easter morning is the sunrise of the coming of God and the morning of new life and the beginning of the future of the world. The laughter of the universe is God’s delight. It is the universal Easter laughter in heaven and earth.”
Are we better together? Ask a child who went to camp. Ask a young adult who served on staff. Then join the laughter.
The Rev. Paul Seay is the pastor of Seymour United Methodist Church. He is a former camper and staff member of Holston Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries, currently serving on the Camp in the Community board. He is also a Holston Conference reserve delegate who will attend the next General Conference, Feb. 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis.
New camp director prepares for record-setting summer (The Call, 2.1.18)