I just had this mental conversation yesterday.  It ended the same way it always has.  I want this to be a space for my writing.  Not for my ranting about headaches or the church.  And God must have laughed.  Because then I wrote this sermon.  I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk about Camp on this blog.  this is where I’ll start.

This or a very similar sermon (I preach without notes, but this is very close to what I said both times) was preached at my home church on July 19,2009.

First of all, thank you to My Rector for the insistence…invitation to preach.
The summer has been wonderful. And the bulk of the camp season is now behind us. Which means it is now incredibly easy to spot a Camp Counselor. It’s not the ubiquitous shorts and t-shirts or tank tops everyone is wearing to try to survive the heat. It’s not the particular “an 8 year old woke me up at 2am this morning” look that I’ve seen on several faces. It’s not the “this is why they told me not to kill the children look” which always happens once or twice. (With 40+ kids around, it happens.) Nor is it the slightly parched and sun-burnt look we’ve all had at the end of the day.
It’s easy to spot Camp Counselors, at least the good ones, because they are always counting. It will look a little bit like this. [demonstrate] or this [demonstrate]
One of the basic principles of Camp Marshall is that we can be most responsible for the children when we can respond to what happens. [That and apparently parents like to get their children back at the end of the week.] So at any point in time a Counselor needs to know where all of the kids in their cabin are at.
Which sounds easy until Mary needs to go to the bathroom so they need a buddy which means Hannah has to go with her, and Jane has just wandered out of view, while another kid wants to know when they can go swimming. Which leads yet another kid to declare either their great swimming skill or their ultimate distaste for all things aquatic. Meanwhile the last child hasn’t found their shoes yet and the bell for Chapel just rang.
That thirty seconds would be completely normal. Now add a child who is working on anger issues, and the other cabin you are keeping an eye on while their counselor takes 5 minutes to do something crazy—use the bathroom.
And when you finally get them all to Chapel, , the kids will need Prayer books and song books. They all need to get settled in, on the right pages and then someone will else have just realized that they too need to go to the bathroom.
The entire day will progress in a series of variations on these themes. Meal times will be about eating correctly and politely, and at the end of the day, you have to convince everyone to go to sleep.
As all of the kids are settling in to their bunks, a last count will happen, just to make sure no children have disappeared or appeared over the course of the day.
Throughout the day, a counselor winds up counting their kids over and over and over again. When the kids are divided into activity areas, the staff count them there. At meal times we supervise what and how the kids eat, we stay conscious of how much water we and the kids are drinking, we promote a healthy community where problems are resolved, and we count. Over and over again, we count.
After awhile, it becomes automatic. And a counselor or staff person learns to recognize when they walk into a space where no one has been keeping count, keeping track of where the kids are and what they are doing. Then the task becomes even harder—not only does order need to be created, but the staff need to figure out what that order should look like. Experienced staff learn a bunch of tricks. Everything from easy games for all sizes of groups to the more structured order of having everyone line up by cabin.
I imagine that this is similar to what shepherds would do. I can just see them, turned around on the pathway counting, 9, 10, 11, 12, now where’d that last sheep go? Oh I see them behind that bush. And off they go to get the sheep back with the group. I can understand how the shepherd would know to make sure the sheep have access to the right kind of grazing and good water. I can see them learning which sheep will try to dominate the others and which ones need some help getting to the good food.
If the sheep have been left untended, I don’t know what a shepherd would have done. I don’t know games to get all of the sheep to focus on one thing or settle down or how to make the sheep line up. I’ve worked with children, not sheep.
But I do know that the image of sheep without a shepherd is what todays Gospel uses. The writer of Mark did not make it up in a stroke of creative genius. He borrowed it from his culture and his tradition. And, to a culture of herdsmen it worked. People knew what sheep without a shepherd looked and acted like.
Much like Camp staff learn to know what unsupervised children look and sound and act like. We know that when you leave 40 children unsupervised bad things happen. Some of them are survivable—a few days without vegetables or in the same shirt aren’t going to lead to immediate ruin. Literally hanging from the rafters or a sword battle with sticks could lead to some impressive damage, however. We know that we are there to help the kids have a good week, maybe a life changing week. So we remind them to eat salad, with their fork; we stop the sword battles; we help them solve problems; we tell them that they are capable of playing guitar—we have some to practice with; we encourage them to try new things; we tell them that God loves them.
We do things that are just like what Jesus did. Jesus reminded people that the important things were to love God and your neighbor—not all of the dietary laws. Jesus told people that God’s word would feed them. Jesus gave problem solving guidelines (talk to the person, then seek support, don’t gossip and triangulate). Jesus took young men and women and gave them power to heal, to preach, to cast out demons and told them to go to the ends of the earth.
You see, just as one person cannot keep a camp full of 40 kids safe and well cared for, much less encouraged or empowered, one person—even Jesus, cannot do God’s work for the entire world. Just as camp needs a full staff, the Good Shepherd needs students. People who have heard and understood and are willing to proclaim peace to those who are far off and who are near. Who are ready to proclaim that all can and ought to be members of the household of God.
The best part of camp isn’t when, at the end of the week the kids have learned all the responses in Chapel, or have figured out which songs are their favorites. It’s not when they come back next year. The best part is watching how the campers I used to supervise, the ones I that summer’s staff would point at and say, “They will make a great counselor.” or “One day you will be program staff.” Or, “I wonder how your skills would work on the staff.” Today those kids have become our Assistant Director, Waterfront Director, counselors, and we’ve created new programming to expand to use the skills we didn’t use to have. It is with this year’s staff, my former campers, that we take a moment here and there to consider our campers and say, “that one will be a great music leader.” “He or she will make a great counselor.” “One day that person will have my job.”
Just one person can’t do this work. Just one generation can’t do this work. Our job is to proclaim that all are invited and meant to be members of God’s family. And our job is to find and encourage those leaders who will join and follow us. Amen.