Camp’s Over, Now What?

I hate it when things are over.  Thanksgiving.  Christmas.  Spring break. The school year, sort of.  Summer vacations. Trips down south.  I don’t like movies to end, at least not the good ones.  I feel bad saying, “Alexa, stop.”  

For church folks, summer is the time for annual camp meeting, the week-long gathering for inspiration and renewal of faith.  There is lots of singing and preaching, and sometimes, lots of emotion. I don’t like it when camp meeting is over. 

Church campgrounds are hallowed places. They’re all pretty much the same. Cabins, a dining hall, bath houses, sports fields, a snack bar, and a camping area all surround a huge tabernacle.  

The tabernacle is made of wood beams and boards with big windows covered by large flaps held up by wood posts. At the front of the tabernacle is a long stone altar. The altar is the holy ground where serious decisions are made that might totally change the direction of a person’s life. 

For kids growing up in church, like I did, summer was also the time for youth camp. It was five glorious days away from home with hundreds of teenagers all trying to impress each other. There were lots of fun activities, and two daily chapel services. 

Year after year, the nightly chapel services all followed the same pattern. There was lively singing, preaching that tugged at our souls, and an invitation to go to the altar. “Just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bidst me come to Thee, oh Lamb of God I come.” 

As the “invitation song” continued, kids streamed to the altar. We repented, cried, repented more, and cried more. We hugged and cried, laughed and cried. Then we cried again.

Every night the scene was the same. We sought forgiveness for everything and cried about it all. By the end of the week, we were in danger of kidney and liver failure from dehydration. And then it was over. We boarded the buses and went home. 

Was it real? Yes. Sincere? Yes. Emotional? Obviously. 

Here’s the point. Not one time, not once in all those years, did anyone, any adult, ever stand in front of us and say, “Listen gang, you need to know something. In just a few days, maybe even before you get home today, all these feelings are going to disappear.” 

Instead, we were left alone, trying to figure out what went wrong when all the emotions faded away. Some kids decided it wasn’t real. The decisions they made didn’t matter because the feelings were gone. 

Years ago, when I was a pastor, I received a hand-written letter that broke my heart. The writer said, “I no longer profess to be a Christian. I just can’t maintain the feeling.” I’ll never forget it. Maybe that person had an emotional camp experience and thought it would last forever. 

I hate it when things end and emotions fade.

Faith lives on, feelings or not.

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