Friday, August 30, 2013

Camp Calumet: A "Missional" Faith Community

So as many folks I speak regularly with know, I'm in the midst of writing my "approval essay," which means I'm desperately trying to finish the really long assignment (roughly twenty pages) that I have to write before going to a final interview with folks in New England where we'll discern whether or not I should be a pastor.

This year's prompts for the approval essay are all questions about "missional leadership." In less churchy language, this means leadership that inspires folks in churches to get out in the world, spread the gospel and help other folks out rather than sitting around arguing about what new furniture to buy, etc. Luckily, the prompt also states, "this theme is motivated by a desire for a deep and rich conversation about the church and its participation in God's mission." So, I figure it'd be pretty darn missional of me to share my writings thus far, in order to spark wider conversation outside of just the folks I'll be meeting with a couple months from now. What follows is the first of three parts of my essay, and its specifically about a "formative faith community that has helped shape your understanding of missional leadership." I decided to write about Camp Calumet Lutheran in Freedom, NH.  Thanks for reading, and I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Despite the task ahead of me, I feel immensely blessed as I embark upon writing my approval essay.  At the end of a powerful, affirming, even life-changing year at the Lutheran Office for World Community (LOWC) and Saint Peter’s Church in New York, I absolutely craved the opportunity to break away from the hustle of city life.  I thus decided to head up to northern New England for two weeks of time with friends, hiking in my home mountains and thereby beginning to unpack my internship experience.  While things were already going great, this processing time took an even better turn when I bumped into some of the more senior staff from Camp Calumet Lutheran in New Hampshire.

After catching up on each other’s summers, we got to talking about an international staff member seeking political asylum here in the United States.  Given my work this year on immigration issues at both Saint Peter’s and LOWC, we decided I should spend a couple days at camp both dialoging with that staff member and writing this essay.  So now I’m here, sitting in the dining hall of the camp I spent nearly a decade growing, working and serving at.  At one end of the room an older woman joyfully dances about as she sets up for a coming meal.  At the other, a group of young refugees laugh and hang out, talking really loudly in a bunch of different languages. In the middle of the room, two junior counselors Skype home to their friends in high school about “the best summer ever” that will soon come to a close.

I relay this story not take up space in a really long essay, or in a vain attempt to bolster my people watching credentials, but rather to describe what a truly missional faith community looks like.  What makes Camp Calumet a missional faith community?  Whether they intellectually know it or not, most of the folks here, staff, campers and others guests alike, quite visibly feel the Triune God at work not only in their own lives, but in the life of the wider Calumet community.  Teaching His disciples about the Trinity in John 16: 12 - 15, Christ states:
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you (NRSV).
Through such teaching Christ proclaims the profoundly good news to His disciples, both now and two thousand years ago, that not even God Herself can be alone.  God can only do Her work in Holy Community, the very work that lovingly gathers us up into missional community with God and one another.  When the folks at Calumet experience the good news of God’s act of liberating love in community, its readily apparent that they can’t help but respond, all according to their given vocations.  And whether it is through talking with friends at home over Skype, joyfully setting up dinner, creatively discerning how to leverage new opportunities or welcoming in people who the world has turned away, the folks at Calumet carry out Christian mission in a way that’s highly contextual, trusting the Spirit to guide them into truth amidst the chaotic change of our contemporary world.

I spent much of the past day here talking with staff of all ages about their experiences of missional leadership (using less churchy language) in order to help jog my own memory.  After sharing funny and profound stories over lunch, meeting a bunch of fantastic new counselors and going on a great sailing trip with two now senior counselors I trained years ago, I eventually identified two specific lessons I learned about missional leadership during my many summers at Calumet: 1) selflessness is only sustainable in community and 2) leadership means creating spaces for disciples to grow into leaders themselves.

Selflessness is only sustainable in community... The scene is a summer night in late June, 2002, with a bunch of young adults sitting around a fire on really uncomfortable benches, or if you were lucky, a creaky camp chair.  Earlier that day I, along with thirty-two other fifteen and sixteen year olds, had made a long trek up I-95 to camp in the back of our parents’ mini-vans for the beginning of an eight-week session of camp counselor training.  One kid showed up with a clothes trunk that looked like a coffin.  Another guy spent a couple hours sprinting through the campsite with a football.  Everyone was trying to establish an identity for themselves. It was a truly bizarre day, but around the campfire that evening, things quickly got serious once we started learning about “camper comes first,” or CCF, Calumet’s central organizing principal of putting the needs of campers and other guests ahead of your own.  I came to learn the most important thing one does during trainee summer is figure out how to live into this concept, and for someone like me who was more interested in hanging out with friends and chasing girls than selflessly serving others, such a task did not come easy.

Eventually after years of growing and working at Calumet, I thought I understood the concept of selfless service quite well.  It was only many summers later though in 2008 when I realized the other half of the lesson, the part that makes selfless service truly missional.  This aspect is reflected in one of my absolutely favorite Bible passages, Ecclesiastes 4: 9 - 12:
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.  Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone?  And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one.  A threefold cord is not quickly broken (NRSV).
In the summer of 2008 I graduated on the precipice of the Great Recession, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, an important relationship was ending and the doctors thought I had thyroid cancer too.  One night in early August I found out my mother’s cancer had metastasized, and the next morning, despite being assigned as a counselor that week, I could barely function without bursting into tears at breakfast.  A close friend on staff offered to take my campers for a couple hours so I could sit, pray and get my head together.  At first my pride got in the way, but eventually my friend convinced me that to truly put my campers’ needs first, I needed to take care of myself.

It seems like a simple lesson, but it’s a profound one... no matter how great you are, you cannot shoulder the burdens of Christian mission on your own.  Missional leadership thus means cultivating faith communities where folks of diverse callings, gathered up by the Triune God, support each other as they engage in selfless service, for the sake of the Gospel.  Even God cannot work alone... He only works in Holy Community and more often than not chooses to work through apostles, evangelists and all types of disciples.  If God cannot work alone, no matter how much our original sin may tell us otherwise, how can we?  Engaging the way of the cross, we must recognize selfless service is only sustainable in community.

Missional leadership also means creating spaces for disciples to grow into leaders themselves.  I first learned this humbling but important lesson in the summer of 2010 while working with thirty-four fifteen and sixteen year old counselors-in-training (CITs) as they discovered how to become leaders themselves.  I went into that summer super pumped; I had wanted to be trainer ever since I was a CIT, and it was finally going to happen.  After working at Calumet for so many summers, I had much experience to share, and as I was about to enter seminary the following fall, I felt extremely qualified.  Furthermore, I perceived a bit of decline at Calumet over the preceding years, and this was my chance to turn things around by training a new group of amazing counselors!

If only I had read Exodus 18: 13 - 23 beforehand, I would have been saved a lot of soul searching that summer:
The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?’ Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.’ Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do. You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace’ (NRSV).
I remember one stark conversation with a close friend on staff lamenting how it didn’t feel like I was doing much that summer.  Sure, I could give the trainees basic tips about leading conversations or demonstrate how to clean up a wet-bed, but on the whole, it seemed like most of the folks I was working with were already ready to be great counselors... they just needed a little time and the right environment to fully grow into that calling.  The gardening analogy for missional leadership is certainly overused, but my experience training new counselors in 2010 taught me its largely accurate.  Like Moses in the Exodus passage above, I found there was not a great deal of active ‘doing’ or gifting of knowledge in leading.  Instead, leading is much more about simply cultivating spaces where disciples can grow into the leaders God has intended them to be.  Perhaps the most poignant conversation I had today at Calumet was with a young adult who talked about how Church as an extremely hierarchal institution throughout much of its history.  He contrasted this with Calumet’s more missional model of leadership, where power is shared and the focus is not about what a single individual is doing. Rather, Calumet focuses on what God is doing through a community of growing leaders.  Missional leadership means creating spaces for disciples to grow into leaders themselves.

As I stated earlier, when the folks at Calumet experience the good news of God’s act of liberating love in community, its readily apparent that they can’t help but respond, all according to their given vocations.  Given that Calumet has proven such a formative place in my development as a missional leader, its follows that I believe empowering missional leadership in others primarily means cultivating faith communities where the gospel is experienced in ALL its forms.  Luther does a great job of laying out all the ways we experience the gospel in the Smalcald Articles:
We now want to return to the gospel, which gives guidance and help against sin in more that one way, because is extravagantly rich in his grace: first, through the spoken word, in which the forgiveness of sins is preached to the whole world... second, through baptism; third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar; fourth, through the power of the keys and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brothers and sisters (Kolb and Wengert, Book of Concord, 319).
The gospel, the good news of God’s act of liberating love in Jesus Christ, is really, really awesome!  Not only is the gospel really awesome, but it also frees folks to serve their neighbors and their world, or in other words, to act missionally.  Why then would one not want to cultivate faith communities where the gospel is experienced as much and in as many ways as possible?

In my experience, most pastors know how to perform a baptismal rite, know how to preside over the Eucharist and many can give a pretty decent sermon.  Where congregations often fail however is the fourth way we experience the gospel; they don’t cultivate strong faith communities where “members” and those outside the church walls alike can engage in mutual conversation and consolation.  If there’s one thing Camp Calumet is good at, its cultivating just that sort of missional community, through strong and fun Bible study, culturally aware mentorship and profound discussion on the shores of Lake Ossipee.  Lutherans deeply believe that all folks, not just pastors and other “religious professionals” are called to God given vocations.  Having learned missional leadership at Camp Calumet, I will follow its model of cultivating communities where the good news of God’s act of liberating love in Jesus Christ is experienced in all its forms, thereby inspiring folks to grow into and missionally live out their unique callings.

Dustin is currently in his final year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, having recently completed a year as Vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in New York City. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

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