By Jim Vitale

So much of our anxiety and conflict comes from unspoken and unmet expectations. What if there was a way to clear some of those expectations up? That’s what executive director Chad Hershberger and I spent much of the winter months wondering.

This year during staff training we started something new: a summer staff covenant. The idea began when I started here on the Camp Mount Luther staff. Chad and I agreed it might be wise for us to draft a covenant to guide our work as both professionals and friends. Having no idea how to do that well, we asked for help and guidance from retired pastor and Upper Susquehanna Synod legend Jim Bricker, who has done with work with many people.

The covenant process is fairly simple in its design. Each party declares what they need from and what they are willing to offer to the other party. Each party then exchanges notes and together they agree on what they are able to promise and provide for each other. For instance (and this a real example), I tell Chad that I need some help protecting my work/family balance. Chad tells me he needs help staying on track to plan staff training throughout the winter months. Chad commits to weekly check-ins on my work/life balance and I agree to help him stay on task with staff training because those commitments are within our abilities. Saying no, however, is just as important in the covenant process as saying yes. Both parties need to be honest about what they are able to do and not do for each other.

For Chad and me, this process has been very helpful and guiding our work and friendship. As we wondered how to help our staff manage their expectations, we both agreed this covenant process was the perfect tool. During staff training, Jim Bricker came in for one long, intense day with all the summer staff. Together we all stated what we needed from each other and what we could offer each other. We all made commitments to support each other in very specific ways throughout the summer. Half-way through the summer we will meet again as a staff to check in on the covenant and see what is working well and what amendments we might need to make. At the end of the summer, staff will fill out an evaluation of the covenant to see what ways it was helpful and/or unhelpful.

At Camp Mount Luther, staff separate each week into a couple different “cabin groups”, clusters of cabin leaders who work closely together for that week. Cabin leaders will also form mini-covenants each week with their fellow cabin leaders to guide and govern their working relationships for that week. They make their mini-covenant together on Sunday. On Wednesday, the cabin leaders meet with me to talk about how the week is going. And then on Friday cabin groups write and evaluation of their weekly covenant and working relationships which they then present to the rest of the group.

The goal of all this is to keep needs and expectations as clear as possible. If someone does not live up to expectations, we can look to the covenant as our guide and standard. If someone harbors unspoken expectations, we can use the covenant to ask why those expectations were left unspoken. The covenant also helps to make sure that every summer staff member feels supported, cared for, and accompanied throughout their time here on staff.

At the end of our covenant process, after we had all made our commitments to each other, we turned our attention to parents, grandparents, caregivers, and campers. Knowing the expectations and anxieties of parents who send their children here to camp, we created a covenant with campers and caregivers.

Here is our promise to those who come to camp and their caregivers.

We promise to:

  • Do our best to keep campers safe and respond to safety concerns responsibly;
  • keep campers theologically safe and teach the grace and love of Jesus;
  • take campers to meals, make sure they bathe, get them to bed on time, validate their feelings, and reaffirm they are beloved children of God;
  • deal with campers honestly, affirm them in their beautiful uniqueness, respect them, include them, give them space when they need it, and talk with them when they need it;
  • plan quality GROW time experiences, offering a wide variety of activities to meet different learning styles;
  • challenge campers with team and relationship building activities, give every child the opportunity to do what they like, encourage them through activities they don’t like, and challenge them to try new things; and
  • give campers opportunities to lead and develop leadership skills.

There’s still time to register for summer camp! Just go to our registration page! See you at camp!