By Chad Hershberger
This article was originally posted to the ELCA blog on August 1, 2018
Sitting along a lakeshore, enjoying the quiet breeze of summer, kids intently listen to a pastor talking about the reach of God’s love through Jesus Christ. The pastor tells them that sharing God’s love will reach far, just like ripples when a stone is thrown into a body of water. Those words are not just spoken. After being told about how God’s love extends beyond our reach, the kids throw a stone into the lake and watch as their ripples extend to the edges of the shore. The message of God’s word comes alive as they commune with their Creator in this place set apart.
Camp worship has been happening all over the country this summer in 126 Lutheran Outdoor Ministry sites. I am blessed to serve one of them and got to throw my own stone into our lake recently as part of this all-camp worship service. I’ve been around my camp since I was nine years old and for me, camp worship is where God really comes alive and God’s presence is truly felt as I’m surrounded by the beauty of creation.
When we gather together at camp as the people of God and invoke God’s presence, we are an extension of congregational worship. We show campers the connections between camp worship and their home church’s worship. Our staff who plans worship are taught the basic shape of Lutheran liturgy. What I think is a little different at camp is that campers are encouraged to be actively engaged. We don’t treat worship as a spectator sport! It is participatory and God’s message comes alive, through our singing, our moving around doing motions, and when throwing rocks into a lake.
You may think from my description that worship at camp is always loud which is not the case! One of my favorite worship services is what we call “field worship.” Campers and staff sit in our field, usually in the dark, looking up at the sky and listening to music and scripture as they spend some time reflecting on God and engaging in silent prayer. My favorite field worship is when Psalm 23 is recited as we lay in the field and listen to soft piano music. Hearing the words “lying down in green pastures” while actually lying down in a green pasture is powerful. Field worship gives campers and staff time to enjoy creation and experience worship in a different way. Even in the silence, God hears our cries of thanksgiving and praise.
It has been my experience that a camp worship service can be very powerful. But as I write this, describing these worship experiences, I recall the words of one of my predecessors here at Mount Luther. Early in my tenure as director, I sat in the kitchen of Don and Betty Mincemoyer who served here in the 1960s. They related the camp mission to their staff in this way: “Every thought a prayer; every action a worship experience.” Having the chance to give expression to what the whole creation yearns to do—praising God from whom all blessings flow—is what we continually do every day as we swim, make crafts, eat meals, hike, and play games. Camp is a place where we continually make our thoughts a prayer and our actions a worship experience. And because of that worship, both on our lakeshores and in other spots of God’s creation, lives are changed as Jesus Christ is encountered in new and exciting ways.