A Sacredness I Did Not Expect| Summer Camp Chronicles

Stephen Stuart holds the candle he used as a prop during the vespers program. My summer camp experiences have come to a close so I will be chronicling some lessons and/or insights I gathered. Click here for yesterday's story.

I am seated in the second row of King’s Chapel watching Ray Queen, the director of Camp Kulaqua. He is swinging his legs while he sits on the edge of the stage. He’s preaching to us. Ray has a particular timbre to his voice that makes him sound polite yet forceful at the same time; this is probably the result of talking to so many parents over the years.

It’s a Friday night—the last Friday night. Teen Track just finished their vespers programming. The stage area is littered with candles and shattered glass. Although the teen track too most of the people in the chapel with them to Afterglow, there is still an energy in the building.

“It’s not over,” Ray informs us. “In fact, the ministry, it’s just getting started…this is just the beginning,” his feet swing and his hands move as he talks. He talks about the decisions many Juniors and Teens will make over the weekend. We will pray soon; each Friday at Kulaqua, as much of the stuff as could would gather to pray over cards the campers had filled out. There were many that had generic pray for me, pray for my family, pray for bae requests scribbled.

Some were heavier: divorce, death—I had one card where the camper said she had been cutting herself. I gave that one to Theresa to be followed up immediately. The prayer time we had on Fridays was my spiritual highlight of the week, and because this was the last one of the summer—it was all the more special.

Ray finished his sermonette and dismissed us for prayer. He emphasizes thoroughness. Take your time. Grab a few, and pray for them by name. And then if you finish, come back and grab some more.

I grabbed a small stack and settled into my preferred prayer spot—towards the front by the drum set. While looking at the first name on the first card, I pray.


Despite my current streak of progressive lifestyle choices, my roots are in conservative Christianity. My core is fundamentalist, and I tend to judge harshly anything that doesn’t explicitly look religious. For a long time, Christian summer camps were something I regarded with disdain. How could anyone find Jesus while blobbing or dodgeballing? How could any child be spiritually nourished by singing repetitive and simplistic music? And don’t even get me started on the mass baptisms, the sentimental appeals, and…and…

I couldn’t see past the humanness of the summer camp; I couldn’t see the light shining.


During my six weeks at Mt. Aetna, I enjoyed rooming with Aren Bruce, the music director for the camp. Sometimes, my friend Andrew Ashley would visit and talk worship programming with Aren and I. (Andrew was the camp pastor). I heard firsthand how much prayer, dialogue, and intentionality went into each component of a camp’s evening worship, from the silly and light-hearted to the sober and demanding.


Why don’t you sing other music? You do like four songs every week. Also, no lie, I heard a Cubbie complaining that they didn’t get to do the good sons like Revelation Song or Oceans. I finished typing my blue message and sent it to Melissa Anderson. She had been in charge of worship programming for the Cub Track (ages 7-9) at Kulaqua.

Well, honestly, most of them come from families with little religion. Like, you’d be surprised at how few go to church so it’s easier to just sing simpler songs. They’re still about God and we avoid some of the weird ones like ‘Dig a Hole.’ I hate that song. Why are we singing a song about digging a hole for Satan? Haha.

And then a second message,

Oh and lol at that kid. Some cubbies have so much attitude.


Some young adults have so much attitude too, but my attitude towards summer camps has been shed for I saw the finger of God at work in the imperfect, messy, frenzied, thrilling, and fun thing that is an Adventist summer camp.

I am not naïve. I know not all summer camps are equal in quality, and I am sure not all summer camps are as intentional about ministering like Kulaqua and Aetna are, but I have now seen the potential that a summer camp has.

I have seen how God can make a summer camp a sacred—a saving place for campers first and staff too.


I finished praying and took my stack back to Ray. I found a seat next to Madison who looked beautiful in the dress she chose for her vespers attire. Can we sing this little light of mine? Ray asks and motions to Jordan “J-Mc.” Jordan stands up and beguns to lightly strum. This little light of mine. Madison’s soprano fills my right ear. It is pleasant. I’m gonna let it shine. I look at Jordan; his eyes are closed. All around the neighborhood. I take in my surroundings because this may be one my last memories at Kulaqua. I am happy to note everyone is singing. I’m gonna let it shine. We’re not sure what the next refrain is and there’s a break in the singing but then someone who sounds like they know suggests, Let it shine till Jesus comes. We go with it. It’s the Sabbath and it feels so good to know that I’m singing with a squad whom I share goals with. Ray is swinging his feet again. I close my eyes and stop singing so I can listen to Madison’s soprano. I’m gonna let it shine.

We’re gonna let it shine, says God to us.