I’ve been trying to think about how to describe why I keep going back to camp. And it’s a hard thing to describe. The reason, I think, that’s it’s so hard, is that I don’t really ask myself anymore whether I’m going to go back to camp. Westminster Woods is simply the place that I go in the summers. The question has ceased to be whether and started to be things like when and how. To a certain extent, even the phrase “going back to camp” feels a little weird to me. I feel like a part of me is always there…or maybe like the Woods is a part of me. So I guess I keep going back to camp because that is a part of what makes me who I am. Of course, that is an enormously unsatisfying answer, so I’ll answer the related question: how did Westminster Woods come to be such an important part of my life and my identity?
Probably the most central thing that makes camp so important in my life is the community. When I get excited about summer camp starting up again, it’s not just about the games, the songs, and the talks. It’s about the people I will get to see and the ones I will get to meet. The culture at camp is one that encourages making and building strong relationships, which makes camp an easy place to get connected and stay connected. One of my most memorable weeks as a camper was when I came for a small group camp in which I knew nobody at the beginning. Despite being very nervous about it coming in, by the time I left I felt like that group included some of my best friends in the world. (And, in fact, I was recently the best man in one of their weddings.)
In addition to the connections I’ve made, Westminster Woods has also had a huge impact on forming the person who I am. Summer camp makes me unafraid to be myself, and eventually that started rubbing off on the rest of my life as well. When I was in elementary school I was a shy, awkward kid. I liked myself well enough, but I had very little confidence in social situations. By the time I got to high school, though, that had changed. I knew who I was, was proud of who I was, and even had the confidence to join the improv club, an act which involved literally putting my oddities on display. I attribute much of that change to my time as a camper here.
The message given at the Woods is that you can be silly, you can be unusual, you can be yourself, whoever you are. And no matter what, you are loved, you are welcome, and you are a valuable part of the community we are building. This comes through in everything from being asked for your input in cabin talks to playing games where your counselors (unquestionably the coolest people at camp) are making absolute fools of themselves…and loving it. This gave me the confidence to be open, real, and unapologetic about who I am, and that confidence gradually shaped me in the rest of the year, as well as when I was at camp.
Camp didn’t just help me be myself, though. It also helped me be my best self. It helped me remember what is truly important: being kind to the people I’m with, striving to have more empathy for everyone, and being a reflection of God’s love in this world. That is a journey I will never be done with, and my time at the Woods always helps me refocus and recognize that that is the center of my life. Not money, not leisure, not even imparting knowledge to my students…it’s love that defines who I am and how well I am living. The community at the Woods makes it easy to remember that and has an explicitly stated shared understanding of the importance of truly loving everyone around us.
So that is what makes Westminster Woods so central in my life. It has people that have become a family to me, it helps me be true to who I am, and it helps me change who I am to be better and better. And every time a new camper comes across that bridge, my hope is that they will experience those things too.