Lessons From Edgewood Camp

Lessons From Edgewood Camp

Lay Preacher: Jackie Himelright-Smith

Date: January 12, 2020

Text: 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

I want to thank the lay preaching team for their support and feedback as I sifted through the many ideas and stories I chose to share with you today. I’ve been an active Edgewood member since 1985. I’ve participated in various leadership roles since the Monday after I joined the church and Marilyn Rentschler called and asked me to serve on the women’s fellowship committee. I remember thinking, “Ahh, now that it’s “official,” I have to do my part.”

 This sermon is not meant to be a marketing pitch for Edgewood Camp, although I wouldn’t mind if it had an indirect effect. Much like our Sunday morning worship service and our overall program and ministry, Edgewood Camp has evolved over the years according to the needs of current campers. Still, some things stay consistent and speak to our core values as a community devoted to inclusivity, diversity, social justice, and spiritual connection. Some camp activities also transcend time and place. Whenever or where ever you may find Edgewood Camp, you are bound to find important conversations, laughter, perhaps some tears, and always, campfires, s’mores, and lots of singing!

Scripture (1 Corinthians 12:12-27)

I chose the scripture reading from Corinthians because I appreciate the holistic metaphor Paul uses to describe the healthy function of a faith community. He tells us that just as it takes many parts of a physical body to make up the individual, there are many parts of a church that make up the whole of a faith community. As I age and face various health issues, I appreciate how a break down in one part of my body can throw me off physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. As chair of the Finance Committee I am aware of all the many parts of Edgewood that require support and resources in order for us to sustain and live out the core values of who we say we are. Sometimes, things have to be put on hold because our body needs rest or healing. Sometimes projects or programs have to be tabled or put aside altogether because leadership or resources may be insufficient at the time.

It can be a delicate balance to maintain the parts of any whole whether we are talking about the health of an individual, a family system, or the health of our church community. Paul tells us that each part contributes to the function and health of the whole. He writes that, “God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another.” 

I really like that phrase, “mutual concern for one another.” There are so many ways people who love each other can get locked into defensiveness and hurt. I hope that Ed and I have been able to model that ‘mutual concern’ for our children and grandchildren and that we as a congregation can be mindful in our interactions to keep that ‘mutual concern’ in mind.

There are four main lessons I have taken from my time at Edgewood that have been important in my development as a Christian, as a partner, parent and grandparent, and even as a mental health professional. While most of what I have learned is also inspired by things that happen in this community, this sanctuary, Edgewood Camp tends to emphasize these lessons for maximum effect.

Managing Relationships

The first lesson is about managing relationships in a deeper way. Scott Peck wrote about community building in “A Different Drum”. Many of us were Peck enthusiasts in the late 80s and 90s. (I remember my oldest son, David Carew, referred to us as “Peckies”). Ed and I led a community building group at camp and we enjoyed it so much, we did a six-week program at Edgewood.  Peck said it takes a minimum of 12 hours to get past pseudo community to real community. I take that to mean that it isn’t just the quality of time you share, but also, the quantity. Camp provides an opportunity for more concentrated time with each other so that we can hone our skills of living in ‘mutual concern’.

Many of you have met our two oldest grandchildren, Jacob and Sam, at camp or at Pine Ridge. Born the same year just a few months apart, Ed and I had so much fun with them when they were growing up and we still had some energy. They are both seniors in high school and will graduate this June. I think they were about 4 or 5 years old the first year they came to camp without parents. It was a tough week for Sam, my Montessori grandson, who was used to organic transitions and a self-directed routine. He tended to get lost in play and definitely preferred for all of us to adapt to his schedule.

Ed and Jacob were long gone as they both were motivated to be on time for breakfast, but Sam and I would take a little longer. I pointed him in the direction of his clothes while I was getting dressed, but, eventually, I would make my stand and tell Sam that I didn’t want to wait until lunch to eat so I was leaving. This frustrated Sam, but as I stepped out of the RV, he would quickly dress and follow behind me making all kinds of complaints and threats.

“Nana, you are not my friend anymore!” “Nana, I’m not hungry. If I have to eat breakfast, I’ll throw up.”  And my favorite, “Nana, you are so stubborn!”

It was a bit of a walk so Sam was usually done by the time we got to the lodge. He would busy himself with making his peanut butter and jelly sandwich and settle himself next to his cousin. He was fine for the rest of the day, but this was pretty much the morning routine the entire five days at camp. About a month later, Sam and I were at our favorite toy store. The clerk that was checking us out was very kid-friendly and asked Sam if he did anything special over the summer. Sam had taken lots of different trips so I was surprised to hear his quick response.

“We went to church camp,” he said to the clerk enthusiastically. “Breakfast is at 8:30!”

Camp had taught my Montessori grandson something about routine and schedules. It also taught me that sometimes you have to trust that the kid will follow you to breakfast. I routinely picked Sam up one day a week from school for a couple of hours and he usually had an agenda (like his favorite toy store). I was happy to do what made him happy because he went back to his parents at 6:00, but camp tested our relationship and also deepened it. I had to learn to trust that Sam could get mad at me, yet still comply with my request, and get over it. I believe this daily, consistent conflict taught both of us something about balancing ‘mutual concern’ and deepened our connection. The following year, it was Sam hurrying Nana to get moving!


The second lesson is about embracing and growing in leadership. My first year as an Edgewood camper in 1986, I was asked by the worship committee to give a little devotion in the morning to kick things off before everyone went to their morning program. I didn’t say, “No thanks—that’s out of my comfort zone,’ which is what I wanted to say, because I didn’t think it was an option. Remember, to me, joining Edgewood meant “doing my part.” I knew camp relied heavily on everyone saying yes, so I made the commitment and over-prepared accordingly. When the time came, I was nervous and apologetic, but got through it. As I shuffled my notes at the podium, Joanne Mondol, our associate pastor, who I really didn’t know very well at the time, came up to the podium, smiled warmly, and said, “Jackie, you have no reason to apologize. Your thoughts and ideas are just as important as anyone else’s.”

 What a gift Joanne turned out to be for me. That simple statement washed over me like holy water. I have since learned to freely and frequently apologize for mistakes, misunderstanding, ignorance, or downright orneriness, but I don’t remember when I have apologized for a thought or idea that I have dared to share with others. I have held many leadership roles at Edgewood because I’ve been asked. Camp taught me the importance of being a part of the whole even if you think you don’t have much to offer. It was important to free myself from internal judgment, to step outside my comfort zone, and allow the inclusivity and compassion Joanne offered me to sink in.

Seeking the Divine

The third lesson from camp is about seeking the Divine. Somehow being surrounded by the natural world gets me out of my head and helps me to connect with the universe, which is my way toward the Divine. This is an important lesson that camp teaches so well. Whether watching the spectacular moon-rise over Lake Huron at Camp Cavell, admiring the sycamores, birches, oaks and maples bordering the field near the pavilion at Stony Lake, brushing the gritty sand out of my sandals after the Sunday night service on the beach at Lake Michigan, or pausing on the 2 a.m. walk to the bathroom to look up at the Milky Way, the Divine is more easily identified when I am more tuned in to its presence.

 A few years ago, when Jacob and Sam were just hitting adolescence, we were at Stony Lake again and gathered for an all camp activity led by Marcia Beer after breakfast. (Breakfast was still at 8:30). We now had added Laura, Jacob’s sister, who was maybe 7 or 8 and stuck close to me. Jacob and Sam were inseparable and freely roamed the natural boundary of the camp provided by the circle of cabins. They had earned that freedom because they showed up when and where they were supposed to according to the daily schedule. So, there they were opposite Laura and I in the circle as Marcia talked about God and Nature and invited us all to take a few minutes to “find God.” As soon as Marcia stopped talking, people started to wander and casually chat while Jacob and Sam dashed across the field to where Laura and I were standing.

“Nana!” Sam said with a bit of panic in his voice. “We don’t know what to do! We’re atheists!” Jacob looked equally anxious, as he nodded in agreement.

As I looked at these two human beings that I have loved dearly since before they were born because of how I love their parents, I had two thoughts. First, I was impressed that they had not only hammered out a theological identity before 8th grade, but they had discussed it with each other. My second thought was that I needed to have a longer conversation with each of them about that theological identity, but there wasn’t any time at that moment. Laura, was tugging at my hand, I guess to go find God, but more likely she was bored with the conversation. I said to them, “Don’t worry about it. Just make something up like everyone else does.” That seemed to satisfy them and off they went.

As I looked around at the towering trees and felt the warmth of the morning sun, I wondered if my grandchildren could connect with the wonder around them in the same way that I did? Did they connect with the divinity of this particular place and time? Could they make that connection and still be atheists? All these wandering, wondering thoughts and questions bombarded me as Laura pulled me toward the craft cabin, which was where she seemed to locate God.

It was after that incident I began to wonder about what I want my grandchildren to know about my perception of God, that is, what I have “made up” over the last 70 years that keeps me going to church and motivates Ed and I to bring our children and grandchildren to camp and to church.

Camp is the “push pause” time when I have the opportunity to settle in to a predictable schedule with friends and family, time to gather together for singing and meals, to share stories together, play together, worship together at Vespers, and to open ourselves to experience the Divine in each other. Sure, we can do that any time, any place, any day, but there is something particular to the camp part of Edgewood that is unique and holy.

Grief and Loss

The last lesson from camp is about communal grieving and adaptation to loss. This is an ongoing lesson I must review frequently as I age and Ed and I attend more memorial services. The natural process of aging fits well with Paul’s metaphor of parts of the whole. As I look at the arc of my life, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle-age, and now late middle age, all the parts of the past feel a bit distant and dim, yet somehow the parts have led me here to this sacred space and–I’m not dead yet!

I have learned in my long-term relationship with Edgewood that the first lesson I mentioned—managing relationships in a deeper way—means the loss is deeper and the grief a little heavier when friends and family die. Grief is mostly a singular journey, yet with universal characteristics. One of the quotes I like to share in grief workshops is from Rita Mae Brown. She wrote in her book Starting from Scratch, “I still miss those I have loved who are no longer with me, but I find I am grateful for having loved them.  The gratitude has finally conquered the loss”.

The camp committee has struggled this year and seems to be on hold. It’s been a challenge to find an affordable camp at an optimal time. Camp has been self-supporting for decades, but we were forced to request it as a line-item in the budget to help defray some of the expenses. I know there will be many of us who will grieve the loss of camp if we are unable to sustain it as an Edgewood program. I think most campers will be sad for those who don’t know what they are missing: the deepening of relationships, the opportunities to grow in leadership, the communal effort to seek the Divine, learning to practice ‘mutual concern’ for each other as we adapt to the losses inherent in living every day.

I am grateful for every moment of my time in this community and especially for my time at camp. We are going to sing Song of the Soul in a few minutes. It was one of my late husband’s favorite songs. It was years before I could sing it without weeping, but I continued to sing it because it helped me move from grief for Charlie’s loss to gratitude for the time I had with him.

My gratitude for camp is closely linked to my gratitude for Charlie, and Ed, and for my children and stepchildren, for my seven grandchildren, and for Beth and Al and Corey and Carl, and Marv and Peggy and Sarah and Ken, and Opal, and Elizabeth, and so many more we would be here all day!

I began this sermon saying I don’t mean for it to be a marketing pitch. It may have become more memorial than marketing and I don’t want that either. There were things I wished to share with you all about my personal Edgewood Camp experience. There are many gathered here this morning who also have decades of camp stories to tell and lessons to share. To all of you I say, “Write your own sermon!”

Thank you for your attention and may God bless you all.

Star Gifts


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