Bishop Mark Hanson: The Values of Camping Season

Gather 'round the camping season

This summer, bring home what many value about outdoor ministry

Outdoor ministries awaken marvelous ministries, but they also awaken memories.

After I read the cover story of theJuly issue of The Lutheran ("'Camp changed my life'"), it did not take long before I was back at Mount Carmel as a child, or at Wilderness Canoe Base on a winter retreat with adults from our urban parish, or with families at Camp Luther in West Virginia as ELCA presiding bishop.

I also began to ponder. What if we not only participated in and supported one of our excellent outdoor ministries, but also thought about this summer as a time to experience together what so many value from being at camp?

May this summer be a season of prayer.

It was in outdoor ministry settings that I first learned that prayer was not only something I do but a time to simply be in the presence of God: listening more than speaking, being a beloved and forgiven child of God, and being a new creation in Christ.

May this be a time to embrace what has been a lasting contribution of camps: immersion in a context quite different from what is most familiar to us.

It is not just their location, for camp experiences provide opportunities to build relationships with people from different communities and cultures. As ...Julie Sevig writes, "Camp is where barriers come down and honesty emerges."

What might that mean for you and members of your congregation? It might mean intentionally listening to and building relationships with a congregation in a ministry setting quite different from yours. It might mean meeting people in your own community to discover their contexts and hear their hurts and hopes for their lives. It might mean worshiping in a context where the language is not English. It might mean forming a relationship with someone who has no Christian faith.

May this be a time to tell stories. At camp, scary stories are told after the lights are out, humorous stories are acted out on talent night, and personal stories of faith and friendships are shared around a campfire. And throughout the week, gathered around the story of God's promise and God's people, the story of Jesus' life-giving love and salvation unfolds in Scripture.

What a marvelous opportunity for the ELCA this summer. In the simpler days of summer, let us take time to hear and share stories. It is a valid critique of our contemporary life that we lack stories that frame our lives, stories in which our lives find meaning, purpose and hope.

Think about the stories we tell. Often we make ourselves the center of the stories we tell, but Scripture calls us to center our stories in Christ. From the perspective of faith, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the narrative of our lives. As Paul wrote: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:19-20).

God is opening a new story, a new narrative for humankind to live in. The narrative tells us not only in whom we live and who lives in us, Christ, but also for whom we live, God and the world, especially our neighbors near and far. How does the story of our lives bear witness in word and deed to the story - God's story? Ask yourself that question this summer. Better yet, ask someone else.

May this be a time to behold the beauty and fragility of God's magnificent creation. May you feel awe and experience delight as you see majestic mountains, sweeping prairies, wooded lakes or the play of children of many languages in urban parks.

May we as members of the ELCA experience delight in one another this summer. May we be joyful, playful, mischievous and even a little foolish in order to bring joy to another.

Yes, let us pray to God: "You will show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand there are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11).

[This column was originally published in _ The Lutheran _, the magazine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Visit and scroll down to "Columnists" to read the presiding bishop's latest column. Used here by permission.]