Camp and the Circle Community

I love camp. I love the variety of programs and people, I love living outdoors, I love the silliness, I love the creativity that’s inspired, and most of all I love the camp community that a good program builds. I love that camp can become a place aside from the everyday world. A place where you can be whoever you most truly are, look the way you want, explore your passions, and be completely accepted. That’s why my happiest childhood memories are centered on the residential camps I was fortunate to attend, and why I spent 14 summers and 8 years as a camp professional.

When done right, camp creates what many camp people call the Bubble. To me, the Bubble equals safe space, freedom, exploration, joy, and growth. It allows for a connection with the natural world and is a place apart from the everyday where we can step away from our concerns. All the things a good RE program also provides! So it’s not a stretch for me, a former camp director, to take our RE community one step further, and intentionally build a camp-type Bubble into the Circle community.

While a number of camp structures can be integrated into an RE program, after consideration I realized there is one powerful aspect of camp community building that is often not replicated in RE due to time constraints. That is the gathering of the full community before programming begins to share news, songs, and games, and recognize individuals and groups for accomplishments (serious and silly, of course). Given the flow of an average Sunday, the only way to make this happen is to extend the RE program time past its usual hour.

For the Circle Cooperative, there’s always the possibility of parents dropping off and picking up participants at a church different from where they worship, which actually necessitates this extra time. To give enough time for drop off/pick up and travel means an extra half-hour for starting and ending our program, giving us nearly 2 hours for programming and community building every week we meet.

What does this look like in practice? While still in the development stage, here is a tentative schedule that I plan to implement. Note that the Morning Meeting takes a campfire-style approach (minus the fire), starting with songs and games led by staff, volunteers, and participants, leading into announcements for the day, and then our Chalice lighting for intention setting right before we adjourn.

Possible 2 Hour RE Structure Including Morning Campfire-style Meeting (our Worship Services run from 10:30 – 11:30 AM):

10:00 AM – Drop-off begins in Hall
10:10 AM – Morning Meeting starts, facilitated by DRE/volunteers
10:20 AM – Chalice lighting and announcements
10:25 AM – Community goes to the Sanctuary for the start of worship
10:45 AM – Participants go to their classrooms in the RE Wing for check-ins & programming
10:45 – 11:30 AM – RE Programming
11:30 AM – Participants back in classrooms if working outdoors
11:30 – 11:45 AM – Program wrap-up/debrief; classroom straightening/cleaning as needed
11:45 AM – 12:00 PM – Parent pick up and supervised, unstructured play

There are other, smaller ways I hope to infuse campiness into our programs: regular songs (silly and not) able to be sung on a moment’s notice (make sure you ask a Circle participant or volunteer about the Announcement song); an expectation of mindful and joyful experiences; regular outdoor exploration; and fun events that involve the whole community. These, combined with our UU practices of covenanting, strong, focused curriculum, and radical inclusiveness have the power to create an unforgettable RE experience for our participants.

I”ll share in future posts what regular campiness ends up making it into rotation in our program, along with resources for bringing these home, or into other youth programs.

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