Story Magazine - Second Quarter, 2002

"And he called them"

A seminary chapel sermon based on Matthew 4:12-25, celebrating camp ministry by Dr. David Tiede, Feb. 18, 2002

I have been told that the single most common factor for those who enroll in seminary is camping. Can you imagine? Today we are celebrating our many connections with camping ministries. Suppose it's true! Suppose the single most common factor for you who are enrolled in seminary is camping! But why?

Maybe the answer is youth ministries. Kids go to camp because of youth ministries in their congregations. Because their parents send them to camp! These are the young people who are nurtured in the faith, and when they hear God's calling to leadership in the church, they are ready! Maybe that's what's happening.

Camping ministry is a blessing itself: the people, the places, the faith. Indulge me in a journey to the past, 50 years ago to be exact, and let us together give thanks to God for how our Lord called us on the shores of "camp whatever." It wasn't "camp whatever."

It never is. It is always a particular place, on the Sea of Galilee or Lake Carlos or Flathead, or as in my case, Lake Onamia. And it is never campers in general. It is Peter and Andrew or Sally and Dawn, by name. Part of the experience is the personal encounter.

The fun and games are part of it, too, and the songs. Wild Bill Knoll was the caretaker of the camp, a skinny guy with a huge smile and a motorized cart. We liked the cart, and we loved wild Bill. Every night he led the songs, belting out the great tradition of Bible camp songs with his tenor voice and swinging his arms to get us moving. White choral bells upon the garden path, sung in rounds by tables. Lord I want to be a Christian, in my heart. John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!

Every night ended with songs, even one cabin singing to another in the dark, "We are cabin number 9, where is number 10" until the counselors yelled "Quiet!" Back home, we taught the Catholic kids those songs on the bus to away games. Maybe it was the songs!

Maybe it was the teachers. Pastor Henry Mayer was just out of seminary. We thought he was old, but he was probably 25. Like the counselors, he was good to us kids. He was also a fine Bible teacher, and his tennis serve was impressive. There was a seminary professor from Wartburg, named Dr. Hulme. He actually talked to us about "sex"! Right there at Bible camp!  It was incredible. Probably he never mentioned body parts or anything so gross as that! His book was titled, The Facts of Love and Life for Teenagers. It was a lot about respect and honoring your body and saving sex for marriage, but Dr. Hulme talked right to us! Pretty exciting when you are 12.

Maybe it was the teachers! Maybe it was the campfires. All the boys threw stuff in the fire, and the girls giggled. We sang, and the fire burned down. Somebody prayed, and we sang, "Now the Day is Over." And what do you know, that cute girl from Winthrop, named Rosemary, was sitting right next to me. Our elbows actually touched. The electricity was enough to scorch your heart. Terrific! Once the boys in our cabin caught us holding hands. They went ballistic for days. God bless her wherever she is! Maybe it was Rosemary from Winthrop.

But I don't think so. All that wonderful exuberance meant growing up. Something else was happening at the same time. We were being brought into the presence of the living Lord. Like the young fishermen on the Galilean shores, somehow we heard his call, "Follow me!" Faintly at first, then firmly, and we were beginning to understand our lives were filled with God's promise for the world.

Who knows what the fishermen first understood when they left their boats? Did they have any idea what it would mean to be a disciple of this rabbi? The gospels are full of stories of the ignorance and arrogance of the first disciples. Small wonder we were often insufferable when we returned home. I remember asking my father if he was really sure of his eternal salvation. He smiled with some surprise, confident of what Christ had done for him. The wisdom of his response was as wonderful as its gentleness.

Jesus has a heart for young Christians, boys and girls, sophisticated adolescents and naïve kids alike. God bless you who are investing your lives and energy in this ministry. Camping brings young women and men to the shores where Jesus finds them and calls them to follow.

I doubt that the great Albert Schweitzer ever went to Bible camp, although he left the comforts of Europe to follow his call to a remote hospital in Africa. Listen to the famous last paragraph of his book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus: "He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: 'Follow thou me!' and set us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is."

That is why people come to seminary! Thanks be to God!

AMEN.

For the results of a recent campus survey on the importance of camp ministry in faith formation and call discernment, click here.