Campers Experience Faith in a Different Key
Each year Camp Wrenwoode outside Amory, Miss., has a different name: Camp Glenmary. It's a name it has borne for the entire month of June since the 1970s and has been the site of two weeks of camping open to low-income kids in northeastern Mississippi and two weeks of "Catholic Camp," a time when Catholic young people from that same area gather as a group to experience the uniqueness of not being in the minority.
Father Tim Murphy, pastor of Glenmary's mission in Pontotoc, Miss., and the camp's director, says without hesitation that volunteers "make camp possible." Many of those volunteers call northeast Mississippi home and Camp Glenmary has been part of their summer for as long as they can remember.
During the first week of Catholic Camp 2007, for example, four of the six counselors-in-training as well as the camp's cook all attended Catholic Camp from the age of nine and they all returned to "pay forward" what they received from their Camp experience.
Counselors-in-training (CITs) are teens not old enough to serve as full-fledged counselors, but they are older than 14 (the age of the oldest campers). The main responsibilities of CITs revolve around the dining room but they are also invited to interact with the campers in such camp activities as swimming, arts and crafts and recreation.
Camp also includes daily Mass and during the closing liturgy Father Tim typically encourages the campers to follow the service example of their CITs, telling his congregation of 8- through 14-year-olds that their Church is a Church of service.
Chris Collum, a first-year counselor-in-training, first came to camp when he lived in Ripley, Miss., where his mother, Polly Duncan Collum, served as the founding pastoral coordinator for Glenmary's St. Matthew Church. Chris and his family have since moved to Shelby County, Ky., but his enjoyment of camp convinced him to return as a volunteer. "I just love washing dishes," Chris says with a dry wit. "Actually," the 15-year-old says, "I remember seeing the CITs working when I was a camper and I wanted to see what camp was like for a CIT."
Chris's memories of Catholic Camp demonstrate that the camp's purpose in the 21st century is as valid as it was when Catholic Camp was started in the mid-1970s: to give Catholic kids the opportunity to eat, sleep, have fun and just "hang out" with other Catholic kids. "I liked coming to camp because all the kids were Catholic," Chris says, "and I didn't feel like a weirdo."
Catholic Camp "gives kids the opportunity to experience their faith on a different level," Father Tim says. "I call it faith in a different key-the same song with a different beat."
Camp volunteers aren't the only ones who help out during Camp Glenmary. The parishioners at the Glenmary mission in Aberdeen also make a contribution. With true Southern hospitality, the parishioners provide camp dinner every Wednesday night in June for the volunteers who staff the Camp.
And it's not just any dinner-it's Southern fried dinner! Beginning in mid-afternoon, fueled by gallons of sweet tea, the group from Aberdeen cooks chicken, biscuits, French fries, and vegetables, all fried crispy and piping hot. "We fix whatever's ready from the garden," says Kelly Tucker who's cooked for Camp volunteers since the mid-1970s.
"Father Tim does a good job getting good kids as volunteers," Kelly says. "The people of St. Francis play a small part in the Camp's success and we enjoy showing our appreciation to the people who come. We want to welcome them to this special place, inspirational place."
These "good kids" are typically volunteers who come from across the United States and they learn that Camp Glenmary is special and inspirational. But for home-grown volunteers like Chris, that's something they have known all their lives.