Freshly fallen leaves. A campfire blowing smoke. Warm baked oatmeal. These are smells that always remind me of Gretna Glen, one of four Eastern PA Conference-owned camps. I wish I could explain truly what summer camp at Gretna Glen has meant to me over the past 16 years. A welcome time apart, away from busy days. A safe place where I was accepted for who I was and not who I pretended to be. A time for deep renewal of my faith.
I began my summer visits to Gretna Glen in 1999 as an impressionable rising 6th grader searching for something. At the time, I didn’t even know I was looking. I knew Jesus, and I regularly attended church. But something was missing.
I had no idea then what that single week at the end of July would come to mean to me. I grew in my relationship with God through the loving instruction of volunteer and staff counselors. I enjoyed arts and crafts in the Craft Cave under the dining hall. I almost fell in the lake! I slept soundly in cabin number four after a long day of fun. I sang silly songs and ran in the meadow.
However, what I remember most, and what has had the longest impact on me, was the community of friends I gained. These friends were instant and lifelong. I am still in touch with many of them. While Facebook has made this contact easier, I’d like to think that we will always be in touch.
From Ashley with her bright red hair, to Kelly with her love for all kinds of sports, to “Schmoo” who gained a lifelong nickname after a silly sneeze, to Ray who took it upon himself to protect us from the ferocious bull frogs croaking loudly along the lakebed, to Geoff, a talented actor with a knack for comedy.
There are more names than I can mention. These people loved and supported me for who I was–kooky, silly me. Being part of a supportive community of believers during my formative years was instrumental in keeping my faith alive through the difficult years of junior and senior high school. It helped me to embrace who I am and desire to be: a Christian.
I was so impacted by this faith community that I have taken a week each summer for the last 10 years to be a volunteer counselor working with another generation of young campers at Gretna Glen. The support I receive from my fellow volunteers is akin to that which I received there as a child. It is, in no small part, thanks to them that I return each year.
This extension of my original community of believers has helped me to understand the complex changes that adult life can bring. We are all at different ages and stages of life; but their willingness to offer loving support after even a short time of knowing each other astounds me. God brings people together at Gretna Glen in ways I never thought possible. The bonds we form while caring for His children are deep and truly meaningful.
Furthermore, watching these children discover and rediscover God in this beautiful place apart–like I once did– has been nothing short of life-changing. They are so like me. They are looking, but for what they don’t yet know. They are searching for the God that I have come to know–a loving God who brings us through the darkest of times. A God who is there when someone at school calls you ugly. A God who is there when grandma is sick and isn’t going to get better. A God who is there when we are afraid. I am so blessed to share with them, at least in part, who God is.
I encourage everyone to support our United Methodist conference Camp and Retreat Centers. Send your children–and help send others–to summer camp. Donate to the camp nearest you. Take your youth group there on weekend retreats. Volunteer your time–even just for a day. Pray for the staff and volunteers who are giving their time. Each camp has needs to continue their ministry and impact kids like I once was. You can be a part of transforming lives!
By Sarah Voran
Director of Children & Youth Ministries,
Evangelical UMC, New Holland, PA
Volunteer Counselor, Gretna Glen Summer Cam