We gathered on the beach after dark, full of roast pork and s’mores and drowsy at the end of a long week. A spotlight backlit the gathering, making shadows long on our faces. Cameron moved to the center of the circle and began to strum his guitar. He explained that his final gift to me, his secret pal, was a song. He began to sing:
When you’re down, and troubled, and you need a helping hand
And nothing, whoa, nothing, is going right
Close your eyes and think of me, and soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night.
At that long ago Midsummer’s Fest closing circle, an annual tradition among the Silver Lake summer staff, Cameron gave me a gift that I have carried with me since. Whenever I hear that song, whenever I feel alone and discouraged, I remember that moment, sitting with those people, singing in the dark, and I feel connected to a community. I grew up and I grew away, but the relationships I formed here drew me back.
At Silver Lake, we talk about how we’re building servant leaders. We say that we are offering opportunities to encounter God’s love in creation. Our summer camp experience will help your child learn independence! To disconnect from technology and reconnect to nature! To build their faith!
All of that is true. And underlying everything we do is that fundamental, primal experience of sitting together, maybe in the dark, maybe singing around a campfire, connected to each other.
The gift of friendship that Cameron offered me twenty years ago had a profound impact. I had no way of knowing on that summer night, but I would eventually find my ministry here at Silver Lake, deeply rooted in creating community and friendship for others. When a parent at my daughter’s school asked me exactly what we teach at Silver Lake, I replied, “Jesus said to love your neighbor. We talk about what that looks like.”
New obstacles have arisen in the last decades as we have had to figure out how to comply with new state statutes or how to reach out to underrepresented communities. Our response to each new challenge has come from that core mission: intentional Christian community.
As we move into the summer, I am excited once again to be doing this work of building community. I am excited to work with the deans to create amazing summer experiences for our conferees. I am excited to work with the summer staff to build a community that will support the work we do with our young people. I am excited for camp!
There is still room in many summer conferences! Sign up for camp at www.silverlakect.org.
Jennifer Kronholm Clark is the Program Director at Silver Lake Conference Center.