One of the most magical parts of camp doesn’t take place in the challenge course or in a cave or in a corcl boat. Actually, one of the best, most transformative parts of camp takes place around the dinner table.
Sunday night, when all the campers gather for their first meal together, the dining hall can seem a little chaotic. Campers returning from previous summers are seeking out counselors and friends from the year before. Campers who are coming to camp for the very first time might feel intimidated by the number of tables and people in the room.
However, as everyone enters, they quickly see that the tables are assigned by group. Discovery campers will sit together. Night Owl campers have their own table. Each group (and person) has a place to go.
As the week progresses, coming back to their own group and their own table feels comfortable, like gathering around the dinner table with your family. Stories are shared, joy is expressed, and jokes are told. Campers have the chance to convey dreams and ideas, to ask questions, and to share about their lives and interests. Everyone gets to know each other a little better around the dinner table.
Sometimes the conversations are philosophical. “What would you do first if you were God for a day?” “What superpower would you like to have?” “If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would you choose?” Sometimes the conversations are personal. Campers share about life at home, about sports they play, about their siblings or parents or pets. Sometimes the conversations are funny. Campers try to balance a spoon on their nose or talk about an embarrassing moment.
It might not be obvious to someone just sitting and observing the meal, but incredible growth takes place around the camp dinner table. Friendships are solidified, conflicts are worked out, and campers learn that it’s okay to feel, believe, and dream the way they do. They learn that they can be accepted for who they are. And they have the chance to digest their day, share about their experiences, and learn from the perspective of others. Gathering together around a meal is so important.
This is a biblical idea. Jesus ate with his disciples the night before he was arrested. The Jews ate a meal together on the night of the first Passover in Egypt. The early church frequently gathered together to break bread, eat, and share with each other. There is something so simple and yet profound about people gathering together around a table.
One young lady was picked up from camp by a friend who asked her what her favorite part of the week was. She replied, “We ate every meal together.” The world is changing, and not all families can find time to gather around the dinner table each night. This loss is profound, although understood. That is why the camp table is so unique and so important. As schedules fill up and families become busier, the chance to sit down and eat together becomes even more special.
Send the kids in your life to camp. Let them experience the joys of kayaking, of archery, of launching a rocket. But know that they will also have the chance to sit with friends and mentors around a table. And even though that simple joy might get lost when they come home in their stories of campfires, caves, and corcls, it was one of the most important experiences they had.