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As we gather with family this week, we are thankful for our camp family spread far and wide. We are thankful for our camp home as a place and the lessons that we carry in our hearts away from camp. What follows is a collective journal holding the words of: George and Paula Welch, Julie and Mary Swiderski, Amelio Casciotti, and Kerri Nowak.

Happy Thanksgiving camp family!

Updated: Nov 9, 2022

As a new family, we had several questions as we experienced Camp Koinonia for the first time, including:

Did anyone else know there would be a rainbow parachute welcome?

Since when are teenagers so excited about their faith?

Are people actually singing at Mass? (And wait, what are hand gestures?)

Are there really THAT many stars in the night sky?

The pool is really cold at 7:00 a.m. Is this the polar bear swim or the polar plunge?

This place is holy ground. Do families feel this connected to God every year?

Why is everyone so excited about camp capers?

What’s a ghost town walk?

Question box, question box, what’s inside the question box?

Why do I get so emotional at Mass?

Who’s it gonna be, who’s it gonna be, who’s it gonna be?

Are other families always this nice (...and kind…and generous…and faith-filled)?

Two words: square dancing?

When will my kids stop singing the songs from Camp?

Do we have to go home?

When can we go back?!

We were just following our regular evening routine, the same four prayers we sing every night: “Now I lay me down to sleep,” Hail Mary, Our Father, and a prayer my husband wrote set to the tune of “On Eagle’s Wings." Because we needed them to settle down from all the excitement of the day, We added in a few more songs by request – psalms and songs from church, many that I know by heart from my years as a music minister. The children took turns selecting songs, and finally were calmed and quieted and ready for sleep.

After my husband and I left the cabin to sit outside and wait for the cabin sitter, the parents from the next cabin commented on what they had overheard. They told us that their kids wanted to be sung to too!

This is the effect of camp, families learning and growing from one another’s examples. While each family has its own normal way of living, we can learn from one another to start or renew traditions.

For a week, we live closer to our neighbors than usual, sometimes even sharing a cabin wall. We interact with the same 8 families, and the teens and program staff. Every high and low is shared.

We have the chance to see each other and really care for one another. We notice and respond when someone steps out of chapel, whether is it a child making an escape or an adult catching a breeze. When a teen is down or moody, someone talks with them. When a child falls, several are there to bandage them up. When a child or teen reads or plays at Mass, many come over to affirm those gifts. We recognize and encourage the teen staff for the example they set for our children. We talk at meals or the store about our lives and how we are really doing. These interactions with our neighbor, stripped to the essentials, are so restorative for us. They are what we need to strengthen us as an individual and as a family. They encourage us in living our faith, in living our lives.

When we go home, we have this encouraging spirit with us. As a family, we revisit the graces we learned from other families. We try to shout Amen at the table – but mostly it is a fake shout. We say the Mass responses loudly despite the surprised looks of our fellow parishioners back home. We (almost) make people skip around the room. We start slow clapping waiting for someone to come to the table.

Recently, I found the traditions of camp inspiring our home life when on a scout campout, my son asked if we were going to do the “high and low thing.” This family sharing is not normally part of our evenings at home, but being at another camp experience triggered this memory and need. He had ready answers for his highs and lows of the day (more than he often does at Family Camp!) and he was able to process the day, give thanks for all that was and relax into sleep.

These are just little traditions we take home from camp, but they tap into a larger experience and remind us of the closeness our neighbors that we experience at camp.

We are changed because of our experience at Camp and we bring this spirit into the world.

We come back because of how it helps us connect to God, and to our families. We enjoy the experience and who we become because of our experience.

Camp is an experience we live for a week, but it has an impact for a lifetime.

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