2012 Camp Nazareth Winter Staff Retreat

MERCER, PA -- From Friday, December 28 – Sunday, December 30 Camp Nazareth hosted a Winter Staff Retreat. The event was open to former staff members and potential staff members who are considering working at Camp this coming summer. It was a weekend designed to bring veteran and potential new staff together in the Camp environment to learn, pray together, get to know each other, enjoy the Camp in the off-season, and have fun in Christ together. It turned out to be so much more than just another weekend together at Camp. It was not just a reunion, but a working weekend in which those who attended enjoyed each other's fellowship, deepened their existing friendships and began new ones.

15 college-age students from around the diocese attended the event. It turned out that there were just about equal numbers of male and female attendees, and a good mix of veteran and potential staff. All participants were able to stay in the Staff Lodge, but more than that all the learning sessions and some of the meals were taken in the Staff Lodge which provided a great environment in which to learn and fellowship. The theme for the weekend was "Building up Campers in Christ" which allowed the participants to reflect not only on how campers grow in Christ, but how they themselves grow in Christ.

The Weekend started with the move in process on Friday afternoon (some could not wait to get to Camp and so arrived on Thursday evening), but moving in at Camp, whether for staff or campers, is always an opportunity to see old friends and begin to make new ones. The Winter Retreat was no exception. In the late afternoon all the participants gathered in the common area of the Staff Lodge for an introductory session which included a welcome, games, ice-breakers and an intro to the theme of the weekend. Everyone enjoyed a pizza dinner together in the Staff Lodge and then the first session of the weekend after a quick clean-up.

The first session was given by Fr. Stephen Loposky, the Camp Administrator. It presented several "pillars" of the youth ministry at Camp. These included: First, God's infinite love for each of us, i.e. that each camper is precious in God's sight and therefore must be in our sight; second, that we are called to help build up campers in God's likeness, not ours; and third, that each time a camper comes to Camp it is a unique and unrepeatable experience for them (i.e., the camper's experience of Camp each year must be precious to us as well.) With these "pillars" of the Youth Ministry at Camp we can help create the components of a program that seek to build up our campers in Christ, and more importantly understand how we ourselves, more than any element of an outstanding program, influence this process. The most important image in this first presentation was of Michaelangelo's Pieta, his statue of St. Mary holding our Lord after He was taken down from the Cross. The point was made that each time Michaelangelo saw a piece of marble he always saw its potential. In the same way, the CN Staff are called to see in each camper what God sees...their potential, and then we are called to help them see what God sees in them and build that image up, rather than another.

Three further sessions were given during the weekend. Each were given and led by veteran staff members who included Kris Carlisle, Rachel Pribish and Will Bennett. Each were asked to talk about how staff members function within one of the three "pillars" presented in the first session. Each prepared a talk as well as games and activities which helped their fellow staff members learn the points made in their presentations. It was really eye-opening to see our CN Staff call on their personal experiences of Camp, their faith, and their own knowledge and offer it to their peers.

The weekend also included some of what campers are very familiar with during the summer: morning and evening prayers, Vespers and Divine Liturgy chanted and sung by the staff. As with every event at Camp, the Camp Church, our Faith and our worship of God remain the foundation upon which everything else is built. Even in a short weekend (when no campers are watching) this remains the necessary Orthodox way.

The weekend also included plenty of time for the staff to fellowship together. Each meal was an opportunity to talk and get to know one another. Some meals were held at the Staff Lodge; others were served at the Camp rectory. In addition to those times, each evening found the staff together in the Staff Lodge playing games and simply enjoying each other's company. Friday evening, the staff enjoyed a Christmas party at the Camp Rectory. The highlight of the evening included a Secret Santa gift exchange which included a tremendous show of tears from Josh Loposky when one of the staff members tried to "take" his chosen gift. The tears were in fact the size of jelly beans, but Joshy recovered when the gift made its way back to him. Saturday evening found the staff bowling together at a local lane. A little friendly competition and a lot of encouragement were the order of the evening. Before the staff can ever minister to and encourage our campers, they must learn to do the same with each other.

Perhaps the highlight of the entire weekend was the "Surprise" Session on Saturday afternoon. Having heard all the presentations and learned together the staff was divided into three groups and asked to plan "home" movies about Camp. They were given creative "freedom" to develop them. Once planned these movies were filmed live, the staff acting out their scripts. It was a lot of fun for all of us. You can see the result of these movies on the Camp Nazareth website (video 1 and video 2) While the movies took a little longer than expected and cut into some group sledding time, you could tell the participants fully enjoyed making these homemade movies. In between "takes" they were still able to sled some, have a couple snowball fights and even build a snowman, which is still standing, although somewhat slimmer. It was a great way to wrap up the learning sessions of the weekend.

The 2012 Winter Staff Retreat concluded with the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, a brunch and then a wrap-up session in the Camp Rectory. The Liturgy was beautiful...it always is, but something about Camp in the off-season with 12 inches of snow on the ground, and a whole group of singers together, made it the more beautiful. After Liturgy, at the wrap-up session, the retreatants were asked to offer something they were thankful for about the weekend and something they learned. While many different things were offered, a common theme was that the staff was thankful for each other, and they learned that being staff isn't THAT difficult when it's done together. What a great outcome for the weekend....great fellowship, prayer, Communion, fun in Christ....and then to hear each be thankful for the others and realize what can be accomplished together....as the commercial says...."priceless." This left us all eager for what is to come in the summer. "See you when the ice thaws!"