Like a lot of great ideas, I first heard about the concept of peace camp at a play date about 4 years ago. A friend of mine planted the small seed of the idea by talking about a peace camp going on at her local church which focused on three things: Peace in our world, Peace in our community, and Peace in ourselves. I was fascinated by the idea of creating a Vacation Bible School-esque experience for our UU kids that kept peace and harmony as its focus. It was something I wanted for my own kids.
But 4 years ago I was still a newbie at UUFE. I had joined the RE committee and attended services sporadically. I couldn’t imagine spearheading or being responsible for something like a camp.
A year later, I drove my daughters to a free, 3-day music camp at my parents’ Presbyterian Church in Chestertown. As I sat through the musical presentation on the last day, I was in awe of what this little camp had been. Each age group presented a dance or a song, whether in voice or with hand bells, that they had learned. The presentations were international in nature—the Hara from Israel, the Mexican hat dance, for example. The scope and breadth of this little camp was big but also intimate and homey. I talked afterwards to the director and pastor and learned that music camp had just been an idea that they decided to try out.
The Chestertown music camp was a tangible example of bringing together an idea for little people, launching it in the safety of a beloved community, and crossing fingers and toes that it worked. I started to take up more time at RE meetings floating this peace camp idea. I wanted feedback and opinions but I think I also wanted someone else to love this idea and be in charge of it.
I began writing notes about the structure of a three or four day camp and enlisting volunteers who were open to helping in one way or another. (still no one to be in charge, though!) I played around with themes and ways to talk about peace and maybe play peaceful versions of typically competitive games…But the substance of the camp was still missing.
I am often an impatient person once I get rolling with an idea. I’m often not patient enough to let it evolve on its own accord. Peace camp was like that at first. I tenaciously left it on the RE committee agenda, but I kept stumbling over how it was really going to happen–IF it was really going to happen. My focus was too narrow.
The heart of peace camp came from a couple who have been teaching peace education, creating peace curriculums, and leading peace camps for the last thirty years. And I found them, because it turns out Rev Sue had helped with Peace Camps at her UU church in Arlington, and she had contacts! MJ and Jerry Park co-direct an organization called Little Friends for Peace, whose mission is to “answer the violence with skills for peace.” It only took one phone call and a few emails to encourage them to come here one evening last May to tell us the secrets of their craft.
With Roman catholic roots in the tradition of peace, Mj & Jerry have led classes, camps, and groups in churches, prisons, homeless shelters, family centers, and schools for the past 35 years. Many UU congregations have worked with them & their Little Friends for Peace volunteers.
From MJ and Jerry, we learned how to develop our themes and have intentional conversations on nonviolence in the midst of laughing and crafting, singing, and generally just having fun. Their excitement for the fledgling program we were proposing to launch was the fuel I needed to just do it.
Our first Peace Camp in the summer of 2014 was a huge success with 18 happy campers. We built a peace train and talked about the legacy of folks like Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, and Ghandi. We ran races and staged a parade here in this sanctuary. Kids waved their homemade peace banners and performed songs for their parents.
This year we nearly doubled that number. We had 32 campers, and it was a wild success! We reached out not only to our UUFE families, but also out into the community and specifically to the folks at Union Baptist Church. For three full, busy mornings, we sang, we learned yoga poses, we hunted for treasures in nature, played, decorated t-shirts and clay pots, and communed peacefully.
Most importantly, we invited others into this space of ours and learned about each other while exploring global peacemakers, practicing peaceful thinking and talking and acting.
And we found out that this is the heart of peace education. It’s bringing people together—in our case, kids and volunteers that don’t otherwise know each other, have the same skin color, or share the same religion—and talking about what’s possible in a shared vision of a peaceful community. It’s setting aside three or four days each summer to be joyful and together, unified in the idea of setting aside differences and lifting up what unifies us the most.
It’s watching others dance and clap to hymns we might otherwise just stand still for; it’s trusting one another with our thoughts and feelings.
Creating peacemakers, and becoming better peacemakers is like spreading seeds. As our children grow up and think about their peace camp experience we hope they spread those good intentions around to their friends –at school, at the park, on the sports fields, or on the stage.
This small, little seed of an idea was grown and nurtured thanks to the hard work of everyone who gave it the air and love and nurturing it needed to grow.
–Lauren Harton, Reverend Sue, Sally Woodall, Beth Lawton, Sue Loweree, Debbie Simpers, Kristen Wilkerson, Ann Davis, Shalagh Hogan, and our teen helpers—Ellie, Caroline, Claire, and Bella.
We volunteers, we supervisors of all this fun and enlightenment and teary-eyed moments of kids singing these heartfelt songs with so much gusto and gigglng—we got to watch and feel peace grow. Peace camp has become something that kids—like mine—now look forward to each summer.
I’d like to share now a window into this year’s peace camp experience. Please turn as you are able to the screen at the back of the sanctuary. If your view is not great, please know we will play this through a few times during our snack and coffee hour following the service. Enjoy.
(Sunday service message delivered on October 4, 2015)