What Really Goes on at Church Camp (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

What Really Goes On at Church Camp
In one of the last episodes of Friends, Monica and Chandler meet the teenage birthmother of their twins. They ask her what kind of plans she has for the summer, and she tells them she's heading to church camp, which kind of baffles them, since...she's the teenage birthmother of their twins. But I always thought that that episode had surely been written by someone who knew all about church camp.

Lest you get any ideas related to the Westboro Baptist Church or that documentary I can't remember the name of about that super nutso evangelical camp or the "pray the gay away" type of thing, let me allay your assumptions and fears by telling you that I grew up Methodist, and we wouldn't be caught dead drawing the kind of attention to ourselves that might attract a news or documentary crew.

More specifically, I grew up in the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, and in the SCC of the UMC, there are (or were in the late 90s), two summer week-long events for youth: Youth Annual Conference (YAC) and Leadership Week.

These events took place on the campuses of either Columbia College in Columbia or Wofford College in Spartanburg. Hundreds of teenagers in college dorms for a week.

I hope you see where this is headed.

The main—and for many people, I suspect, the only—reason for attending either YAC or Leadership Week (which was smaller and more, ahem, intimate) was to meet and hook up with people who didn't go to your school or even live in your part of the state. It was a whole new market! The possibilities were endless! (I use the term "hook up" to apply to a wide range of activities—from snuggling on one of the many couches—so many couches—never before or since have I seen so many couches—to this guy named Tyler, who I'm pretty sure slept with half the girls in the SCC before he was out of high school.)

YAC and Leadership Week were both in July, so ideally you wanted to meet a boy at YAC so your endless love could continue at least through Leadership Week, though if you could sing you could try out for Conference Choir, which toured the state together in June, so if you snagged a man at Conference Choir you were golden for at least two months. There was this guy named Jeff, and it was almost obligatory that if you were a girl in the SCC, you had to have a crush on Jeff at some point. 

One of my lifetime claims to fame is that I never had a crush on Jeff. We really were just friends, and he even wrote me a hilarious parody of "No Scrubs" to cheer me up when I got dumped one time. In a book that would have led us straight to coupledom, but in real life I still didn't have a crush on Jeff.

In August, there was a youth weekend at Lake Junaluska, which was smaller and more heavily chaperoned than events earlier in the summer, so it was hard to start something there, but you could possibly continue a relationship begun in Conference Choir, YAC, or Leadership Week. Once I hung out with the aforementioned Tyler at Lake Junaluska because we rather oddly ended up being the only people there who already knew each other. He later sent me an email saying he would have slept with me if I had been up for it. (Uh, thanks? He never said a word about it at the time—in fact, we spent that entire weekend without a whiff of romance between us. In retrospect, I think Tyler's reputation may have been built entirely by Tyler.)

All of these events had dances on the last night, which seems kind of counterintuitive. If, as a chaperone, you spent your entire week trying to keep these kids off each other, why would you plan a dance of all things? A dance where you had to keep prying them apart to leave room for the Holy Spirit, who according to the UMY Book of Discipline, apparently requires at least six inches?

The great advantage of UMY events, for me, was that these boys didn't know me. They didn't necessarily know I was an introvert who pretended not to be one. They didn't know I talked too much and had no ability to shut up when shutting up might have made me more popular. (Not that I didn't care about being popular, I was just really bad at all the things you had to do to be that way. Still am.) Sometimes boys liked me there! Boys never liked me in real life!

Away from my usual routine, I got to reinvent myself, and I think that's one of the main advantages of summer love. Summer, especially for kids and teachers, is a liminal time and space. It sets us free from the constraints of who we are during the school year and gives us a chance to try new things and be new people.

(P.S. I would love to have had pictures with this post, but I've been in a liminal space of my own for the past few weeks during a cross-country move, and I have no idea where the pictures are. Though there are many, I assure you.)


  1. Courtney, I think there's a whole book in here. Thanks for sharing!

  2. MAN, I love that line about reinventing yourself.

  3. This was so much fun to read.

  4. Ha! I thought Catholics were the only ones who insisted on "room for the Holy Ghost" at dances! :D


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