The St. Michael’s Youth Conference: not your typical scavenger-hunting, hiking, forest-studying camp. It is a camp where we learn more about our roles as Christians, as well as values and answers when we are in times of doubt. Or, in Reverend David Burrows’s words, “6 days of ramming religion down their throats.” But it’s not just about the learning, Bible, and religion: it’s the new friends you make every year, the friends you’ve spent previous years with, the fun times and laughter that you all share together, and the bonding, that make it an unforgettable experience that makes you wish it wouldn’t happen only once every year. Here is a memoir of my week at St. Mike’s.
All aboard the bright yellow school bus! Outside St. Olave’s Anglican Church new faces are seen while old ones reunite and exchange greetings and hugs. A few of us show up with new hairstyles (Shawna’s blonde, Sahar’s dreadlocks that made her look like an adorable mini Rastafarian, and of course me and my blonde-brown-black). We climb on board to embark on a spiritual ride to New Life camp, reminiscing on past years and the last reunion, wondering who will come this year. After a prayer from Reverend David Burrows, Bob the bus driver starts his engine and the wheels start rolling down the road to the place that will be our home for the next 5 days. My bus partner and I, Dana, make small chat with Samantha, the new girl sitting in front of us, while cheerfully consuming large amounts of candy that I keep stashed in my bag. About an hour and a half into the ride we reach Hamilton, where we pick up the friendly Hamiltoners (or whatever you prefer to call them) who are attending this year. Within minutes everyone is becoming friends and chatting with each other. Half an hour later we pull up to the nearest Tim Horton’s, where everyone immediately runs out of the bus and buys iced caps and donuts. A few of us stay behind to catch up and inform the newcomers about what’s in store for them. When everyone comes back on the bus, we drive on for another 2 hours or so, happily being the loud obnoxious teenagers that we are supposed to be, while a few girls sing every song that they have on their iPod.
As soon as we pull up to the camp, everyone dives for their stuff and runs inside to find their room, so that they can claim their bed and make it rightfully theirs. Diana, who runs the camp, calls us into the dining room to start off the week with a few friendly icebreaker games so that we can get to know each other. We eat our first dinner, prepared by the cook Nancy and her helper Brian, do our daily chores, sit and relax on the big trampoline outside, have a late snack and head off to bed to prepare for another 5 days.
It’s 6:00 am. I’m half asleep when Sahar, one of the counselors, comes into my room and tries to wake me up. I know that’s my signal to get up and join her and three of the boys for a jog and intense workout outside on the campgrounds. We’ve got to burn those calories for the beach if we’re going to be stuffing ourselves with delicious hearty food made by the wonderful cook Nancy. We do 5 laps around the baseball field, do some Pilates and call it a morning. When the rest of the girls are finally awake and dressed all of the campers groggily climb up the steps to the chapel (CONVENIENTLY located at the very top of a hill) and say Morning Prayer. Afterwards we eat our breakfast, do our assigned chores, and have free time before our classes.
Our first class is with our one and only lovable Rector, Reverend David Burrows, who talks to us about Jezebel and her persecution of the prophets, slavery, and of course his own personal stories of past encounters. The second class is with Diana, who gets us thinking about how we should answer an atheist who challenges our faith. Last but not least, our third class, with Father Geoffrey Sangwine, is all about Baptism, the seven Holy Sacraments, God’s Grace, and the importance of renewing our vows during confirmation. The best part of this class is his blessing us with water that he brought from the Jordan River. We have a period of free time before eating our lunch and cleaning our dorm rooms for dorm inspection by Diana. My dorm ends up losing, because we aren’t very good cleaners that day (oops). After lunch there’s a choice of arts and crafts or canoeing down at the local lake. The majority of us stay behind and lounge around, watching movies or doing crafts while the rest go canoeing. When they come back, we have Evening Prayer in the chapel and engage in a friendly game of “Family Feud”. I am glad to say that my team wins, because our leader is Alex, who is notorious at St. Mike’s for his broad knowledge of Christianity. When it’s bedtime, some of the girls stay up and have a dance in my dorm, until one of the counselors tells us to go to bed and turns off the lights.
Everyone wakes up, attends chapel and breakfast, and does morning chores whilst cleaning their dorm rooms for daily dorm inspection. But today is no ordinary day; today is our outing to Sauble Beach! The morning passes by quickly because everyone is eager as beavers to don their bathing suits, soak up some sun and swim in the freezing cold water. We board another yellow school bus (it feels like school all over again) and pass the time away being loud, singing more songs and engaging in deep conversations. We arrive at Inglis Falls, where we eat chips, sandwiches that we’ve made earlier that day, and drink bright green juice (which surprisingly tastes VERY good, like apples). We finish our lunches, view the falls, and hop back on the bus to the beach, where we hit every shop in sight, and where some of us very hesitantly dive under and swim in the refreshingly cold water. To make up for the cold water there is of course sun tanning, every girl’s hobby. I unfortunately can’t tan for too long, as it’s soon time to board the bus for dinner at Sauble Falls. While we are waiting for the BBQ to heat up, we take off our shoes and explore the beautiful falls, walking on and climbing over the slippery rocks. We then delight ourselves in a dinner of hamburgers, hot dogs and some-mores. Afterwards we call it a day and board the bus for one last time. As we’re making our way back to camp, Simon leads the entire bus in a sing-along of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, which is very funny, especially since half the bus don’t know the words. The sing-along and swimming have tired everyone out, so the rest of the bus ride is quiet. We get back to camp where I lead Compline, and afterward we watch the movie “Hotel Rwanda”, where a few people shed some tears. After the movie everyone has a snack and it’s lights out.
Today is another outing! This time it’s our trip to Durham, the local town. After our usual prayers, meals and classes, some head down to indulge in 2 hours of shopping while the rest, including myself, stay behind and play games, listen to music, and attempt to play the piano. After tiring ourselves out from all of the productive work we’ve been doing, a few of us retire to the sitting area where we eventually pass out. However, we are soon awakened by some shoppers coming back from their trip, screaming and shrieking with laughter. We all go to our dorm rooms to get some more rest, and then go back to the dining hall to eat dinner. Afterwards we play a game where we are all asked questions about what we learned this week. It’s the entire group of campers versus Alex and Geoffrey, the hardcore Anglicans who know just about everything about Christianity. I would like to add that it’s the rest of us who do, in fact, beat them. Boo-ya! Then we play another game where each of us has to say three things about ourselves (two of them being true and one being a lie), and the other players have to guess which one is a lie. Very tricky stuff. There’s a lot of drama (for lack of a better word) that happens this night, the best being the break-up puzzle that one of the guys gets from his girlfriend, who I share dorm with. Everyone is so full of energy that evening, a group of them burst out singing and dancing to hip-hop, as well as “So Happy Together” in the games room until it’s lights out, which is when us girls stay up until 2 in the morning chatting.
The last day of classes, and the last full day of each other’s company. Throughout the day I want to shed a tear, because I won’t be seeing most of these people for a year, if they come back. Today is the day of the annual St. Michael’s Youth Conference Pageant, which is always a lot of fun. It is made for the first-years to watch, so the returning attendees have to practice hard throughout the day to get their roles right. Nonetheless, there is the occasional “Whoops, that was my cue!” and the sudden fits of laughter on stage. I told you it was fun. After our rehearsal some of us go down to the pond to swing on the zip-line, go canoeing, and catch frogs. Later we attend Evening Prayer, and then we prepare ourselves for the final dinner, which is turned into a banquet. Nancy, the cook, always whips up a DELICIOUS and GORGEOUS dinner, consisting of turkey, ice cream, mashed potatoes, and pie, all prepared with her own special touch of tender love and care. We eat, eat, until our stomachs can’t take any more of that tender turkey carefully saturated with gravy, or the pie with juices from the fruits just oozing into our mouths. One word: YUMMY. Once our stomachs are so full that we can’t get up, the boys’ dorm, which has had the messiest room of the week, washes all of the dishes while the rest of us chill out, relax, and play ping-pong. Next comes the staging of the pageant, and after that a game of charades. But this isn’t ordinary charades, it’s “Adverb Charades.” Each and every one of us has to write down an adverb (quickly, enthusiastically etc.) and put it in a bowl. Then someone comes up, reaches into the bowl, pulls out a piece of paper and acts out the adverb written on it while the audience has to guess what it is. What better way to end a great evening. Once we get to the dorm rooms for bed, everyone is too tired to stay up, so one by one we each pass out, ready for a morning of packing.
The last day. The saddest day. Fortunately for us we get to sleep in, due to the late night partying. Then we have to pack all of our belongings and put them on the bus. But there is also a happy moment that calls for a celebration: the baptism of two of our campers, Sahar and Aerin. It’s one thing to witness the baptism of a baby in church, but to witness one of two grown-up girls whom you’ve spent the past five days with and had a great time with is different. One of them cries, some people in the congregation cry. It’s the perfect day for the two of them to become members of Christ’s church. After the service, which is longer and more formal than usual, we eat our last breakfast and continue packing. Everyone exchanges e-mails to keep in touch. By 11:00 AM we are outside taking a group photo that includes every single person involved with the camp. We say words of goodbye to the staff, and by noon we are leaving, going back to our ordinary lives. For us who take the bus, it’s a quiet ride, with everyone trying to gain the rest they’ve lost in the past 5 days, or reminiscing about all the fun times we’ve enjoyed together. The Hamiltoners are dropped off at St. George’s Church in Hamilton, and the rest of us head back to Toronto. We arrive at St. Olave’s and all give our final fare-wells and hugs, hoping that we will all see each other again next year.
So there you have it. St. Michael’s Youth Conference, different from your typical summer camp in many ways, but also very similar. What’s different? The values that they teach us, the classes spent on religion and Christianity, and the broadening of our faith. The similarities: the making of many new friends, the fun times that you enjoy together, the recreational activities, and the memories. It is the place to be if you want to learn more about yourself and your life as a Christian. It is 6 days of laughter, learning, sports, canoeing, arts and crafts, games, and frog catching/kissing, all which make up the perfect recipe for a perfectly good time.