Campers learn about sailing, and faith in God, at the Kentucky Disciples' Camp Kum-Ba-Ya on Kentucky Lake. Photo: Ted ParksBy Ted Parks, DisciplesWorld contributing writer
FAIRDEALING, Ky. (7/31/06) — The pulleys click and whir as the sail pivots, searching for the silent currents that will carry the craft to its destination. The boat is small, the lake is large, and the crew at the mercy of the wind and water.
The life of faith is like that, uncertain, tossed, utterly dependent on the empowering Spirit.
So goes one of the many lessons at the Kentucky Disciples' sailing camp — or, as its leaders prefer, the region's unique "church" camp driven by rich metaphors drawn from boats, breezes, and waves.
The experience immerses high school kids in the world of sailing. Campers tie knots, build model ships, work puzzles about boats, study navigational charts, watch movies about the sea, and, most importantly, sail. This year, 11 high schoolers participated in the event held annually at the Disciples' Camp Kum-Ba-Ya on Kentucky Lake.
Now in its fifth year, the sailing camp was started by Jim McLean, senior minister of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Glasgow, Ky., and Mickey Anders, pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Pikeville, Ky. Anders and another camp staffer, Jerry Johns, lend their sailboats for the week. Johns is pastor of Providence Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Lexington.
Staff and campers alike emphasize that the boats they study and learn to navigate point to something more important.
"This is not sailing camp, . . . this is a church camp in which we use sailing as a metaphor of our spiritual life," said McLean, who co-directs with Anders. "We come to talk about how to operate a boat so we can learn how to operate our lives," McLean explained.
"This camp is about God," said camper Brandon Cook, 19, from Georgetown, Ky. "We just use sailing as a tool to connect to God in different ways than we normally experience."
Lexington pastor Johns, who got interested in boats in seminary when an uncle gave him a sailing novel, said the camp context provided an inexhaustible store of comparisons to help communicate the Christian faith.
"There is an object lesson to be made about the gospel anywhere on a boat," Johns said. From earliest days, he explained, the Christian community has portrayed itself in seafaring terms. Even now, the symbol of the World Council of Churches is a ship, Johns said.
In some ways, the Kentucky sailing camp is like any other. Campers get up early, straighten their beds, eat breakfast, and attend morning prayers. In the evening, they eat dinner about 5:30 in the dining hall, then go to vespers. At 11:30, it's lights out.
But during the day, the landlubbers become seafarers. Using the knowledge they get from the camp manual, training videos, and learning activities set up on tables in the dining hall, they hit the water. They learn to sail by sailing.
The size of the camp is restricted by how many people fit in the boats. With a dozen the usual number, participants build close friendships.
"I just don't feel the same connection" at other camps, said Cook, who has attended three years. "I think there's a different kind of relationship that's made when you're out on water all day with people."
Camper Lauren East, 17, of Lexington, decided to return after her first sailing camp experience, she said, because "the camp is small and personable." She added, "there's . . . a close-knit little family that I really like."
The Kentucky camp, staffers say, aims both a providing a practical knowledge of sailing and helping kids grow spiritually. The two goals are tightly interwoven.
Campers have the chance "to learn a significant skill," said co-director Anders. Very few kids their age have that much skill, he explained. "It gives them a sense of confidence for life."
At the same time, the camp invites participants "to see the spiritual connections between sailing, the wind, the earth, and God," Anders said. "We want them to catch . . . the Spirit, not cram it down their throat," he explained. "It sticks better when they catch it."
Like Anders, counselor Carol Pike, an elder at Glasgow's First Christian, talked about how the camp encourages personal development. A former high school librarian and now a guide at Kentucky's Mammoth Cave National Park, Pike loves "to see the kids gaining confidence." She described a concluding "commissioning service" each year that allows staffers to officially recognize the growth of each participant.
"If you can get the kids to think of their everyday life and God's presence, . . . that's what it's all about," Pike said.
Camper Allison Davie, 18, of Hopkinsville, Ky., remembered lessons she learned from a storm.
Recently participating for the fourth time, Davie recalled a previous year when she and her fellow crew members found themselves caught in a downpour. "We all had to work together to get into shore properly," she recalled. "It was just good to see that we actually did learn stuff and that we could use it."
Davie discovered more than how to navigate rough waters. "It's kind of like the storms you go through in your life," she said. The experience showed "you can get . . . through them," Davie explained, "and that everything will work out."