Streetcars: September 2011

In 1930 Glenn Clark, a literature professor and Presbyterian Sunday School teacher, held his first "Camp Farthest Out." A man of prayer and author of THE SOUL'S SINCERE DESIRE, he had been much in demand as a speaker at camps and conferences. His first camp spawned others--more than 100 still going on today--camps dedicated to "discovering the wholeness of that abundant life which Christ promised; that life which is our rightful heritage whenever we dedicate our body, mind and soul completely to God through play, work and worship."

My grandmother, whose religious enthusiasm was the brunt of familial disdain, took me to my first CFO in Estes Park, Colorado, when I was in 10th grade. I remember the year because my greatest concern upon leaving home for a week was that my best friend might steal my boyfriend. When I voiced this possibility to my mother, she delivered a line that has remained with me these 40+ years. "Men are like streetcars," she said. "If you don't catch one, another will soon be coming down the road."

The only thing I remember from that camp, was the day of silence. My sister and I had great fun communicating by charades, notes and sign language. I think my relationship with the boyfriend, remained intact--at least for another couple of weeks.

"A man in the house is worth two in the street." --Mae West

Over 30 years ago, George Gerard went to a CFO. One day, he confessed to his camp prayer group that he was Jewish--something he had been keeping quiet about. He then wept for hours--maybe even days. When he returned home, his wife took one look at his glowing face and asked, "What happened?" Shortly thereafter, he received a call to visit a man in the hospital. He said a little prayer and the man was healed. God at work.

Because the camp had been seminal for him, George decided to start a camp in Nevada, modeled on the CFO structure. An Episcopal priest, he added the Eucharist before breakfast, invited his parish and launched the camp.
It didn't fly.

After struggling on for a year or more, George finally got wise and asked some of people who had been part of the previous CFO to come and help him. The camp took hold. Eventually lay people were even asked to speak (what a concept!).

Our family started attending the Gerard Family Camp in 1986 and we've gone every year since. Well, Robert and I missed one year, since Robert had decided to be born a few days before camp. But everyone else went that year. I sent books.

Since people are not supposed to make negative comments during camp, we always had an orgy of critical thinking on the way home, discussing at length what worked and how things could be better. At one point Michael and I even considered planting another camp in California. We spent hours picking George's brain about how he had started Family Camp and what he'd learned along the way.

"Too often we... enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." - John F. Kennedy

Some of the strength in Glenn Clark's CFO camps came from the New Thought Movement. Caught in the flush of scientific empiricism, a group of Christians were making prayer experiments, looking for consistent principles that might mirror perceived consistency within the physical world. I have a signed copy of Rebecca Beard's EVERYMAN'S SEARCH (1950), which charts her movement from "materia medica to spiritual therapy." She largely credits Merrybrook and the Camps Farthest Out for bringing her this "enlargement of vision."

Some of the strength in George Gerard's family camp came from the Charismatic Movement. Recognizing the limitations of science, a group of Christians were discovering the spiritual adventure inherent in accepting the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit, looking for healing, words of guidance and other gifts as the body moved in the power of the Spirit. Both camps expected life in Christ to be more than a social group with congruent beliefs. They came together looking for the Risen Lord and expecting experiential evidence of the abundant life.

There is an old saying that Christianity is not taught, but caught. Having recently endured yet another "Instructed Eucharist," I'm inclined to agree. (Instructed Eucharists are worse than trying to explain a joke.) Teaching is an important force within the kingdom, but not the sum of it. Christendom is rife with notable teachers, pastors, evangelists, mercy workers, administrators, and countless un-noteable believers who do the work of the Church day in and day out. It is the body of Christ, comprised of all the members, that brings light to the darkness.

Both Glenn Clark and George Gerard have graduated into glory. Individually, we all are like streetcars, traveling our circuits, offering passengers an occasional lift. The camps, however, continue--structured in a variety of ways. Working together we are like ships launching out to sea, our sails set to catch the next wind of the Spirit.

Alliee +