“I was really, really anxious growing up and the prospect of going to sleep-away camp was not one that I was a fan of,” Eli Phillips recalls. But Opequon Quaker Camp proved a pivotal experience, beginning with a morning meeting for worship around a fire circle.
“The camp director at the time, Elaine, explained how Quakers worship in silence,” Eli says, “and I was like, ‘Oh yeah!’ Like, the way that the wind rustles the leaves, that’s God or the Spirit…the way the light comes through the trees, that’s the Spirit. [It was] putting into words a lot of what I already felt within myself but had never really explored.”
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The first morning of camp we had meeting for worship out at the fire circle and, you know, you come in and sit in silence and that was kind of strange to me at first but then I settled in pretty quickly. And then the camp director at the time, Elaine, explained how Quakers worship in silence and some Quaker beliefs and I was like, “Oh yeah!” Like, the way that the wind rustles the leaves, like that’s God or the Spirit, I was like, “Yeah.” The way the light comes through the trees, that’s the Spirit, I was like… Putting into words a lot of what I already felt within myself but had never really explored. And yeah there’s bumper stickers that Baltimore Yearly Meeting camps have that says “Quaker Camp Changed My Life” and that was certainly true for me.
How Quaker Camp Changed My Life
I’m Eli Phillips, I use he/him pronouns. I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I mostly attend Twin Cities Friends Meeting, and I serve as the City Coordinator for Quaker Voluntary Service here.
I think I kind of knew about Quakerism for a while but I grew up attending a Unitarian Universalist congregation, and when I was eleven I was more officially introduced to Quakerism at Opequon Quaker Camp
Getting Out of My Comfort Zone
Quaker camp I consider the first of several, but certainly the most important, of some pivotal moments in my life. I was really, really anxious growing up and the prospect of going to sleep-away camp was not one that I was a fan of. I remember the night before the first day of camp we saw some family friends and one of them asked me the part I was looking forward to the most and I said leaving and coming home.
One of the lessons that I’ve pulled out of that first year and have carried with me is like, I had to get out of my comfort zone, and one of the things that I appreciated about camp is that you get there and you’re there for like two days and then you go out on a backpacking trip, and there were some pivotal moments there where I was climbing literal mountains but also felt like I had these figurative mountains in my head that I had to move through and move with in order to get to the other side of things. And, you know, not only do you really bond with other people in your unit (like that’s kind of how they break it up, by age group), but it makes it so when you go back to camp, I think camp kind of feels more like home and so you’re– you know, the fear of homesickness that I had going in kind of like dissipated with that. And so since then I’ve always been looking like, how do I get myself out of my comfort zone. It’s the only way for me to grow.
Camp as Intentional Community
I think we maybe describe it, or I heard it described when I was on staff, as intentionally rustic, which I love. You know, there’s no technology and as a young person where like I had a cell phone, my little flip phone, it was such a gift to be parted with it and to have to entertain ourselves and like, the amount of games that we played, they were so creative that– the amount of songs we sang together and doing chores together, like… Without really naming it necessarily, we were learning skills of intentional community and how to have conflict with each other and how to, like, have fun with things that maybe it would seem like– you know, nobody wants to wash dishes but for a lot of campers, and myself included, chores are something I started to look forward to. You know, finding that– where work and play overlap was a big part of camp and I think that that maybe is less specific to Quaker faith for me but really relates to how Quaker values inform the way I live in everyday life. Yeah, so I miss camp all the time but I’m connected to people from camp to this day; a couple of people in Minneapolis and I stay connected to people from camp that are other places in the world and it just… Yeah, that bumper sticker is true: it certainly changed my life.
- 1) Eli describes feeling Spirit in “the way the wind rustles the leaves” and “the way the light comes through the trees.” What are some ways that you see Spirit in the everyday?
- 2) How do you build intentional community?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.