Sam and I grew up United Methodists. If you know anything about Methodists, you know they love to eat. We (Methodists) may not have invented the pot-luck, but we tend to believe we perfected it. On any given Sunday, if you find yourself a little hungry about the time church lets out, wander on in to the nearest UMC – you won’t leave hungry.
I think this goes for most denominations and perhaps all churches. We love to eat, and will find an excuse to do so in almost any situation (including seasons of self-denial), so it’s not really a surprise that food service is often at the center of planning at Christian camps.
If you’ve ever worked or volunteered at a camping ministry, you’ve probably seen the “mock schedule.” At least three things were already blocked into that blank schedule when it was handed to you – breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and mid-morning snack and campfire snack and…). Excellent food service is often a huge selling point for camps. Little kids frequently say their favorite thing about camp was the food. We put a huge emphasis on when, where, and what our guests will eat – but I don’t think it’s because of the food.
Sam and I are on what we consider to be the trip of a lifetime. We get to see amazing things across the country, watch ministry in action, visit world famous cities – but I remember the meals the most. We’ve been welcomed to meals in camp dining halls, invited to share meals with staff in their homes, and enjoyed evenings at local favorite restaurants (so many tacos). We got to know people and felt like part of the family. I don’t think I could tell you what I ate in most of those situations (probably tacos), but I can still taste the laughter and fellowship around the table. There’s something much more filling about sharing a meal with friends than what we put in our mouths.
Camps work hard to ensure their food and food service are excellent, arguably because that’s how we keep people “coming back to the table.” But I’ve been learning that this element of camping is an integral piece of the ministry – one that can be way more premeditated than I thought. A comfortable space and a satisfying meal push away distractions. Round tables and good acoustic spaces facilitate conversation. Staff who eat meals together are not only being fed, but are also building relationships as a team. In “normal life,” some of the most cherished memories are around the table with family and friends. It just makes sense that it would also happen at camp.
At a church we attended along the road, the pastor was preparing the congregation for communion – the Lord’s supper. He talked about the way Jesus liked to meet with people, in their homes, over a meal which he may or may not have invited himself to. Our greatest teacher preferred to sit next to his students and friends, break bread together, and talk. I can only imagine what it must have been like to share a meal with Jesus and hear his stories and insight. Even when he knew it would be his last Earthly meal with his friends, Jesus sat with them. He talked with them, probably laughed with them. He made a memory with them, even specifically telling them to remember the moment. He passed the bread to the left and to the right. They shared a drink. It was a serious moment, but I wonder if at the time it was just a final meal between friends who would soon have to say goodbye.
We are so grateful to have been welcomed to the table by camp families. As we earnestly seek to learn from these camps in interviews and meetings, poring over curriculum and master plans, I long for the moments where we sit together over a meal and hear their stories. Even five camps into the trip, I find myself missing these new friends. At the same time, I am so looking forward to the path ahead and the partners in ministry we will meet. I can’t wait to make memories (read: eat tacos) with future friends.