Sarah Carlson was a high-achieving, high-anxiety teenager. She constantly pushed herself at school and extracurriculars. Her schedule was packed with activities that would make her look good to colleges, to her parents, and to her peers. She was constantly striving, working, stressing, and never really felt like she could just enjoy being herself.
Except at camp. Camp felt like coming home. Sarah spent every term she could at Camp Capers every summer. It was a place where she felt like she could be a totally authentic version of herself, with no pressure to perform or achieve anything.
That sense of unconditional love and joy allowed her to experience the love of God more fully at camp than anywhere else. She credits Camp Capers as a massively formative space in her faith. The joy and love and faith Sarah found there felt to her like a sort of practice run, a glimpse of how she could feel all the time. It helped her build the courage to be more authentically herself when she went home. In her faith, she found herself seeking to create those spaces for authenticity and for joy for everyone else as well.
She worked at Camp Capers every summer, and soon after graduation, she joined CYMT. And then the opportunity of a lifetime came up – to work full-time at the camp that she loved. The role she was in wasn’t inherently theological; as the director of programming, she organized staff trainings, games, and all of the “fun” parts of camp. But CYMT showed her how those things could be formative too. She realized through her classes at Austin Seminary that those things she had loved about camp – the fun, the joy, the sense of safety, were every bit as much ministry as the worship sessions.
In particular, Sarah credits the work on the theology of play, led by Dr. David White, with helping her reframe the silliness as camp as a theologically-driven exercise. That she freedom and love she experienced at camp wasn’t an accident, but was the pedagocical purpose of all the messy games and capture the flag. Sarah used what she learned to inform staff training, game planning, and more because she was given the scaffolding to see that God was at work in those places, too.
She was able to name what had been so transformation for her:
When we give young people, particularly stressed-out teenagers, the chance to play for its own sake, we allow them to experience a version of themselves and their world that is truly set apart; we allow them to embrace themselves as inherently worthy of love outside of what they contribute.
Sarah was one of those teenagers. And now she creates those pockets of hope for other teenagers. And she couldn’t have done it without CYMT. CYMT is working to put well-cared for, theologically educated, passionate leaders in all of the places where teenagers are being formed in faith, and the ripple effects for people like Sarah and the teenagers at Camp are invaluable.
Ministry can look like a lot of things – it can look like sermons and counseling and hospital visits – and those things are holy and good. But it can also look like a sea of kids and counselors chanting your name to try to convince you to get in the pool fully clothed…
And holding your nose as you go for the cannonball.