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Spirit Story

Best girl camper, 1977

By Sara Jewell

One would think that an introverted, unathletic girl would remember why she won a trophy called “Best Girl Camper.” I was only seven and remember very little, but looking back as an adult, I can’t imagine a more unlikely camp for me to attend. It was a Bible camp.

For my liberal United Church family, sending two young girls to a camp hosted by the Fellowship Baptist Church seems a little unexpected — but not as unexpected as my taking home the best camper trophy.

Winning a trophy at Bible camp would be a pivotal moment in some children’s spiritual life, yet I recall only two details from that week: my younger sister and I rode in a big yellow bus, and on the final day of camp, the counsellors gathered everyone together in the gym to hand out awards. What I remember best is being surprised to hear my name called. Because I was, and remain, the last person you would send to Bible camp.

My scripture-quoting repertoire is made up of two passages: Micah 6:8 and Mark 12:30. (Unless my mother buys a box of chocolate-covered ginger cookies, in which case I blurt out Matthew 16:23 — “Get thee behind me, Satan.”)

If only those counsellors at Camp Awana could see me now.

I have begun to seek out the Bible in my web-searching, Oprah-influenced, Leviticus-ignoring kind of way. Because as this former seven-year-old best girl camper has discovered, what the Bible says about love resonates deeply with her wiser 44-year-old self.

Eighteen months ago, I offered to help a local rural pastoral charge with its church services because it no longer had a minister. I’m not a licensed lay worship leader, but as someone who grew up in the United Church, I know the routine, and as a writer, I wouldn’t have a problem coming up with a message. What I didn’t anticipate was that searching for “quotes” from the Bible would open the book up to me in a whole new way.

As a child, the Bible to me was a crinkly-paged book full of long-winded passages, and I had Encyclopedia Brown books to read. As an adult, I wanted modern themes, not convoluted parables, so I read books by Anne Lamott and Elizabeth Gilbert. It seems the Bible was simply waiting all these years for my spiritual maturity (that’s Philippians 3:15, by the way).

It turns out that the ideas that matter most to me — compassion, acceptance, tolerance — are what the Bible is all about. There are still those long-winded passages about laws and genealogy, but ultimately the main theme is love. Being a lay worship leader allows me to share my life experiences, and the Bible is the best source of quotes on anything from joy and sorrow to anger and love. Who knew?

The silver-and-white trophy that reads “Camp Awana 1977, Best Girl Camper” now sits on my desk after I found it in a box of childhood mementoes. It’s my most prized possession, and not just because it’s the only trophy I’ve ever received — but because I feel like I’ve finally earned it.

Sara Jewell is a writer in Port Howe, N.S.


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