The summer of '71: Can we learn from the past?
BIG SANDY, Texas--The
early '70s were an interesting time to be a teenager. Within the
Worldwide Church of God, membership was up, income was up, and prophetic
interpretation was at an all-time high. I wasn't aware of any splits
or schisms within the church in 1971. We were all pretty well galvanized
by what we thought was an imminent catastrophic event that would
bring this present age to a screeching halt.
Beyond what the
church at that time was teaching, and anticipating, there were other
reasons we were a little crazy back then. The United States was
in the middle of a war that we as a government didn't know how to
fight and that we as a people didn't know how to handle. It was
a difficult time for Americans.
A haven for
apocalyptic prophecies, college-campus rioting, antiwar demonstrations
and public flag burnings, there existed an oasis we called simply
summer camp. The Summer Educational Program (SEP) was its official
name, and, from its modest beginning in the 1960s, down through
the years for a few short weeks during the summer it became a haven
for Church of God youth.
Orr, Minn., was
the home base of an institution that would eventually establish
camps in several countries. Orr was a tiny little town (I imagine
it still is) in the North Woods of Minnesota. The camp wasn't located
in town, though. It was even deeper into the woods than Orr, situated
on beautiful Pelican Lake.
Church of God recently sold the camp property, and the majority
of the structures on the campgrounds have been razed to make room
for private homes. Even after the radical changes that have taken
place within the onetime-fundamentalist group, it saddens me to
realize that there will be no haven, no sanctuary, no oasis for
the next generation of young people when, undoubtedly, they will
need it even more than those who came before.
I don't imagine
camp in the early days was totally different from camp in the latter
days, but there surely were some major alterations, and that was
probably a good thing. Each generation is different, and, to be
able to serve the needs of our youth, things must change.
During my time
as a camper we were just happy to be there. We didn't know what
the next year would bring. To discover there were others who believed
the same things you did helped bind us together. I learned things
that I know help me get through the tough times I sometimes face
as an adult.
Back then not
every camper got to experience the thrill of a week-long canoe trip.
(I guess there was a shortage of personnel.) Of course, some campers
would rather stay at camp and enjoy the comparable ease that came
with indoor plumbing and nightly showers. (What could they have
the lack of creature comforts, I learned some valuable lessons on
that canoe trip. For one thing, canoes can glide faster across an
open lake when everyone is pulling together than when you have to
pull dead weight along. No one, in a time of need, appreciates a
wimp. Just do what you have to do, and in the end there will be
a long-needed rest and food you really appreciate.
I learned on that canoe trip is that you don't have to like everybody
you come in contact with, but you'd better learn how to work together
for the sake of survival.
experiences at camp were different from mine in many ways. In the
latter years, SEP offered a wide range of activities that were not
available in my day, and vice versa. While those in the '70s were
cleaning up the property (piling up rocks) and hand-washing (albeit
not on the rocks) our non-hand-washables (bedsheets, for instance),
the kids in the '90s were learning all about television and radio
broadcasting, and they actually had a laundry "department"
to wash their clothes.
(We were obviously
being prepared to survive in the great outdoors: Petra.)
They enjoyed windsurfing.
We had to play water polo, a game with almost as much excitement
and raucousness as a wild round of golf.
My stint at summer
camp was an adventure I will never forget. It was similar to (and
I don't mean this in a bad way) what I imagine boot camp would be
like: You were rewarded for good behavior (favorable dorm-inspection
results meant free, unscheduled time) and punished for bad behavior
(letting the screen door slam shut behind you warranted swats from
We did everything
as a dorm. We ate together, slept together, marched to and from
activities together and said our teary good-byes when the time came
to go home.
Within seven years
of the beginning of the demise of the Worldwide Church of God, what
is left of that institution? Ambassador College Big Sandy is history,
Bricket Wood is gone, the Pasadena campus is on the rocks, and now
an institution that many considered to have played a significant
role in their youth has been sold to real-estate developers.
What a waste.
I feel sorry for those (like my grandchildren) who will never know
what it's like to spend just a few short weeks working and playing
with people who began the summer as strangers and ended up as fast
Maybe if we can hold onto the lessons we've learned through this sad history of ours, it won't have been a waste after all. I feel extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to experience life in the backwoods of Minnesota in the summer of '71.
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