A message given at Durham Friends Meeting, July 12, 2020
Good Morning. My name is Natalie Bornstein. I want to thank you for inviting me to be with you
today and to share a message on behalf of Friends Camp. I am a member of the Friends Camp
Committee and I also was a camper and a counselor as a young person.
For folks who may not know, Friends Camp is a Quaker sleepaway camp in South China, Maine
for youth ages 7-17. Friends Camp has been around since 1953 and due to the Covid-19
pandemic, this is the first summer that we have been unable to offer camp. But, before I share a
bit about the situation that Friends Camp is in today, I’d like to invite you to imagine Camp as it
If you are comfortable, I invite you to think of yourself at around 12 years old. If that feels
uncomfortable in any way, you might imagine a 12 year-old you know and love or just listen
without any particular person in mind. For the next few minutes, you are 12 years old and you
are at Friends Camp for a two-week session with about 100 other young people. Twelve is a
great age to go to Camp. You’re young enough to fully give yourself over to silliness and
pretend and old enough to enjoy some of the independence that overnight camp allows. Once
you have your mental picture, I’d like to guide you through a day at Camp.
In the morning you wake to the sound of a bell. It is a sunny day and you are warm in your bunk
bed in Dove Cabin. You get up slowly, put on your clothes, and swing open the screen door.
The camp is awake and buzzing! There are children swinging on the log swing, playing tether
ball, reading books under the shady pine grove, and braiding each other’s hair for the day. You
take a seat at a picnic table with a couple of other kids and a counselor who is drinking coffee.
They are laughing and talking about the upcoming day.
The final bell rings at 8 and it is time for breakfast. You head into Big Bird dining hall. It’s loud
and a little chaotic, but you get to sit next to some friends from another cabin who you haven’t
seen since yesterday. It’s Tuesday at Camp which means Bagel Tuesday. There is a buffet
smorgasbord of bagels laid out for you. You like blueberry bagels with cream cheese – sweet
and sour together.
After breakfast you have some free time. You head to the tree house with a couple of friends.
You’re hoping nobody else got there first. It is one of your favorite spots at Camp – high above
the ground, quiet and private. You and your friends sit on the floor of the tree house so that no
one can see you from the ground. You talk about things at Camp and things from home, too. It
is the third day of Camp and you’re starting to feel close to them.
The bell rings again and it’s time for Meeting for Worship. The whole camp heads up to Aviary.
Aviary is a big, one-room building with a large stone fireplace. An Aviary is a home for birds and
all the cabins at Camp are named after birds. Once you’re inside Aviary you have to be silent,
and there is a cacophony of shushing as you enter the doors.
You’re not totally sure how you feel about Meeting for Worship. It can be hard to stay silent.
What are you supposed to think about? Sometimes another kid will do something silly like fart in
the middle of the silence and everyone will laugh. But, sometimes, it can feel like a moment
that’s all yours and shared with everybody else at the same time. Everyday a counselor shares
a message. They make you feel calm, like having a story read to you when you were younger.
Sometimes they make you feel small, but not in a bad way. Some kids share messages too.
You never have, you’re not sure what you would say, but maybe one morning you will.
After Meeting for Worship, it’s time for Programs. In your program, you and 7 other kids are
writing a play together. You’re going to perform it at the Variety Show at the end of camp. It’s
very silly and doesn’t totally make sense and yesterday when your Program group was together,
you laughed so hard you couldn’t catch your breath. You volunteered to create the costumes
because you learned to sew recently, but you have a role in the performance too. The counselor
who is leading the program is very cool. They are studying theater in college.
Other kids are in their own programs. Some of them are making art, some are learning how to
build a fire, some are canoeing to a nearby island, some are organizing a protest, some are
inventing new sports, and some are getting dirty just for fun.
After Programs and lunch, you and your cabin mates retire to Dove for Rest Hour. While the sun
is high and hot outside, in the cabin, it’s cool and shady. Your counselor delivers the cabin’s
mail, while reminding you to talk quietly so that they can get some rest. Talking with your
friends, you try, unsuccessfully, to keep your giggles hushed. Eventually, your counselor tells
you that they really need sleep and that the remainder of Rest Hour will be silent. You climb
back into your own bunk and stare up at the ceiling. The walls of the cabin are covered in writing
and doodles. Writing on cabin walls is encouraged at camp. There are names of kids from 20
and 30 years ago! You read their names and their jokes and their favorite bands and imagine
kids in the future reading your name. You get out your black sharpy and sign your bunk bed,
adding ‘slept here 2021.’
Soon another bell rings and it’s time for Waterfront. You change into your bathing suit, grab your
towel, your water bottle, your book, and your friendship bracelet materials. You consider your
sunscreen but disregard it. You’re working on your tan!
At Waterfront, there is a wide grassy field that leads to a small rocky beach and a long dock
extending out onto the lake. Campers sit together in circles – talking, reading, playing cards,
making friendship bracelets. Some run to the water immediately, hand in hand with their
swimming buddies. They breathlessly declare their partnership to the counselor stationed at the
buddy board and run forward, feet pounding the slippery dock. The sounds of splashing,
shouting, and the high tone of a lifeguard’s whistle travel from the beach up to the field.
Another group of children rush the Boat House. Kayaks, canoes, and a small sailboat are
marched toward the rocky boat launch. You’ve never been on a boat like that, but think you’d
like to try. Some of the kids seem like they’ve been captaining boats forever. But, you think: it’s
your third summer at camp. If not now, when?
You talk to the counselor in charge of all of Waterfront. She’s excited that you want to learn how
to use the boats! She says, maybe for today you could go out on a boat together to see if you
Out on China Lake you feel powerful and quiet at once. The Waterfront counselor steers the
kayak confidently into the wind, and it blows your hair back and ripples in your ears. The feeling
of gliding across the water, away from camp, toward the islands makes you feel free and sets
your mind to thinking about big things – bigger than camp.
Remembering the counselor captaining your craft, you suddenly feel shy and unsure of what to
say to her, but she seems happy and comfortable with the silence. Suddenly, using the oar as a
pointer, she whispers: ‘Look! On that rock – it’s a turtle!’
After returning from Waterfront, there is time to rest or enjoy an elective before dinner. And by
dinner you are tired and hungry from the day. You pile your plate with pasta, garlic bread, salad,
and Nestor Cake (a peanut buttery, chocolate frosted, Friends Camp original dessert). Once
everyone has eaten, the counselors stand up in front of Big Bird, and call names for jobs. You
cross your fingers under the table and chant: ‘Not me. Not me. Not me.’ in your head. You were
planning to meet your friends at the log swing to continue the comic you’ve been reading
together. But, it’s the third day of camp and you haven’t gotten an assignment yet. And as they
call the names for dinner wash, you hear your own and sigh: ‘At least it isn’t bathrooms.’
When jobs are done, everyone comes together for Evening Games. You are given the role of
‘seaweed’ in the game Fishy, Fishy Cross my Ocean. Campers are running, falling, laughing,
and tagging one another. Some sit on the side of the field and watch or cheer. Tired and out of
breath, you put 3 fingers up to the sky to estimate how long until sunset like the Camp Director
taught you. It’s almost time for Vespers.
As the sky becomes dusky, campers rush to change into long sleeves and pants. In a line led by
counselors holding giant, light-up stop signs, you cross the busy road to the Vespers Field. As
you enter through a clearing, everyone begins to quiet down. You find a spot at the edge of the
field and sit cross legged in the grass. From this point at the top of the hill, you can see the
brilliant orange sun touching down on China Lake. The clouds around the sun are pink, the sky
above your head holds on to blue, and the water shimmers with the day’s remaining light.
Across the field, campers and counselors are gazing at the sunset, writing in journals, or laying
on their backs and staring at the sky – waiting for the first stars to arrive. You love the quiet at
the end of the day. There is no nervousness inside you, asking what should I say? What could I
contribute? The sunset and the lake is more than enough and says everything about the day.
After the sun slips past the horizon, a counselor stands up and stretches – signaling that
Vespers has come to an end. Campers and counselors come together in hugs, handshakes,
high fives, and smiles. Welcoming each other back to the realm of talking and noise. You walk
back to camp chatting and laughing again, but a calmness remains.
In Aviary, tonight’s Evening Program is singing together. Some of the early songs are loud and
involve coordinated movements. Others are inspiring and exciting like ‘Solidarity Forever.’ The
last song is a round called ‘Sanctuary,’ and in the final verse, campers begin to leave Aviary,
group by group, singing into the night. As you pass through the doors, a counselor hands you a
bedtime snack. It is a warm, gooey cinnamon roll. This is your favorite bedtime snack.
Once everyone is in bed in Dove Cabin, your counselor says goodnight, turns off the light, and
leaves for their hour off. Almost immediately, you and your friends launch into your favorite night
time game: attempting to make it all the way around the cabin without touching the floor. You
climb from top bunk to top bunk, scurry over bureaus and shelves, and swing across the
doorway, feet on either side of the doorknob.
It isn’t long before a counselor on night patrol, comes by with their flashlight, and tells Dove
Cabin to settle down. After they leave there are lots of giggles, but soon voices lower and your
cabin mates wiggle into their sleeping bags and drift off to sleep. In the darkness and quiet, you
feel awake. Your mind wanders and you feel unexpectedly sad and wish some of your friends
were awake to keep you company. After tossing and turning for a bit, while a mosquito squeals
in your ear, you decide to get out of bed and go outside.
You find the night patrol counselor sitting on the bench under the floodlight. Above them, moths
dive in and out of the light. You tell them you’re feeling sad and don’t know why. They ask if
you’d like to go for a walk?
The night is extra dark at camp. The frogs singing in the pond are the only sound in the hot air.
All the familiar places feel different, special and secret. As you walk, you tell the counselor about
how you miss your family while you’re at camp and that there are things you’d rather not think
about while you’re here. But, at night when you’re alone in your bunk, those things tend to come
back. You stop at a swing between two trees. You swing for a bit while they sit on a stump and
watch you. They mostly listen. It is nice to not be alone.
After a while on the swing, you feel more settled. The counselor walks you back to your cabin
and says goodnight. You creep quietly back into your bunk. The mosquito seems to be gone
now. You look out at the night sky through the small window by your bed. You hear the soft
sounds of your friends snoring and rustling in their beds. As you close your eyes, you can still
feel the waves of the lake underneath the kayak in your body. The memory rocks you as you
drift off to sleep.
Thank you for listening. Much of what I shared with you is based on moments that I experienced
as either a camper or counselor. I wrote this imagination about summer at camp in the year 2021. But, it could have been set at any time in the last 40 years. That is one of the aspects of
Friends Camp that make it home for so many people. While our values and vision continue to
evolve to better support the needs of youth, the daily routine, the summer activities, and the
feeling of community and friendship are timeless. I can say from years of experience, the rhythm
of life at camp is very grounding. And I hope my words were able to convey some of that feeling.
Of course, Camp is more than swimming, and games, and singing. It is a place where youth and
young adults from all backgrounds build community together that is rooted in Quaker values.
Youth and young adult staff work together to care for both the physical environment and the
relational and spiritual needs of the community. Quaker values at Camp are more than children
attending Meeting and Vespers everyday. It is built into the uniquely accessible structure of
camp. For example, among many other scholarships opportunities, Friends Camp offers
free-of-cost camp for any child in Maine who has a parent/guardian who is incarcerated. This
option lasts for all the years a child is able to attend camp, even if their parent or guardian is
released. Friends Camp is also a participant in the Level Ground program, a scholarship that
intends to make summer camp more accessible for youth in Maine from immigrant and refugee
families. And Friends Camp has long been a safe place for LGBTQ+ youth and young adults.
Recently, camp began offering a ‘gender expansive’ cabin for youth who do not feel affirmed by
the limited options of ‘girls’ and ‘boys.’
I also wrote this message as a prayer that Friends Camp will be able to open in summer 2021.
The cancelation of this summer’s sessions left Friends Camp in a challenging economic
situation. In order to insure that we can hold camp next summer and for years to come, Friends
Camp staff, committee members, alumni, and families have been working together on an
initiative called the ‘Flock Together Campaign’ to raise $75,000 to sustain camp. Thanks to the
generosity of the camp community, we are 90% of the way to reaching that goal.
Members of the Camp Committee, like myself, are also visiting with Meetings throughout New
England to connect with the wider Quaker community and share our need. Friends Camp is not
only an important summer resource for youth, it is an opportunity for them to connect with
Quakerism in a way that it is fun, age appropriate, and meaningful. And we appreciate the
generosity of the wider community for helping us keep this beautiful site of youth ministry alive.
If you feel moved personally or as a Meeting to support camp you can go online to
friendscamp.org/support or reach out to me personally. Thank you for listening and for inviting
me into your worship today.