When young people hear ‘combined church camp’, most people groan. How many more acronyms with a ‘C’ can you get? It’s kind of like going to a big family dinner or reunion (without the feasting). A small number of people love it. Most people don’t enjoy it that much, some hate it: the funny uncles & aunties, being treated like a kid. My usual memories of ‘combined’ church camps are mixed; I remember long multi-lingual sessions and talks, lots of unknown people, bonding with strange activities and funny theme songs but also have fond memories of some bonding with older people and realising they were kinda cool. We recently got back from our “One in Christ” church camp. Surprisingly, much of that was avoided. Actually our church seems to be doing pretty well in this area. I have to say I really did enjoy it. How did they do this? I’m trying to reflect on it now and this is what I found:
- People seem to have a good understanding of unity. That it’s not uniformity but that we are already united in Christ and the question is how to express the already existing unity. Our senior minister preached on this as the first point in his talk. That firstly we have to have new life in Christ, which is the foundation of our unity – a common life in Jesus. If not, the Holy Spirit would not be at work in them.
- His second point was about our focus – the gospel. That this gospel brings us together and if we are committed to God’s kingdom and growth then naturally we won’t focus on internal problems and more naturally be harmonious.
- He also spoke on servanthood as well as love for each other as the way to glorify God as well as many other good points.
He then left how it’s to be spelt out culturally for each discussion group to figure out. We then had the opportunity to present this back to the big group through through funny skits, songs or just plain sharing.
- Our church is relatively young. That means, most of the ‘adults’ have children who are below 30. That makes the adults 40-50 or so. Cause their kids are pretty Aussie, I think they can at least tolerate Aussie culture. Plus they work in Brisbane so they have high exposure to Australians.
- I remember looking into a combined church camp committee meeting once at a previous church and like seeing 30 people! Woah…how to make decisions? Our committee was small and it seemed to have lots of young people from the congregations. It was still shortened to be the ‘CC committee’.
- We are fortunate that lots of the young people at our church are still very bi-cultural. That is, so they can appreciate some chinese cheesyness without being too frustrated. They could usually understand at least 2 languages so it wasn’t too boring when English wasn’t used.
- They recognised the different cultures within the Chinese church and allowed them to spend time together. The cabins and group were all split up according to congregation. We still got to have our own sermon and corporate worship in our own group about unity.
- It seemed well prepared – two languages were used at one time. Our church is fortunate that we have young people who are really well developed bi-lingually to translate, so the translations weren’t were pretty quick, no need to re-correct in your head and not strange or cringe-worthy. They were also well prepared so sermon notes were in simplified Chinese etc, booklets and things were also in 3 (written) languages. They had good translator choices too so the English was smooth and culturally-sound.
- We had pretty good combined activities: Games night: requiring a lot of co-operation to put aside differences to reach common goals. Also, a Carnival night where brothers and sisters were asked to perhaps run a stall to teach something to others. We had ‘younger people’ teaching from their professions: Pilates, Vet helpdesk, self defence, hairstyle tutorials, painting nails, face painting, and older people sharing about knitting, tea appreciation, massage, household handyman tips…I thought this was such a great idea. At our stall we were able to come across primary aged girls, women from other congregations as well as our own.
- Yes, we did have a ‘theme song’. I suppose any ‘family camp’ theme song has to be a little cheesy, it’s pretty unavoidable. The original clip on YT was pretty hilarious I have to say. The music team did a good job of making the arrangement less ‘cringe-worthy’ whilst still appropriate for the Chinese congregations and adjusting the English translated lyrics a little to make it flow better.
- I did feel bad for the mandarin group, they are the smallest and youngest so a lot of it was in English/Canto. When Mando was spoken it usually wasn’t by a native speaker. We also didn’t have any mandarin song leaders. Mandarin is a new ministry group (about a year?) so I guess we need to work on this one, particularly as they grow bigger.
In the end, it’s pretty hard to organise one of these. Multiple languages, cultures and ages…since it only happens once every couple of years, may as well enjoy it and use the opportunity to get to know other people as much as possible. It might surprise you 🙂
If you attend a multiple-congregation-cultural church, how does your church try to express its unity? What is done well and what could be done better?