Nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you. – Luke 17:21
Involvement in Diocesan youth ministries is important to the spiritual development of our youth and enables them to get to know Episcopal youth from around the state. Our youth have participated in many Diocesan youth events, such as the Wilmington racial reconciliation trip last summer, mission work, Bishop’s Balls, and HUGS Camp. In its 32nd year, St. Peter’s has been sending youth to serve as Helper Campers since 2004, when my own teenager, Lauren, a rising eighth grader, decided to attend HUGS (without me!), with encouragement by Mike Hoffman, who has been on HUGS Camp staff for over 25 years. Lauren recruited her cousin from Maryland to join her. She and Lizzy were Helper Campers for and with Sarah, who lives at Holy Angels, a residential center in Belmont for differently abled people. Sarah is non-verbal and non-ambulatory, and for that week of camp, Lauren and Lizzy cared for her, had great fun with her, and they all bonded in the most amazing ways. Lauren became an ambassador for HUGS Camp, encouraging St. Peter’s and other Charlotte Episcopal youth to attend HUGS Camp. Over the past 16 years, St. Peter’s has sent 33 youth to this amazing camp. The majority of these youth went for more than two summers, and many continue in leadership roles, as counselors and adult staff. Lauren, who has lived in Los Angeles for the past six years, continues to come serve on staff at HUGS. Sarah Geer, a St. Peter’s member who has been at HUGS every year since 2005, became a Registered Nurse and continues to serve a week every summer in this important role. Another of our recent graduates, Grace Owens, chose her major, Occupational Therapy at UNC Wilmington, as a direct result of her (so far) five years serving at HUGS Camp.
I joined the HUGS staff in 2015, mostly to understand the love and transformative experiences our youth describe. I found HUGS Camp to be God’s Kingdom on earth, where one can experience the world as God intends it to be. So, it was with great sadness in April, that we made the decision not to have HUGS Camp this year—one more casualty of the coronavirus. Together with former camp chaplains, musicians, and our current dedicated staff, we will offer four days of Virtual HUGS Camp via Zoom and Facebook Live. It won’t be the same, but it will help to fill the void this summer for our fifty campers and the sixty Helper Campers.
If you want to see a bit of this joy and love, please Google “HUGS Camp Video,” and you’ll be immersed in a 4-minute glimpse of heaven. We ask for your prayers next week for our campers, Helpers, and staff, as we connect in a different way, until we can gather again next summer at The Summit.
Lyn Holt, Director of Youth Formation