By: Chris “Topher” Aderhold
It’s always humbling to hear stories about the impact the mission of Camp Gray has on the countless campers and retreatants that attend Camp each year. These stories inspire us to give our all every day in order to continue Camp’s 60-years long tradition of faith, friends, and fun.
Staff alum Andy Miller served Camp Gray for several summers during college. After graduating, he served as a part of Camp’s school-year missionary program. One of Andy’s greatest joys in serving during the year was hearing these stories from visitors that would frequently stop by Camp.
Andy recalls, “It seemed like every week brought another former staffer or camper back to the holy grounds of Camp Gray for one reason or another. I loved these visits because of the stories they told. No matter what story they shared, there were a few characteristics the story tellers always had in common. They all turned to look in the direction of the physical place of the memory, and they would turn their head to the side and smile when talking. You could see their eyes float as they replayed the memory in their mind. They stood a little straighter and their eye brows perked up a bit. Over the years I have come to realize why I loved this posture so much. It is the same look campers have when they come to Camp Gray for the first time. When I spoke to those visitors I could see the spirit of camp renewed in them for the first time in years, and you can see this spirit instilled in campers, retreat participants, school students and adults every day when you’re at Camp.”
In addition to these stories, I’m often reminded of the impact of Camp’s mission by reflecting on the many ways I’ve personally been impacted. Being a part of this community has played an enormous role in helping me to be the person I am today. As I reflect on this as winter ends and the calendar quickly turns to another Summer Camp season, my thoughts are drawn to a fantastic project that was recently completed after six years in the making.
Back during Summer Camp 2007 a project began that involved the contributions of several Camp Gray staffers and every single 2007 Settler camper. In the spring of that year, former staffer Claire Porter was searching for a way to merge her two loves: Camp Gray and the arts. She had recently graduated with a degree in Interior Design and a minor in Fine Arts. After much thought, she felt that a powerful and lasting project would be a large painted mural.
To begin this project, Claire drew an intricate mural on a round piece of paper. Upon completion of the drawing, she passed it on to Phil DeLong, Camp’s former Director. The next step in the process was to cut several sheets of plywood into dozens of squares. The mural could then be transferred, one painted plywood square at a time, until the entire mural was replicated on the wood.
Staff alum Lindsay Becher oversaw the Settler Program in 2007. After Claire had drawn the mural, Phil suggested to Lindsay that she implement the creation of the mural into the weekly Settler ritual.
A beautiful aspect of the mural is that when you look at the mural from a distance, you see several large circles with distinct camp shapes painted inside each one. When you approach the mural and look at it up close, you notice that there are literally hundreds of small tiles that have been affixed to the mural to create a mosaic.
Much of the painting of the mural was done by staffers. The tiles, however, are the product of hundreds of campers reflecting on a profound question. On the final night of every Summer Camp session at Camp Gray, campers take part in a “ritual.” This serves as a way for campers to reflect on the ways they’ve grown during their time at Camp. During the Settler ritual of 2007, campers were asked to think about their experience, and then they were asked this question:
Where did you see God this week?
After they had some time to think about the question, they were asked to draw their answer on a small tile. As the campers drew, Lindsay played a Brett Dennen song called, The Mosaic Song.
“The song is about community, respect, and having a joyful attitude — essentially living out the life Jesus called us to as the Church,” Lindsay said. “We take those lessons we learn at Camp into the world, spread them across land and sea and create a better future. Each of those 2007 Settlers reflected on their experience at camp and how they could take the lessons they learned back home while drawing on those mosaic tiles.”
Next time you’re at Camp, take a moment to look closely at those tiles and you’ll see how the eyes of hundreds of 2nd-5th graders saw God during their time at Camp Gray in 2007. There’s no wrong answer, as the tiles are incredibly diverse. They vary from drawings of stick figure people, to drawings of crosses and trees.
Staff Alum Meredith Meinholz helped paint the mural. She feels blessed to have been a part of this project, however, witnessing campers draw on the tiles had a greater impact on her.
Meredith recounts, “Even more memorable [than painting the mural] was asking the settlers to draw on those little tiles ‘Where they saw God that week’. They took to that little project so quickly and easily! I was eager to see how all those little pieces would come together, and once finished where it could possibly go! It was worth the wait!”
For six years, many of us wondered the same thing; where could this large mural possibly go? Since 2007, the many pieces of plywood that make up the mural sat stacked in a pile in the corner of the Arts and Crafts room. The project was so big, there simply wasn’t a place to hang such an enormous work of art.
During the planning stages prior to building Camp’s new office and adjoining Karsten Hall, Directors Jeff & Rebecca Hoeben were excited that the new Hall would finally provide a place to hang the mural.
The mural is a beautiful reminder of patience – it was six-years in the making, after all. In the eyes of the mural’s creator, Claire Porter, it’s much more.
“This mural, I think, is a metaphor for our spiritual life. Each of us are complex individuals with quirks, mistakes, beauty, and variety. However, we seldom realize our individual purpose or power until we are joined with something much greater than ourselves: God and our community in Christ. We are all welcome to be a part of something bigger and better than ourselves.”
A single tile is fragile and boring, and a single small square of plywood only tells a small part of the story. When a tile is combined with hundreds of others and affixed to dozens of painted plywood squares that make up an enormous 9-foot radius mural, it’s beauty. The mural is indeed an amazing metaphor for our spiritual life. We were made to be in community, to serve God by serving others. There in Karsten Hall, hanging upon the north wall, is a daily reminder of the gift of the community of Camp Gray; and it’s a daily reminder of the gift of the bigger community of the Church. It is our sincere hope that the mural is yet another place at Camp Gray which will renew the spirit of Camp in our visitors. The renewed spirit of Camp was felt by Andy, and he merely saw a picture of the completed project.
“When Topher sent me a picture of the mural and told me it was done and up,” Andy said, “my body turned a bit to the north, I turned my head to the side and smiled, my eyes floated around a bit, I pulled my shoulders back, my eye brows perked up, and the spirit of Camp Gray was renewed in me.”
From all of us at Camp Gray: Many thanks to those that made this mural a reality! Also, thanks to Meredith, Lindsay, Andy, and Claire for their great reflections on their roles in this project. Also, thanks to Tom and Nate for their work in hanging the large mural!
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