A week with 50 kids, an electric guitar and a great big God

Where to start… there’s just so much to say, and squeezing it all into one post is going to be a challenge and a half!  Let’s see, how about we start with an introduction…

Introduction

This year Ellie and I were both leaders on a Christian youth camp (a CYFA Ventures camp) for 14-18 year olds, at a boarding school near Southampton called Stanbridge Earls.  We’ve both been before, but this was the first time we’d been as a married couple, so that was a nice novelty!

Our week was actually started off a few days earlier than everyone else, as we went to Southampton University for my brother’s graduation.  It was lovely to see him, and all our family, and generally hang out in Soton for a bit.  Photos will be up on a gallery somewhere in due course I expect.  Ellie and I then stayed a couple of nights at a guest house in Soton, visiting the New Forest on the Friday before going off to camp on the Saturday morning.

Saturday

We arrived at Stanbridge Earls with plenty of time to spare.  In fact, that’s a bit of an understatement – we got there a full half an hour before we were technically allowed on site.  So we drove around for a bit before venturing through the gates to find a couple of the other leaders who had already arrived.  All the leaders met up at around 10am, had a quick business meeting and a catch-up, and then promptly got to work setting up the site for our camp.  Ellie and I were both hard at work in the theatre, which is where the morning and evening meetings were held throughout the week (like mini church services).  Ellie was up in the lighting box finding her way around all the knobs and buttons, and I was generally setting up the stage with a few other people, placing instruments and helping plug various cables in the right places.

It was actually really nice to be back on camp again.  Wandering around the site it was all so familiar, even though it’s been 2 years since I was last there.  It was as if I’d never been away.  Camp is a bubble, completely cut off and separate from the rest of reality.  And it’s quite a nice bubble, too.

We had a good number of kids this year, around 50 in total, which meant that there was a chance of getting to know most of them over the course of the week.  They arrived in dribs and drabs and congregated in the dining hall, and mid-morning we were given our first activity – the Members’ Challenge.  It was essentially a quiz that we had to do in our dorm groups that took us all over the site to retrieve various things, answer certain questions, or have our photos taken in various poses.  It was good fun, and helped us bond with our dorm right from the start.

Then after dinner we had our evening meeting, for which Sam led worship on guitar, I played my funky electric guitar, Tom played bass, and Sarah played drums.  There were some people singing too, but they varied through the week and I can’t remember who sang when, so I’ll just thank them all and assume that someone was singing!  The music was good and loud this year, with both Sam and I having pretty solid guitar setups – Sam had brought his new electric guitar as well as his acoustic, and was using a Line6 Spider II amp with a pedal box, and I was using my Line6 Variax guitar (that essentially gives me around 26 guitars in one) plugged into my Line6 Spider III amp.  It was a bit mushy that first night, with both of us trying to find a good balance between who was playing and with what level of distortion.  The kids seemed really into it right from the start, which was good.

The evening was rounded off with a quiz that Richard had sorted out.  And then bed.  And it was surprising just how much we needed it after just one day.

Sunday

Somehow I was too busy to notice that it was Sunday and I should have been at church.  Then again, every day that week felt a little bit like a Sunday, with all the God-centred stuff and worship twice a day.  Good stuff.  Sam and I alternated leading worship this year, so Sunday was my turn to lead both morning and evening sessions.  I don’t think I did a huge amount else that day, apart from sorting out music and stuff.  I should really have been socialising with my dorm, but there was just far too much other stuff that needed doing.  Ah well, we live and learn.

In the evening we had a “Night Hike and Campfire”, which was essentially a crowd of 80 people stumbling through the darkness, through the trees and bushes (at least I think that’s what they were), and eventually finding ourselves at the big camp fire where the ALs had hot chocolate prepared.  Oh, I ought to mention what the ALs are – Assistant Leaders.  Lucy and Anna (twins) and Laura were members last year, but were old enough this year to be ALs instead, and did a fantastic job of doing all those jobs that no one else wanted to do, like cleaning and serving hot chocolate and typing up songs at short notice and generally doing loads of stuff behind the scenes.  They were a fantastic team, their matching T-shirts were awesome, and they really helped make the week a success.  Hats off to you girls.

Monday

The major activity on Monday was so big it had to be split into two parts, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  The Mini-Olympics basically involved a whole series of games that we did in our Bible study groups (which was half of one dorm group combined with half of another of the opposite gender).  My team was stunningly average, and despite some heroic triumphs and some embarrassing defeats we actually ended up coming somewhere smack bang in the middle.  Can’t complain.

It was the evening that really saw things come alive though, with the Murder Mystery that PJ had created.  Yes, created, not an off-the-shelf jobbie.  Completely engineered himself.  And it was awesome.  Set at the turn of the century, the plot revolved around a young lady who had been bitten by a vampire, and the teams had to run around the site interacting with various members of the household to try and find out who the vampire was and how to stop him.  I was a butler called Hinton, and spent all my time in the dining room polishing cutlery and polishing my shoes.  Others weren’t so lucky – Will was a crazed madman running around in the woods smelling people and shouting random things in the darkness, in the pouring rain.  It was really well received though, and all the members pulled together and enjoyed it greatly.

Tuesday

Tuesday I played a lot of music.  And I mean a serious amount of music.  I was leading worship in the morning, then the morning activity I was leading the members’ band, in the afternoon we did Junk Funk and then I was leading worship again in the evening.

Okay, let’s just explain what some of those are, because unless you were there you’re unlikely to understand the significance.  The members’ band is where we get all the members who play instruments and try and get them co-ordinated into a band, with the aim of having them lead the worship for the Thursday evening meeting.  My job was to organise them all, which turned out to be a job and a half, simply because there were 6 drummers, at least 5 guitarists, and a whole gaggle of singers.  We managed to make some sense of it all eventually though, and played through a couple of songs.  I decided it was best to leave the final decisions until the next rehearsal, and just whet everyone’s toes for now.

Junk Funk was a joint leadership thing between myself and Sarah, who is a trained and very talented percussionist (she can play pretty much anything that you hit).  The idea was to get a whole load of junk, give it to the members and get them to play as a percussion band in some form.  A bit like Stomp, if you’ve heard them.  Now, Sarah and I come from very different percussion backgrounds – Sarah is very highly trained, and has a passion for Brazillian and Latin rhythms, and is very organised.  I have no training whatsoever, a general appreciation for anything rhythmical, and prefer planned spontenaity to prescriptive pre-planning.  In actual fact the combination of those two approaches worked out really well.  We had a huge number of kids come along, most of whom were very rhythmic (which made our job a lot easier).  Sarah started off by teaching people a few call and response things from her Samba training, which we used at various points during the session to control everyone.  Everyone seemed to pick these up quickly, so I then led the planned spontenaity (which I don’t think Sarah had come across before), which basically involved starting everyone off with a beat and told them to get creative with it.  Before very long there was a multitude of beats going on, all very musical, and all I did to control it was wave my hands around to tell people to get quieter or louder, or which section should be playing at any given time.  It was lots of fun, and they made a wonderful sound!  The only problem was that in some ways they were a little over-enthusiastic – there were a couple of kitchen items that got a little bashed out of shape over the course of the session, and by the time we eventually finished everyone’s ears were ringing!  All good fun though, and definitely one to do next year.

The evening meeting on Tuesday was argubly one of the more powerful ones of the week, with a really stirring talk by Jennie followed by some quite touching worship afterwards.  There were a number of people in tears by the end of the meeting.  That’s by no means a bad thing, of course, and showed a good level of maturity from the members to be able to take on board the tough message.  All in all it was quite a draining day – musically, emotionally and spiritually.

Wednesday

Half way through the week, and by this point most of us were running low on energy.  In the morning Sam, Sarah and I led a Worship Workshop, which actually only attracted 4 members, but we had a good session talking about how to play effectively as a band, what constituted worship, and how to lead worship.  It was a bit of a fly-past tour of the topic rather than an in-depth study, but I think it was enough to at least whet the appetites of those who attended.  Judging by the musical ability of some of the peeps in the members’ band and the spiritual and emotional maturity already demonstrated, I can see there being a whole new generation of worship leaders just waiting to be put on stage!  With God’s annointing I am sure they will go far.

The afternoon I think I managed to take some time out to relax a bit.  At least, I think that’s what I did.  It’s all so long ago (already) and the week was so packed with stuff that figuring out what I did when is a bit of a challenge.  Thankfully though I managed to pace myself better this year – two years ago when I last came I pushed myself a little too hard and crashed quite spectacularly on the Thursday.  This year I managed to alay my guilt and spend some quality time sitting on a sofa doing very little.  Not wasting time, savouring it.

That evening we had the formal meal, for which everyone dressed up in black and white – and bling – and had a lovely meal.  For a change, all the members were served by the leaders (rather than the job being assigned to specific dorm groups).  The food, it has to be said, was lovely, just as it had been the whole week – hats off to the cooks!  After the meal we all headed down to the theatre for the Stanbridge Earls version of “Britain’s Got Talent”; there were a number of acts, though many of them (including the Monty Python sketch Ellie and I had rehearsed) were cut short due to lack of time and lack of talent.  A little frustrating for those groups who had been rehearsing for hours, but never mind.

Thursday

Another relatively easy start to the day, with nothing specific planned for the morning except leading worship.  It was the afternoon and evening, though, that got my pulse racing again, with the second of the two afternoon activity sessions (the one just before dinner, which was followed immediately by the evening meeting) being the second members’ band rehearsal.  Everyone managed to make it to that rehearsal (the previous time several people had been on an off-site activity so couldn’t make it), so there were a lot of people to try to co-ordinate.  Rather than dictating to them what they were going to play and how, I had decided to let them have a say in it all, so the first part of the session involved everyone discussing which songs we wanted to do, taking into account the theme of the talk that night, and then the complicated task of working out who was going to play at what point.  I think there was a little disappointment by some of the drummers, all of whom really wanted to play but not all of whom could play at once!  We finally managed to get that all sorted though, and managed to go through the songs a couple of times.  The main problem I had was keeping a tight reign on their enthusiasm – there were three fantastic guitarists all playing at the same time, and I kept having to tell them to scale it down and not all play at once!  It was quite heavy and stodgy at times.  Thankfully I think the message got through eventually and they managed to put their egos aside for the meeting, and it all worked really well.

Oh, and the evening session saw all the boys camped out in the theatre watching Finding Nemo.  Quality.

Friday

Aahh!!  Our last full day of camp!  Where has the week gone??!  It was a bit of a shock to the system actually, realising that camp was nearly over.  We had grown so used to functioning on no energy, relying on God’s strength to get us through the day, and it felt quite odd to be thinking about going back into the real world again.

In the morning I helped with the scone-making, and in the afternoon we all ate them with jam and clotted cream in our dorm groups (a traditional Friday activity on camp), before a leaders vs. members game of rounders.  Which the leaders won.  Regardless of the score, which attested otherwise.

The evening meeting’s talk was given by Rachel, who I’m not sure had actually been to camp before this year, but who really got stuck in and active, despite having had both her legs broken in a car accident only a few months ago.  Her talk was one of the best of the week, touched on some really tough issues, had some funny moments and some tear-jerkers.  It’s been a while since a talk aimed at young people has brought me to tears.  It seemed to have a big impact on others too, so it was definitely well received by all.

After that our dorm had an extended time of Bible study.  Earlier in the week we had looked at the topic of relationships and going out, which our dorm group really got into and had more to say – the hour session we had just wasn’t long enough, so we scheduled this additional discussion to run through any more questions they had.  It was really encouraging to find that they all had so many questions, and how maturely and sensibly they discussed the issues, especially given they were the youngest age group at camp.  We all talked long into the night, going over a whole load of tough issues, and there were a fair few challenges that we all had to address, both leaders and members.  It was well worth doing though, and everyone seemed to get a lot out of it (we even had members of someone else’s dorm joining in).  It meant a late night for them all, but I think it was worth it.  There is no substitute for thinking.

Saturday

Yes, it finally came, the last morning of camp.  Everyone packed up and had breakfast, and after the morning meeting everyone dispersed and went home, some by car, some by train, some by boat.  It was sad to say all those goodbyes, and there were many tears shed and e-mail addresses exchanged.  Then, once all the members were dealt with, we leaders set to work taking everything down again, ready for the next group who were arriving that afternoon.  I spent most of my time in the theatre again, packing up instruments, folding up microphone stands, boxing up speakers, loading up cars, coiling up cables.  As with setting up at the beginning of camp, it was surprising how the big things were the easy ones to get set up and put away again – it was all the small things that caused the problems.  There were boxes that just wouldn’t contain another small item, there were odd bits and pieces here and there that just wouldn’t fit into people’s cars again, there were missing items, excess items that shouldn’t have been there, and a lot of tidying up to do everywhere.  We managed to get it all done though, and finally managed to get all the leaders off-site to meet up at the pub down the road for lunch and a fond farewell.

In conclusion

Wow, what an awesome week.  God was really present with us the whole time, for which we were all very grateful, and lots of fun was had too in the various activities we all endulged in.  My electric guitar has never seen so much use in all the time I’ve had it, but it stood up to the punishment admirably.  I managed to lose my Bible (and other bits and pieces) several times during the week, but Ellie was always there to find them for me (and put me to shame in the process).  We all went home very tired, but also very satisfied that God had been at work through us all in teaching and inspiring the members who came.  Unfortunately I didn’t have time to take any photos, but people on Facebook will probably already have seen the photos put up by various people who did manage to get snappy.

And next year?  Well, Ellie and I will definitely be going back as leaders, and since Sam plans to abscond to Australia I shall probably (it has yet to be confirmed for definite) end up co-ordinating all the music next year.  That means I’ll need an assistant, so that I’m not leading every meeting.  I’ll also need to think about songs to take with us, and equipment that we’ve so far relied on Sam bringing, like projectors and computers and cables and stuff.  All good fun!  Roll on SE09!!

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