Prayer at night means summer is bright

SA Leaders

Youth ministry - summer camp style

Jenny Myers, co-ordinator of the South Australia girls camp

The phrase ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s delight’ refers to the anticipation of fair weather the next day (Mt 16:2). At summer camp, our interactive night prayer shapes us with flow on effects. We’ve come to anticipate a wonderful atmosphere the next day. Really? Yes - incredible isn’t it?

With curiosity, I ponder how changing the format of night prayer from written and spoken prayers to interactive prayers can have such a profound and immediate effect.

I first noticed this change about five years ago and put it down to ‘an above average friendly group of campers’. It just keeps happening. Now, I don’t exactly expect to see growth in campers’ and leaders’ behaviour and interactions, but I do and it fills my heart (and I suspect the hearts of all) with joy. You know that glow you see emanating from a woman during pregnancy or young ones in love? Well, it’s the same glow we see emanating from campers. They’re fully alive!

I’m not really sure how all this comes about. Is it the Holy Spirit working through us? Or is it because we’re open to change? Or both? The Girls’ Salesian Summer Camp S.A. is still evolving (even after 27 years)! We’re proactive for change to meet campers’ needs. Yet as I write, I am aware that mention of a Salesian Summer Camp will conjure in your mind images of campers singing crazy bus songs, enjoying fun ‘n games and carefree days at the beach. These contribute richly to growing happiness in young people. But lasting happiness is deeper, isn’t it? As leaders at a Salesian camp, I do believe we are called to do much more ... for the ‘lasting’ bit.

t. Is it because we answer that call - that we nurture Salesian spirituality in leadership formation and we empower and encourage young people to be active in the world as Pope Francis urges (ref: Aust SB, Spring 2016), that we are blessed? We do strive to be like Don Bosco: we let young people know they are unique and special and we support and encourage them to be the best they can be. These are truly enriching. At the Girls’ Salesian Summer Camp S.A., I think we achieve tangible results for intangibles, like more self-confidence and understanding, through our interactive night prayer. It is intentionally ‘a call to action’

Way before camp, our youth and adult leaders share their awareness of a need amongst young people such as: a need for respect; making good choices; or to nurture self-esteem. We ponder and pray to enable daily prayer themes to form that will call us to action. e.g. last year’s were: ‘We respect ourselves, day and night’ (Mon). ‘We respect each other, caring and listening’ (Tue). ‘We respect property, both near and far’ (Wed). ‘We respect earth and all its gifts’ (Thu). We respect our community: family, friends and all we meet’ (Fri).

The sky’s the limit for ideas of a hands-on interactive component – no two have ever been the same, be it a creative visualisation or interactive presentation. The format enriches night prayer in a way that invites each person to choose to live the particular value that will bring them and others happiness. It is clear to me: it works because it’s personally relevant to each camper. It engages each of us. Following night prayer, the traditional Salesian ‘goodnight’ is given by a senior leader.

This summer, nurturing self-esteem was the overarching theme, with daily themes like: ‘BELIEVE you are a special individual. Wanting to be someone else is a waste of who you are.’ Deeply enriched by “your heart of imperishable beauty … in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:3-4). Another: ‘PRAISE, loudly and often’, saw each of us, at the start of the day, being invited to note down a person’s gifts. That night, in ping-pong fashion, we each in turn received praise and gave thanks for our gifts. With each day, self-esteem grew through awareness that positive thoughts can replace negative ones and by building each person’s awareness of their value and worth. Our departing camper awards said it all: ‘We are confident in who we are’. Parent’s comments suggest a lasting impact.

Each year, like Don Bosco, we start from where young people (and we) are. We are open to God working through us and with us. We let our night prayer spill over into the next day. Having shared this with you, I still don’t fully understand – I am in awe and wonder of the personal and spiritual growth for campers and leaders alike. The atmosphere at camp is wonderfully good and difficult to describe. Prayer at night means summer is bright.

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