Tuesday, 28 July 2009

hunting the Unicorn

Camp Quest, the atheist children’s summer camp, opens this week and has already received much attention in the media. Several of my friends and colleagues are attending New Wine, a Christian summer camp, taking place in the same county as Camp Quest, so one wonders whether there might be the opportunity for an exchange visit. Who would feel more threatened by such a suggestion; the self proclaimed free thinking atheists or those Richard Dawkins and his chums so glibly dismiss as closed minded fundamentalists? I’m all in favour of children’s camps and many of the activities at Camp Quest are exactly what I hope my children will be doing during the holidays; plenty of activities to stimulate the body and the mind.

However, I do have some reservations about Camp Quest. I had a brief look at the biographies of the camp counsellors and was interested to see how many were keen to explain their atheism in ways no different from how Christians leading their camps might write. There is the whiff of zeal about those leading Camp Quest, a zeal which many atheists are quick to dismiss in those articulating a faith position. I was also amused to learn that one of the activities on the camp is ‘the famous invisible Unicorns challenge’ in which children will be encouraged to disprove the existence of these marvellous creatures. The problem is that most people know these creatures died out because they were too stupid to get aboard Noah’s ark when the great flood came. Seriously, it does seem rather defensive and reactive to laud an activity with the primary aim of disproving the existence of something.

I’m a big fan of children’s summer camps as in the early 1980s I helped run the children’s programme at a Christian conference centre and during the late 80s and early 90s was involved as a leader on CYFA ventures. I have seen the big impact these holidays have had on the lives of many young people, including members of the church youth group I lead as a curate. These holidays also had a big impact on me as a Christian leader. I learnt many important insights into what we called ‘servant leadership’ that have stayed with me throughout my ministry. But the biggest impact on my life is that on one of these ventures I met the person who is now my wife!

Anyway, I hope the young people on Camp Quest and the many other camps and ventures taking place around the country have a great holiday. I also hope and pray they are given the time and space to marvel at the wonders of the world around them and to reflect on the why questions as well as the how questions of life.

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