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Temporary Community: The Transfiguration and Christian Camping

How Christian Camps bring participants into a meaningful encounter with the Holy Spirit.
Temporary Community: The Transfiguration and Christian Camping
Image: HoneyRock

On the final Sunday of Epiphany, The Anglican church reads the account of Christ’s Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, this year from Mark 9. It is an appropriate transition into Lent later that week, the 40-day preparation for Easter in the Church Calendar. In the Mark narrative, the Transfiguration came soon after Jesus started to teach his disciples about his coming death (Mark 18:31). As they descended from the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until he arose from the dead (Mark 9:9). The Transfiguration, bookended by these teachings, was, among other things, intended to prepare the disciples for the mystery of the coming death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and its salvific power. Years later, Peter would write about this from a position of better understanding stating, “Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets” (2 Peter 1:19).

The Transfiguration account was a formational encounter for Peter, James and John. It contains several key elements of Temporary Community, an essential component of Christian camping. Firstly, Jesus selected a small subgroup of disciples from his band of twelve to accompany him on this mini-expedition. Temporary communities by design have limited numbers of participants, allowing for more meaningful engagement among participants and with their facilitator. In Christian camping, larger groups of campers are divided into small units, often cabin groups of 8-10 that eat, sleep and engage in activities together for this very reason.

Second, the Transfiguration was a hyper-experience; an intense encounter. The disciples caught a glimpse of Jesus’ divine appearance, and chronos linear time was overtaken by a kairos event as Moses and Elijah, historical figures from hundreds of years apart appeared in one space. A flummoxed Peter blurted, “It is wonderful for us to be here!” (Mark 9:5). Though obviously not to the same extent, camp is often a hyper-experience with activities, relationships, and experiences, mediated by the Holy spirit, coming together to impact participants in extraordinary ways. It is no wonder that Peter suggested setting up permanent shelters to extend the experience ad infinitum, which would have violated a third element of temporary communities: time boundaries. Sweet and transformational though they be, temporary communities are events that have defined beginnings and endings, further intensifying the Kairos significance of the moment.

Another characteristic of the Transfiguration that is also true of temporary communities at Christian camps is this: Encounters with transcendence. This encounter brought together exemplars of the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah), and the awe-inspiring presence of God the Father as he audibly affirmed his Son. Christian camps are places for transcendent encounters too, where participants experience the eternal Word through study, activities, relationships and facilitated reflection, all in the “mountain top” context of Creation. Campers learn about themselves and their gifts, make life changing decisions, and are impacted in ways that reverberate the rest of their lives.

“Dazzling,” a poem by Jan Richardson in her text on church seasons, Circle of Grace, beautifully personalizes the Transfiguration as a temporary community experience:

But this blessing
is built for leaving.

This blessing
is made for coming down
the mountain.

This blessing
wants to be in motion
to travel with you
as you return
to level ground.

It will seem strange
how quiet this blessing becomes
when it returns to earth.

It is not shy.
It is not afraid.

It simply knows
how to bide its time.

To watch and wait,
to discern and pray

until the moment comes
when it will reveal
everything it knows,
when it will shine forth
with all it has seen,

When it will dazzle
with the unforgettable light
you have carried
all this way.

The Transfiguration is a paradigm for temporary communities leading to transformation and renewal. It is one of many examples in Scriptures of God drawing his people away from "normal life" for a season or time to stir them to new or renewed awakenings, perspectives, or approaches to life. He commanded the Israelites to observe temporary community celebrations such as the Passover and Festival of Shelters to remind them of his redemptive work and provision. The forty years of wandering in the desert was itself a kind of temporary community to transform them from a slave mindset into a nation of God’s people, ready to conquer the land.

After the resurrected Christ was raised to the heavens in Acts chapter 1, the disciples retreated into temporary community as they awaited the Pentecost to bring about the birth of the Church. Across the globe, a vibrant Christian camping movement capitalizes on this dynamic. In 2018, Christian Camping International reported over 23,000 member camps hosting 11.5 million campers in 70 countries, all utilizing temporary community.

At HoneyRock, Outdoor Center for Leadership Development of Wheaton College, lifelong relationships are kindled and nurtured, life-on-life discipleship takes place, and the Word is encountered in the context of his Creation. Our camps and programs are designed to point children, students, and young adults to Jesus Christ in his full majesty, seated at the right hand of the Father.

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Temporary Community: The Transfiguration and Christian Camping