So my Little Princess and I went to an American Heritage Girls summer camp for the first time. I'm not sure why I chose to go; I didn't expect her to be particularly homesick or needy. I guess I just wanted to see what it was like, and I failed to consider the vast amounts of heat and hard labor it would entail! ;-)
You probably know by now, if you've been reading my blog for a while, that AHG is Christian in nature. We have God in our oath and Leaders must all be Christians and sign a Statement of Faith. I won't write it out here, but it was changed when our troop was chartered so that Catholics could sign it in good faith. That's all well and good, though some might say (and have said) that it's still too exclusive. It leaves out those of the Jewish faith, for instance; the girls are welcome to join, but their parents can't ever be Leaders. That doesn't thrill me, but right now I don't know of any other available alternatives to Girl Scouts. (You can look at my sidebar for all the problems I have with Girl Scouts.)
At camp, we had mandatory Chapel every morning for an hour, and it sometimes ran longer than that. It was fairly basic and boring most of the time, because any well-catechised child of 9 or so has probably heard all that stuff about the Trinity, Creation, and Jesus being The Word. I could be totally off-base, but I can't imagine that very many of those girls come from non-Christian or non-church-going families! Nevertheless, we Catholic moms who were there were listening intently for any heresy that might come up during the lessons.
The "highlight" of the week was the activity on Thursday night were we were lead from a sermon (Jesus is the Reason for the Season) in the amphitheater to to a place for foot-washing. The Camp Leaders all washed the feet of the girls and any moms who wanted their feet washed. I was a bit uncomfortable with this because of the significance foot-washing has in the Catholic Church. Jesus washed the feet of His disciples on Holy Thursday when He instituted the priesthood so that they would know that being a priest meant being a servant. I know that these ladies weren't thinking of anything like that, only that Jesus gave the example of being a "servant-leader." Okay, so I could deal with that.
But then came the prayerful, candlelight hike (battery-powered tealights) to the cross and the living nativity (a teen and a babydoll). Then we had to listen to another sermon, which was the hottest, most humid, most miserable sermon I've ever sat (or stood) through! The weather and the bugs would have been enough to make us all miserable, but I had to stay and wait for whatever was going to happen. And then it came, the Altar Call, where she asked all the girls to come up who wanted to receive Jesus in their hearts. I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was totally blindsided because I really thought I was at a scout summer camp, not a Bible camp! I was not thrilled that the 3 youngest Catholic girls from our troop went up, including mine, but they didn't know any better. We hadn't thought to warn them ahead of time.
You know, I grew up in the Church of Christ; I went to Bible Camps; I responded to altar calls at least twice in my life, and I know when someone is speaking from the heart because of her love for the Lord. That's what this woman was doing, but I just didn't think it was the appropriate time or place. I have nothing but admiration for these Christ-filled women who sacrifice themselves for the better part of a year to present these camps. They do an amazing job and they are beautiful people! There's something very special about being around so many Christian women and children for a week. But....
We Catholics were upset, to put it mildly. We talked to our children and tried to explain what the speaker was doing and why. We explained that our "altar call" happens at every Mass when we go up to invite Jesus into our hearts in a very real way during Holy Communion. We explained that when we've been separated from Him through sin for a while, we go to Confession instead of going to the front of the church and asking the congregation to pray for us though a prayer like that happens at the beginning of every Mass when we say the Confiteor: "I ask you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God."
It might have all ended there as we thought that it would be only the Catholics with a problem, but two of my roommates, one of whom is a Baptist, felt it was highly inappropriate as well. So we decided to set up a meeting with the camp directors and explain our feelings, as this was evidently the first time that something like this had happened at this camp. Our concerns were more urgent because the woman who gave the sermons and did the call is the new program director for AHG National. We were, and are, very concerned that this should not become an accepted or encouraged part of AHG programming!
If we're all Christian, and I'm sure most members of AHG are from Christian families, if not actually baptized yet, then we don't need to be "preaching to the choir." We don't need to be trying to convert those who have come to camp for scouting activities. We will evangelize and convert souls that need it by our actions and our love. Though I gather that's a rather Catholic philosophy, not an evangelical protestant one! Most of us are part of AHG because of it's Christian philosophy, but they, the national organization, need to understand that Catholics are Christians, and that there are vast differences in our beliefs and our way of worshipping. We need to respect everyone's faith tradition, as Boy Scouts does. We're on the same team. We need to focus on what we have in common and capitalize on that in our mission of "building women of integrity through service to God, family, community, and country."