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Losing My Religion at Christian Camp

Katy Hershberger | Longreads | August 8, 2019 | 6,207 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Feature, Featured, Nonfiction, Story

Losing My Religion at Christian Camp

Katy Hershberger recalls the way her decade at Christian summer camp both shaped and condemned her views of faith and girlhood.
Illustration by Homestead

Katy Hershberger | Longreads | August 2019 | 25 minutes (6,207 words)

“Will you pray with us?” It was my fifth day as a camp counselor; I was 17 and the three girls who asked me were probably 12. The five years between us was a teenage lifetime, though now as adults, we could be classmates, colleagues, barflies on adjacent stools. Then, we were children. I pushed myself up from the cool summer ground. “Um, yeah. Do you — ” my voice cracked, “ — want to be saved?”

It was July 2001 in rural Virginia, the last night of Christian summer camp. A hundred girls sat in a circle around the campfire, the smell of embers and bug spray permeating our clothes. We sang praise songs, lifting our hands toward the Virginia stars, toward God. The camp director led us in prayer. Then she implored the campers: If you want to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, ask a counselor to pray with you.

A week earlier, I had graduated from CILT, a three-year counselor prep program. The acronym stood for Camper in Leadership Training, though Caring Imaginative Loving Teachers was printed on our t-shirts. I collected songs and games in a “resource file,” I taught a daily drama class during the week-long camp sessions, and I stockpiled readings and Bible verses for daily devotionals. I did not learn how someone becomes a Christian.

I don’t remember what the girls wanted to ask God that night, but it was, blessedly, not to be saved. We huddled away from the crowd, holding hands, and I stood above them, just barely the tallest. I prayed, my voice husky with uncertainty, and stared at the grass, glancing at the girls’ faces to see if I was doing this right. I asked God to help and guide them, and I silently asked the same for myself.

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