Building Community at Camp Valaqua

Building Community at Camp Valaqua

Camp Valaqua director Jon Olfert and the 2021 summer staff had already had long days of staff orientation which included such diverse topics as anti-racism training and learning about Covid-19 protocols. Then, on the last day, Friday July 9, Tim Wiebe-Neufeld, Mennonite Church Alberta (MCA) Executive Minister, arrived for one last presentation. This one on relationships, on building community.

As experienced counsellors know, Camp Valaqua is all about relationships. Relationships between counsellor and campers. Relationships between counsellors — occasionally romance blooms along side the wild roses. Relationships between campers themselves -- which sometimes become lifelong friendships.  

But, Tim explained, there are more relationships. There are relationships between those who live and work on what often seems to be the Camp Valaqua island and others in MCA. Tim mapped out these relationships with Camp Valaqua at the centre. Then he added more circles. Summer staff, Counsellors in Training, permanent staff. Volunteers. Campers. Parents. Builders/historical visionaries, the people who came before. Congregations — those who pool their money to help camp run each year. Individual donors and Hike-a-thoners. Board members. MCA staff. Soon he had a white board full of names and circles. 

He pointed out physical evidence of relationships — the benches with church names, some of these reminders of churches which are no longer part of MCA. The Vauxhall Cabin, a tribute to the Vauxhall Mennonite Church.  And he concluded that being part of Camp Valaqua is an invitation into a community, a place of belonging, a place of acceptance, a relationship of caring concern. Camp Valaqua, for staff as well as campers, is a place to explore what is meaningful in life. Camp is a place to meet God. 

Later that evening, having been well fed by the kitchen staff, the counselling staff gathered once again. This time, to be commissioned into service for the summer. The old chapel, down the hill, which holds such meaning for many, was the perfect location for such a  significant service. Following some singing — albeit masked — the staff created a pile of stones to represent their hopes and dreams for the summer.  

Then as part of a longer litany, they were blessed with these words.

We will pray for you in your ministry of mentoring and caring for all who come to camp this summer.”

God, bless each staff member as they accept your call to camping ministry. May your love be magnified through the work of their hands. May they lead and be led in the journey that awaits them.”

May God bless all who will visit this place. And may God’s presence go with us always.  Amen.”