I recently cleaned out my storage closet, and in the process, I re-discovered my treasured box of t-shirts. This box of t-shirts includes all of my sentimental treasures of places, times, and people who have shaped my story. If it were up to me, I would carry this box full of folded up t-shirts through every move for the rest of my life. Fortunately, I married a woman who helps me to think more carefully about what I carry and why.
We opened up the box and pulled out the t-shirts, many of which span almost twenty years of Bethelwoods history. As I organized them into stacks, the stories came tumbling out. Look at this staff shirt with the names of all of my summer coworkers! Check out this very vintage Summer 1998 shirt from my first summer at day camp! How about this shirt where I had all my friends sign the back? I eventually worked on staff with this friend. I’m still Facebook friends with this one, and I just learned that her child was an LIT this summer! How are we that old already?! Look, here’s where the woman who would be my Bestie of Honor in our wedding signed! I remember tie-dying this shirt as a counselor and have the original from when I was a camper!
Here is the shirt from my Leadership Training Program years, back when we had SALT and CLIP, before we had LIT and CIT. This is the green shirt I wore on my 15th birthday, when my dad surprised me by picking me up from camp to take me to the DMV to get my driver’s permit on my birthday. I remember coming back later and having a marker fight with the day camp group we were shadowing.
My generously kind and wise wife offered to make me a t-shirt quilt out of these pieces of fabric that hold so many memories. That way I can wrap myself in the memories and stories regularly, instead of leaving them in a box, folded up and forgotten.
I look back with joy and gratitude on my many years with Bethelwoods. Much of what I have learned as a leader and facilitator came from the leadership training I received as a youth and adult. Bethelwoods taught me skills and gave me a chance to use them in caring for children, growing their faith, and taking risks and knowing someone was there to catch me, whether in low ropes initiatives, the high ropes course, or telling a story during a rainy day. I carry these lessons and experiences with me in the ways I live out my call to ordained ministry outside of traditional congregational contexts. I still lead and facilitate, building on the strong foundation the counselors and staff gave me many years ago. And I will always be ready to lead a repeat-after-me song.
I look forward to snuggling up with these stories and memories in the form of the t-shirt quilt. Maybe you’ll join me around the campfire sometime soon and we can tell some good stories and share a song, too?
- Angela Tyler-Williams, former camper and counselor