RE Matters: Summer Camp Meets Sunday School


By Emmalinda MacLean

Director of Religious Education

I just got back from my fifth year of running Camp de Benneville Pines’ Counselor-in-Training program, which takes place during Elementary camp, and I couldn’t be more proud of this year’s batch of future camp counselors.


Several children from Emerson will be going up the mountain at some point this month, and having personally trained almost everyone who serves as a camp counselor at de Benneville now, I feel confident that our church’s children—alongside UU kids from all over California, Nevada, Arizona, and beyond—are under the watchful care of some of the most compassionate, thoughtful, dedicated people I know.


elementary camp-2

Camp is a place where children learn what community is all about. 


The Counselor-in-Training program is rigorous and demanding, and this year’s program was the most intense yet. Last year, my co-facilitator Mary Carter-Vail and I rewrote the curriculum; previously, the trainings were mostly lifted from a generic summer-camp-counselor handbook, but the new manual leans heavily on UU values and the uniquely positive and affirming camp culture that makes de Benneville so special. Some of the new training topics include:


  • The history of Camp de Benneville, and the story of how George de Benneville helped bring Universalism to the United States (no, he wasn’t the guy who founded the camp!)
  • Scripts and role-plays for respectful and effective behavior management, that doesn’t depend on shaming or threats of punishment
  • Understanding of different learning styles, and how to teach and support children who learn in a myriad of ways
  • Sensitivity to long list of special needs, so that counselors are prepared to honor these children’s differences while including them fully in camp
  • Anti-racism/anti-oppression training, where counselors learn how white privilege, micro-aggressions, and sexism can manifest even in the progressive and compassionate environment of camp, and practice how to respond.



Future de Benneville Camp Counselors, with their proud teachers.


As I look toward Emerson’s new Religious Education year and prepare for our September 10th RE teacher training, I keep asking myself what is it that works so well at camp, and how can we bring that into our Sunday morning classrooms?


What I’ve realized is that our summer camp counselors don’t have a minute-by-minute camp schedule, or a detailed plan for every activity; they don’t need to. What they do have is a great love for the community and the tools to interact with kids in a way that models our UU values.


Ultimately that’s all our church needs from RE volunteers—just be comfortable spending time with children. I’ll give you the lesson plan, the format of the class, and I’ll have all the materials and supplies ready to go for you. Unlike camp counselors, RE volunteers don’t have to get kids to brush their teeth, or put them to bed at night, or comfort a child sobbing from homesickness—their parents are 30 yards away.


If you subscribe to our church’s covenant, and you want to pass on that doctrine of love, quest for truth, and service-as-prayer to the next generation, we can walk you through everything else you need. Just email me with any questions, and mark your calendar for Saturday, September 10th’s teacher training!


The sign-up page to volunteer for the 2016-17 RE year can be found here: Emerson RE Sign Up Genius. Please note that our first priority is children’s well-being, so this is an indication of your interest and willingness, but does not guarantee placement in a Religious Education classroom. Thank you for your understanding and your desire to support a positive church experience for our congregation’s young people!