Monday, November 17, 2008

No Courting!

Being a camp director for several years, one of my sacred duties was to read the Beaver Creek staff manual to our staff. This was always a favorite part of our Sunday night training (OK, not really) but one of our rules was something like this:

Staff must not spend time courting. Necessary as that may be, it must be done elsewhere. Staff are at camp to serve the Lord. Any staff that does not help to build a healthy atmosphere at camp should be expelled by the camp director. It is better to be short staffed than to be wrong staffed.

In other words, no new exclusive and/or romantic relationships at camp. There are basically two approaches to the whole "dating" thing with short term ministries: yay or nay. Beaver Creek Bible camp has always been strongly on the "nay" side.

Staff usually snickered at this rule but most did not seriously object to it (although there was plenty of mocking of it, much to do with the old English word "courting"). Some staff did honestly think it wasn't necessary and there were a few who even thought it inhumane or unChristian. I suppose when I came on as director I could have changed that particular rule but I thought of it as a pragmatic necessity. Why the rule?

1. Exclusive romantic relationships upset team balance and often make others feel awkward.
2. Camp ministry is short term and spiritually intense. Staff need to be focused. Romantic relationships usually distract staff from their ministry to the campers. This can be subtle, as in a mental and emotional distraction. Or it can be physical as the couple find more and more time to be together and less time with their campers.
3. The appearance of evil. Staff, visitors, and campers can all have bad reactions to watching couples form in the midst of ministry opportunities.
4. Distraction to the campers.

Camp (and missions) are emotionally intense places to be. In this kind of atmosphere it is exceedingly easy to fall in love. Seriously, do you know how many guys I've had in my office confessing to me that they are in love with the lifeguard? Or that cute LDC leader? Or even the nurse? And don't forget those wonderful kitchen helpers! I have seen it happen so many times before, a person comes to camp with every intention to give everything they have to the campers for 6 full days and mid week they are "out of it," swept along by an intense chemistry reaction to another staff member. Of course such attractions are normal and to be expected, the problem is if they are sanctioned and encouraged they can quickly get out of control. That is why most ministry teams that I have encountered also have non-dating rules. It just makes thing much easier. I even coined a great phrase which no doubt encouraged many staff: camp is a great person to meet the person of your dream but a bad place to persue them. Oh yes, many staff have expressed great joy when they heard these wise and encouraging words!

The funny thing is that whenever we had to talk to someone about the fact that they were breaking the courting rule, they always seemed shocked. "What? No, you must be mistaken. There's no attraction here. We're just friends." Somehow what was obvious to every other staff person escapes the view of those directly involved! Usually (I'd like to think) these people are not so much lying as they are self-deceived. Very humorous though.

Not to say there isn't a place for people who are already dating at camp. I have seen some of the best examples of mature and balanced dating by staff who came to camp as a couple. The way they handled it all was a witness to many. But if it was completely my choice, I will always suggest no new romantic relationships for ministry teams. I know a few other camps that operate differently (Camp Arnes being a notable example) and I even know at least one couple who met at camp, dated at camp, and got married. These folks are the exception to the rule. And the rule is this: No courting at camp! What do you think about this topic?

P.S. The image is from our staff canoe trip from a few years ago (2004). I don't think Viola and "Slash" were courting here, but it was my best camp staff pic that kind of encapsulates the idea of it.


Chad said...

i was chuckling the whole time as i read this because its so true.
no courting at camp is a smart rule. i wish as a teenager you could switch hormones off for periods of time so these rules wouldnt be so hard to follow

lois said...

I completely agree with you!! camp is for the campers. and thats that!! there should be no reason on the staff's part for a camper to miss out on his/her opportunity to be loved, given attention and learn about a loving Father.

Dayna said...

i laughed out loud. not a mocking laugh, but this understanding kind that said 'i can just hear mark saying these exact words'...

LifeFORCE's rule #5 is similar and just as valid. i totally agree with a non-courting rule in such situations. it is not just better for the campers, but for the 2 staff members themselves.

Jay Boaz said...

My reply was getting really long so see my blog for my response to this article!

I do remember that as part of 5 week staff one year we were having a little too much fun with courting and inbreeding jokes...we also turned the Encouragement Box into the Courting Box and filled it with fake courting notes one day...good times!

Dave Carrol said...

There a part of me (maybe most of me that agrees) and as a leader I see that as the easiest possible scenario to make things go smoothly...

but then I think... there are SO MANY Christians who desperately want to find something with a like mind and a like spirit and it's so hard to find... that it might be short sighted just to say no.

Krista Nicole said...

Hmmm... I met my first boyfriend at Beaver Creek.... but we know that's not who I married.

While I think that the concept in and of itself is right, the innate pull within the teenage mind (the majority of the counseling staff)is to ignore any rule that one finds unnecessary.

Mark said...

Jay: I remember that mocking! I even have an "encouragement" note that says something like "If we were allowed to court, I would so court you!" Tsk, tsk!

Dave: I'm not sure if a no courting rule is always the easiest route to go. If you have it you may have people who fight it. If you don't have it you may have people who abuse the freedom. Either way, serious work is involved by the leadership and staff. I do hear what you are saying about the freedom aspect though - it is uncomfortable to seem like you are denying it to people (even hormonal teenagers). Of course staff choose to put themselves under it, so I guess you could say they have made a choice. To choose to willing put oneself under rules and then complain bitterly about them is kind of amusing to me . . .

Krista: Good point. Teens will rebel against what they consider injustice. Of course that doesn't determine whether what they rebel against is injust or not.

These thoughts are a response to Jay's response (and the comments it elicited) at

Regarding previously dating couples coming to camp: I have to admit that I chuckled reading everyone's comments. You see, contrary to some opinions there were NO rules against spending time together with someone you are dating at camp. This means there were no set rules:
1. against spending time with the person you are going out with
2. about forgetting about serious relationship while there.
3. about acting like you aren't dating someone

I hate to break it to people, but none of these "rules" were rules at all. They are more like assumptions that people made because of the courting (no starting new exclusive relationships) while at camp. Did we ever suggest dating couples focus on their campers and not on their dating partner? Or was it mentioned to try thinking about camp like you weren't dating so as not to distract the campers? Sure, but these were suggestions and never enforced. There were no rules against such things. Perhaps things are different today, but the courting rule was only for those wanting to start something with someone. I don't think I spoke to someone in an established relationship about their time together more then once or twice in my time at camp (and it was only because their campers were being ignored, something I would do with any counselor). Honestly it wasn't really an issue. If people were worried they were being watched it was probably mostly their imagination. Seriously!

So here's how I handled the dating issue (which was rare as we actually didn't have many dating couples at camp during our time) - everything was case by case. Lots of factors to consider when a couple came to us requesting we allow time in the schedule to be together - time at camp (1 week vs 5), length of relationship, spiritual maturity, how well I knew them, my knowledge of their physical relationship, etc.

The mature couples who came to us and said "Hey, can we have time together?" and we would make our decision on how much time based on the above factors. Very rarely were there occasions that we felt uneasy about a couple spending some time together (If such a couple were both only there for one week, we might not schedule their skills off together but that was very rare). Usually if we didn't schedule a couple's skill periods off together it was because we forgot or we needed one or both of them to fill certain spots. Almost every time it was requested we allowed it (with the usual cautions about neglecting time for rest/socializing with other team members/Godtime as well as being out of sight). Maybe I've forgotten some incidents but I was never really concerned about dating couples unless I knew they were struggling physically - and even that was quite rare.

There you go, the mysteries of camp dating are laid bare! Hopefully that will clear up some misconceptions?