Thank you for inviting me to take part in this zoom meeting about the diocesan camps at the time of MA . It has been a good opportunity to look back on the past 50 years!( I will not be speaking as part of the present leadership but will be sharing a few of my own memories and observations)
But before moving on to memories of camp I would like to share a memory of my youth and my first meeting with Metropolitan Anthony.
In the late 60s he had been invited to the home of one of my school teachers. Olga had recently rediscovered her Orthodox faith through the books of Metropolitan Anthony. He was invited speak to a group of her school leavers and young students and it was to be the first of several such meetings. What stuck me first was the way in which he could speak about his faith, he spoke from the heart with warmth and integrity and total conviction. It was through that encounter with him and then later with others in his parish I was led into the faith of the Orthodox Church that has so enriched and broadened my faith in God.
Another group of young people that he visited was at a camp by the sea in Wales, well before before my time.( 1958) I think we will be seeing a film of him there. The camp had been organised by Tatisha Behr who was a member of his parish. Sadly it has not been possible to have anyone here this evening who can speak of that time but from what I gather he joined in the fun and gave talks and led discussions with the young people. Tatisha and her family continued to have holidays for young people at their cottage in Wales during the 1960s but it was not until 1974 that the diocesan camps as we know them today started.
I gather that part of this meeting is to speak about what `I remembered about MA involvement with camp and be honest he had very little involvement apart from encouraging them to take place and giving them his blessing and putting his trust in the people who were to run them.
Father Michael Fortounatto one one of these people. He was the choir master and priest at All Saints Ennismore Gardens. He had always had at the heart of his vocation the young and their families.
As the number of parishes and Eucharistic communities in the diocese grew, the idea was born to have a camp that could bring the children from these small parishes together, where they could live in the countryside as a community for two weeks, play, make friends and have the opportunity to worship together and learn more about their faith. A place where they could feel that they belonged and share a common life and common faith.
Alexander Fostiropoulos (now Father Alexander`)was one of a number of enthusiastic young men and women who worshipped at the Cathedral at that time. Father Alexander was then a student of Architecture and was close to Father Michael and they had many talks about their vision of a camp. Alexander had had alot of previous experience in youth camps in Greece and so with Metropolitan Anthony’s encouragement he eagerly stepped up to the challenge of obtaining equipment and organising the first camp. So in 1974 with Father Michael as the spiritual director of the camp, his wife Mariamna as cook Alexander and myself as leaders we took the plunge!
It started small.The very first camp was in the country side not far from London. After a couple of years in two different places we were offered an excellent site, free of mud, in Ditchling, Sussex( south of London)It was a beautiful site surrounded by corn fields with views of the Sussex downs where we had walks. It was here that the Scorers, Father Peter who was then newly ordained deacon and Irina joined us and they were to play a vital role in the camps for future years. Father Peter had a special place in the hearts of campers, leaders and helpers.
I remember the first visit that Metropolitan Anthony made to camp, I think in 1978. He was not a man to stand on ceremony. If I remember correctly Anna Garrett, our church warden who became the camp cook, did have a loaf of bread and salt to welcome him but after his welcome he quickly hitched up his cassock and joined in a game of volley ball. I think he came towards the end of the camp. He certainly gave a talk to a group of teenagers and stayed on for an evening of entertainment that the children had prepared and the evening prayer.
I think he only visited two or three more camps.
In this early camp we had no chapel tent, 4 trees marked the corners of the area of grass where we met to pray and a cross was made from two branches that served as our focal point but, being England, where there is always rain we also prayed and celebrated the liturgy in the marquee where we ate and had all our indoor activities. I remember when we went on walks Father Michael would insist that we faced East when we prayed before our picnic. But where is East?! Much fun was had with a wonderful group of children.
And so the camp grew along with all the marquees and equipment that was needed, moving to three further sites one in southern England and the next two in Wales. During the 80s before moving to Wales all the equipment was stored in the balconies of the Cathedral and one year when the tents came back soaking wet they were hung over the balconies to dry leaving them under the care of Metropolitan Anthony.
For many years Metropolitan Anthony would bless the campers at the Cathedral and send them on their way by coach to the wonderful property high on a rocky hillside in Wales. Wern Watkin was the property of Michael and Sonia Behr. We were only there for the first year, maybe Irina can tell you more about that time in the 90s.
The camp became very big and after the millennium two new sites were found one in Norfolk which had buildings and another on a new site in Wales for those keen to be solely under canvas. My husband who was now a priest, (Father Alexander) and I joined the Scorers and their family there.
Despite Metropolitan Anthony rarely visiting camp he was always interested in how they went and I hope what we were learning from him was somehow incorporated into the spirit of the camps. One little thing I remember was that in the early camps the day began with gymnastics which he would have approved of as I remember him once saying it was good to exercise and wake up the body before morning prayer.
He certainly hoped that the camps would sow the seeds of faith and provide an opportunity for the children to learn more about the Gospel and the life of the church, so a time every day has always been allowed for this.
For the last 20 years we have had the camp in a beautiful site in Wales where a shallow river runs along one side surrounded by hills. Near the entrance and at one end of the field is the chapel tent where the lamps are lit every morning and evening and they can be seen from everywhere. The prayers that are used morning and night are the same ones that Father Michael chose for the very first camp, not too long for the campers to be still and concentrate.The children quickly get to know them and join in the singing. A short homily is given during the evening prayer about the gospel for the following morning.
The blessing of the camp is the first important event when the whole camp is liberally splashed with Holy water. Since 2003 a panikheda is always celebrated on the 4th August to remember Metropolitan Anthony along with all the departed who have been involved in camp including sadly a few past campers. A group always visits the church and sacred well of St Issui, a 6th century hermit and local saint who is the camp’s patron saint. At the end of the camp the liturgy of the the Transfiguration has always been the feast to look forward to. The children make the prosfora, decorate the chapel and join in the singing and enjoy the blessed grapes at the end.
Many traditions developed over the years and were valued and have been incorporated into other camps that have been started by young adults who were children of the first camps.
Camping is not for everyone. There are lots of challenges and new experiences for children, for the newcomers being away from home maybe for the first time, coping with the changing weather ( There is always some rain in Wales and it can be the cold at night). Getting out bed in the night to go to toilets at the other end of the field can be daunting. Washing and swimming in freezing water, collecting firewood for some of the cooking, tidying their tents, getting along with the other children and in recent years the new challenge of relinquishing their mobile phones! But there are alot of wonderful experiences for them, living outdoors in the beauty of the countryside, the games they play, the fun activities, sports and arts and crafts, camp fires and singing, listening to a good story during part of the main meals, the beauty of the chapel and praying together and the sense of being a community, a family and making lasting friends.
One of the wonderful things about having been involved with the camps for so many years is to see many of the children returning year after year and to watch them develop, seeing them grow up, many becoming invaluable young leaders and then meeting some of them again as parents sending their children to camp. Some of the old campers or parents of campers have given their time to help set up and dismantle the camp, a huge task, some to help in the kitchen and some are now part of the present leadership. There is much to thank God for.
Metropolitan Anthony when asked why some people come to faith and others do not said that he could not say but he then went on to give examples of how some people do come to faith. He said, I quote “ When we speak of faith we usually speak of a little grain of certainty which is born one way or another. It maybe a memory from our childhood”