There's something remarkable that happens at church summer camp. My own offspring spent last week at an ELCA summer camp in our almost-backyard, the beautiful Sangre de Cristo mountains. I dropped them off on Sunday, everything normal. When I picked them up the following Saturday, I noticed (but was not really all that surprised by) a transformation in them.
Part of it, of course, is simply that they were away from home and all the normal authority figures for a week ~ they were freer to explore their own sense of individuality without the constraints of normal routine.
But another part of it, I believe, is the importance of sometimes being in a different place, a different physical location, in order to nurture our faith life. Camp is (to me) the most obvious. But I believe that's also why people make religious pilgrimages. There's something about getting away from what's 'normal' to see and experience a new angle on God's story, and a new angle on how God's story intersects our own.
The trouble, though, is that when we come back to 'normal', we come back changed ourselves while the community we come back to is still the same. There's often a letdown, a disappointment, a sense that something is missing in the 'normal' place. So the natural inclination is to dismiss the 'normal' as being too boring, or maybe as not enlightened enough. As a result, we go searching for that 'different' experience while enduring the 'normal'.
The thing is, though, that even what's 'exciting' can lose its excitement. Camp songs, as exciting as they are for a week, can become tedious after spending 10 weeks as a counselor.
Further, if we're focused simply on what's boring or exciting, then our faith life becomes entirely individualistic ~ which is fine if you're making up your own religion like so many in my country tend to do. However, individualistic religion is incompatible with Christianity. The point and purpose of Christian community is not to entertain, or to help anyone feel good, or to teach morals, or to meet the needs of any individual. All of these things are good and necessary parts of Christian community ~ but the point of Christian community is to be the Body of Christ (broken though we are) shared with the world who longs to know the story of G-d's grace.
So where, then, does camp (or any other religious pilgrimage) fit back into the life of a 'normal' Christian community. I believe it is incumbent upon the Christian community to listen to each others stories of faith; for those who went to camp to share their experience in meaningful ways that move beyond performance, and for those who haven't been to camp for a long time to listen closely and carefully to how G-d is active in the lives of the campers. Further, it is important that the campers listen closely to the stories shared by those who haven't been to camp for a while ... even in the 'normal' 'boring' 'regular' church, G-d is still moving in ways that are significant for many people.
Yes, place is important ~ and yes, changes of place can be important for our growing faith. But place is important even if we never go away anywhere. In the new and different, as well as in the rite and rote of ritual, G-d is present.