We at RespectAbility’s Faith Inclusion and Belonging department know firsthand the importance of faith-based summer camps for providing spiritual and community formation. One might believe the work of faith inclusion is limited to what we do in worship services together, but as we learned from our recent webinar with Tammy Besser and Sarah McKenney, what we do outside of worship is often just as important for faith inclusion.
I myself have been profoundly shaped as a disabled person of faith by summer camp. I was fortunate to attend Pilgrim Pines, a United Church of Christ (UCC) affiliated summer camp in the heart of the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California. Pilgrim Pines was one of the first places where I encountered full integration of disabled people in a community. The camp partnered with local care facilities to bring children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to camp. Disabled people are often segregated from the rest of society, so the opportunity to build lifelong friendships and spiritual connections year after year with fellow campers, both disabled and non-disabled, was transformative.
Judy Heumann, of blessed memory, recorded a podcast episode during Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) that was just released called Religion & Disability with Amy Kenny, Mona Minkara & Rabbi Lauren Tuchman. At minute thirty-nine, Judy holds back tears as she recounts how she was not allowed to attend Jewish summer camp like her brothers did because she was disabled. She reflects on how much she felt like she was behind her Jewish peers, who knew more than her about their faith because they got to attend Jewish summer camp. Many of us now know, because of the film Crip Camp, the way the world changed for the disability community because people like Judy Heuman and Denise Jacobson attended the secular summer camp Camp Jened. So, let us dare to imagine how the world will transform when disabled people experience full inclusion and belonging in faith-based summer camps.