by Ellen Powell
Have you ever stood by the “IN” door of the kitchen in Alford Hall and looked up at the plaques over the piano? I know I have. Here’s a little bit more about the awesome program the plaques are part of, and snippets from my own journey to getting my name up on the wall.
Officially, the program is called the Program of Achievement Recognition. Almost nobody at Crystal Lake actually uses that name, though. It has four levels – Crimson Arrow, Bright Star, Tall Pine, and Eagle Feather – and we tend to refer to the program by the name of the first level, Crimson Arrow.
Every year, campers and staff work to attain these awards by completing requirements in different areas of camp. In any given session, you may find a group of campers walking with Mark Catlin, learning to tell trees apart and recognize bird calls. You might hear a beautiful testimony that just crystallizes the things you’ve been learning about God’s Love for all Her children. Perhaps you’ll see a group splashing and laughing their way to a Level 3 in swimming. No doubt you’ll see some campers challenging themselves in completely new ways, whether by trying archery or helping out in the barn as part of a service project. Sports classes, overnight camping trips and participating in Council Fire can also count towards Crimson Arrow requirements.
So why do Crimson Arrow? First, let me point out that there’s no one way to “do” Crimson Arrow. Sure, you probably could get all the requirements “signed off” in a session or two. You could also stretch it out over nine years, the way I did.
As a camper, I loved the time I spent in the barn. I couldn’t get enough of the horses, and would jump eagerly from bed at 6 am to go and volunteer. As you can imagine, the “Service” portion of the Crimson Arrow came fairly easily to me. Pretty much everything else, though, has a story.
Like the summer I spent taking swimming lessons, even though I hated swimming, because I wanted to get good enough to pass the Crimson Arrow requirement. End result? Chocolate chip cookies at the end of the session, and a lifelong love of swimming that has propelled me through many early-morning lake swims.
Then there was the year I signed up for a tennis class to meet the “sport” requirement. Granted, I wasn’t very good at tennis – but I slowly got better! As an added bonus, I was able to spend some very special hours with a cousin I no longer see.
Oh, and archery. I really couldn’t stand the idea of archery as a camper, born largely (I think) from the fact that my brother was so irritatingly good at it. Better, I thought, to just stick to what I was good at and ignore archery all together. Until one day I couldn’t ignore that pesky archery requirement any longer. So I took the class, I got my Yeoman, and I was reminded, once again, not to compare yourself with others. Camp’s supportive atmosphere really helps with that.
(Sidebar: by the time I came to the archery requirement for Bright Star, I was brave – and humble – enough to ask my brother to take me out to the archery range. He was generous enough to agree).
Finally, a story about my Bright Star. I had all the items signed off – except the hour-long vigil. That’s part of the religion requirement, where you get to go off by yourself and pray for an hour. I was really struggling with the idea of doing this – not because it seemed like such a long time, but because it seemed disingenuous. In spite of the fact that I was at camp, I wasn’t feeling like a particularly good Christian Scientist, and God seemed a very long way away. I was encouraged to get the vigil done – and, entirely unwillingly, I agreed.
I can’t say that the vigil solved all my problems. But it was a very good reminder of something I’m still working on: that what is needed, more than anything, is a willingness to show up. As I showed myself willing to listen, to put in the work, and to dedicate myself to Christian Science, things started to become clear. I let go of my fear that I “wasn’t good enough” for Christian Science, and even went through Class instruction the following summer.
What am I trying to say? The purpose of the awards isn’t just to get the things done; it’s the spiritual growth that comes as you face each one of these challenges. Crimson Arrow allows you to go beyond who you think you are and what you think you can accomplish. It helps you to see yourself as God sees you – and to recognize how far you’ve come.
These days, working with campers to achieve their Crimson Arrow is one of my favourite parts of camp. I love watching them grow, struggle and succeed. As they work on different requirements, I see campers learn to follow through and make tangible progress, even in areas that are challenging for them. They plan out how they will achieve the objectives. They develop the ability to work with different counsellors. They tackle deep spiritual issues. And through it all, they express so much JOY. It really is beautiful to watch.
Thank you to all the people who helped me on my journey through Crimson Arrow, Bright Star and beyond. You know who you are.
And to all the campers out there: I hope you’ll consider Crimson Arrow this summer, even if you really aren’t sure it’s for you. Expect to be surprised. I know I was.
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