It took almost 20 years, but the Ivy League has noticed. And Jane Arant hopes neighboring churches are next.
In 1996, Arant debuted her liturgical day camp at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlotte.
On Monday, she will be in New Haven, Ct., leading a church delegation to Yale University. There, Trinity will be among eight congregations meeting with faculty from the school and around the country to discuss ways of advancing their programs.
This is the second year Yale has sponsored its summer Congregations Project to advance church arts, music and worship.
The eight participating churches come from Memphis, Evanston, Ill., Denton, Texas (another Trinity Presbyterian), Chelan, Wash., New York City and New Haven. Trinity of Charlotte, with about 600 members, is the second smallest of those invited.
Each has its own project, from a liturgical calendar for sustainable living and a liturgy for visiting the dying, to separate efforts at slowing the pace of modern life for more reflection and works of mercy.
The goal, according to a press release from the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, is for the delegates to become resources to other leaders or communities in their own regions.
Arant, the longtime minister of music at the Providence Road church, dreams of nothing less. She and her team want to create a how-to manual so other congregations can replicate what Trinity does every summer: a weeklong camp in which church youth learn more about their church, other religions, the arts and their own creativity. This years installment starts July 30.
For Arant, creativity is the key word.
For instance, the idea for the camp hit her when a Trinity member, who happened to be a church architect, talked movingly about how for him, Trinitys architectural rhythm was set in motion by a procession passing among the sanctuary columns.
That made Arant look at the building with a new set of eyes. It also led her to a crossroads thought: This is information people in this congregation need that they wont get ...
Unless she did something.
For three years, she tried unsuccessfully to get the churchs approval for the kids camp. Finally, it opened 16 years ago for fourth-graders and up. She limits it to no more than a dozen kids each year. Participants keep coming back, with the older repeats often serving as unofficial camp assistants.
What do they learn? Perhaps the better question is: Whats not to?
A camp staple, for example, is a study of the similarities between Jewish and Christian culture. One summer, former Charlotte Symphony timpanist Carol Stumpf talked about playing the drums.
In 1996, Arant showed the campers that Carl Lewis gold-medal-winning long jump at the Atlanta Games was the exact length of a Trinity pew 27 feet, 10 1/2 inches.
Another year, while in a dentist chair, she gazed up at a bicycle mobile hanging from the office ceiling. That led to an origami project, which will be featured this week at Yale, complete with an instructional video and 72 paper doves that still hang in the church at Pentecost, fluttering when the air conditioning clicks on.
As part of the Yale seminar, Arant gathered feedback from former camp participants. One is Hannah Sawyer, a 15-year-old.
In her note, Hannah hop-scotched around past camp lessons in history, architecture and religious culture; of doing sketches of the Cyrillic cross and learning calligraphy.
But my overall favorite memory, I got to help and be a kind of assistant, almost, she wrote.
I loved seeing the kids faces light up when they understood how to make complicated origami or how to fold the wings of a bird that would eventually become one of the most complicated paper airplanes they had ever built.
Arant is still a little surprised she hasnt been able to nudge other churches in the same creative direction. She hopes she and her team will come away with some ideas from Yale this week on making the camp a more attractive prototype.
Every church would have to look not for the same specific treasures, but their own sets of treasures, she says. Someone would have to figure out, Whats here thats beautiful, and what can the children learn about them.