To say that I spent a lot of time at Westminster Highlands over the years is not an exaggeration. My family would take our travel trailer to camp in the family camping area every Memorial Day and Labor Day along with five or six other families from my parents' Bible study at Graystone Church in Indiana PA. I attended a standard summer church camp there every summer. (I think it was called Camp Calvin, in good Presbyterian form!) In the early 1980's, Westminster Highlands initiated a MAD camp standing for Music Art and Drama. Of course, I was drawn to this camp and attended it for two or three summers. And, in addition to all of this, my youth group from Graystone Church would go to Westminster Highlands for a week, early in the summer, to do odd repair jobs around the facilities in preparation for the upcoming summer season. So, in any given summer, I could have ended up spending between 1 and 4 weeks at Westminster Highlands. I loved everything about going to camp there.
First, on our Memorial and Labor Day weekend trips, it was always so social. There were typically five or six families all staying in our travel trailers. The weekends would be filled with campfires, softball games, swimming in the freezing cold water of the pool, Hoopie rides (an old dune buggy that was a fixture at camp), and hikes on the huge boulders and swimming in the creek. The boulders on the camp property are absolutely amazing. They are the size of large buildings and have multiple hiking and climbing opportunities all over the place. They can definitely be dangerous, but as a adventurous kid, they presented endless possibilities for climbing and excitement. I just remember those family weekends as being full of laughter and happiness. These were good family friends with lots of kids around. My friends Norm Murdock and Shawn Taylor were a big part of those weekends for me. We had grown up together in church and school. These weekends of hiking, swimming, campfires, and goofing off just deepened our friendships even more. There were other families, too, in addition to the Murdock's and Taylor's, including the Gibson's, Stahlman's, and others. It was so much fun getting to know older and younger brothers and sisters of my friends and just being part of a amazing communal experience. I remember it would drive my mother crazy that I loved to eat with other families and try their food. Mom liked for us all to stay together at mealtime. I wanted to see how other folks lived. I just found the whole experience to be so exciting.
The traditional camp experience was different. My parents would make the three-hour trek from Indiana, PA to Emlenton, drop me off ,and I would meet a whole group of new kids that I had never met before; just like every other kid who ever went to church camp. There was something about the excitement of meeting new people that really drove me. We would get placed in a canvas topped Adirondack cabin and meet our new roommates for the week. Usually there were one or two guys in the cabin that were cool and fun. Usually there were a couple that got on everyone else's nerves. Figuring out how to navigate this early in the week was always a challenge. But, I could always count on plenty of hi-jinx in the cabin, laughter after lights out, and opportunities for making friends and having amazing experiences throughout the week. The week always included Bible study of some sort. I am sure that many of the foundations of my faith became strengthened at these camps. Mealtime was always special. There was a main cabin with long tables. I can remember Rev. Prosser coming in to gently give directions on how to get our food and how to clean up afterwards. He was always part of the camp experience.
MAD Camp was particularly special for me. As an arts oriented kid, this seemed like a perfect fit. I could go to a church camp, focus on my music, and meet other kids from around the region that had similar interests. It became apparent to me very quickly that this was "my space." I could exercise my young leadership and team building skills in this environment and have a great time doing it. The MAD Camp week usually consisted of some type of preparation for a large performance at the end of the week. I recall one year that we made a musical out of the book, The Singer by Calvin Miller. I played the lead role and wrote a ton of original music for that performance. It was definitely one of my first opportunities to branch out from my classical music roots and exercise my creative muscles. It was so much fun and life-shaping for sure.
At some point in the late 1970's, my church youth group began heading to Westminster Highlands during an early week in the summer for work camp. This was a completely different experience. We went with kids that we knew and would spend the week fixing bridges, clearing trails, and doing odd jobs around the camp. But, in addition, we were developing relationships and galvanizing our friendships. We were talking about our faith and deepening our relationship with God. This too was amazingly life-shaping. Reverend Prosser, incidentally, was always around. He would give us our instructions for the day at breakfast. He would always stop by the work site to see how things were going. And, occasionally, when we broke the rules or didn't follow through on expectations, he would set us down and explain the importance of our work, probably get us feeling quite guilty for our transgressions, and move on in a very gentle way. Lessons learned. Some of my greatest memories of Westminster Highlands are from work camp. I remember singing Journey's "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'" at the top of our lungs, swimming in the creek with my friends, hiking on the huge boulders, and even some pretty fun games of "Truth or Dare" after hours. I couldn't begin to name all the folks that were at these work camps in this post, but you know who you are. These are the friendships that I think about and cherish to this day.
So, today Rev. Thomas Prosser and his family are on my mind. He was a great man and caretaker of an absolutely beautiful natural place in Northwestern Pennsylvania. He made it special for all of us. Every kid who went to camp at Westminster Highlands came away with a greater sense of what it truly is to be a person of faith. Reverend Prosser modeled and spoke of kindness, work ethic, faithfulness, and leadership for each of us everyday. He will certainly be missed. I will carry so many great memories of him and Westminster Highlands in my heart for the rest of my life.