(This horror story was told in response to The Banned By HWA’s post about The Philadelphia Church of God’s summer camp program. Some scary and creepy stuff)
On the subject of dorm “hazings”: for my part, I only had a negative experience the first year. I was the youngest guy in my dorm and took more than my share of shit. Truth be told, I’ve always been something of a smart ass so I probably brought some of it on myself anyway by mouthing off, but there was a point where I’d had enough and just took off on my own (which was a big no-no). I can still remember the story another camper told me years later: He sees me walking out of the woods towards the main pavilion, white-knuckling a stick with “the most angry look he’d ever seen on my face” or something to that effect. The stick had been used to fend off about 3-4 guys, all a couple of years older than me, who were relentlessly whacking me with wet towels (which lemme tell you, hurts like hell). obviously worse things have happened in the history of summer-camps (in general) but that’s about the closest thing to a hazing I endured, and only that first year. I think I was more disillusioned by that than hurt, in the sense that I’d had this absurd notion in my head that we were all one big family, and bullying of that nature was an outside concept, for people back in “the world”. Not so, sadly.
In terms of indoctrination, Mr. Maynard hit the nail on the head. I don’t remember any chants during my years there – other than stupid songs we sang while marching (or more often, running) to and from activities – but we were always hearing how there “probably wouldn’t be a camp next year” and how “Satan was attacking us young people” along with ridiculous stories about other church kids who had left (the church) and had all these life problems as a result. I distinctly remember a story about this young woman who left, got pregnant, had drug problems, her life fell apart and she just wanted to come back. She was so sorry for leaving, blah blah blah. Presumably they learned this story from her while counseling with her to come back, I’m sure she’d love to know her life experience was simply an indoctrination tool for them to use. It worked on me for sure, I was determined in my mind to never leave the fold, to never let “Satan win”. After all, I had to make it to Petra with my folks, I didn’t want to be left behind or anything. But more than that, I think they made us so scared and biased towards anything that went against their doctrines that it would be almost impossible for us to be objective towards any mindset that wasn’t their own. As if everything else was wrong, and even so much as considering another viewpoint was simply Satan at work on our minds. I ate it right up. Hook. Line. Sinker.
Now as for strenuous physical activity, that most definitely took place. Like I mentioned earlier, we were marched all over the camp. Most of the time, we actually ran. It was structured very much like boot camp in a sense. There were many activities each day, spread all over a huge stretch of land. We were always kept to a strict schedule, adherence to that schedule was of great importance. Often times we’d have ministry waiting for us at these activities, so the dorm counselors weren’t about to look bad by being so much as a minute late hence the running. Sunscreen was not provided, though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t frowned upon if you’d brought your own. I got the impression that previous camp sessions had encountered some issues with heatstroke and so by the time my first session came around, they were constantly hammering us to “drink, drink, drink” every chance we got – and for good reason – those Oklahoma summers were real scorchers. Considering that I’d lived in Florida my entire life, the state that invented the scorcher, is really saying something. Activities were mandatory. There was no sitting out unless you were sick or injured and that means badly injured, sprained limb or a broken bone. Everybody had to participate. Now for many guys at PYC, this level of activity was simply par for the course. The ministers in charge, specifically Steven Flurry,Wayne Turgeon and Dennis leap were all physically active guys (though you wouldn’t think so, looking at Leap). There was very much a macho mentality permeating the air at camp. Guys were expected to just suck it up and do everything, complain about nothing. It didn’t matter if you were a natural athlete or if you weren’t, the expectation was the same. One of the themes during one session I attended was “men of steel and velvet”. That phrase stemmed from a Steven Flurry sermon and the punchline was pretty much: “Be a masculine hard-ass on the inside, but all cultured on the outside”. That pretty much runs in line with the rest of Armstrongism. Men should be men, women should be women, both bound to the preconceived notion of what “real men” and “real ladies” are. It’s all very similar to Hitler’s “Ideal German” concept in the 30’s, really – sans the blonde and blue. So I think they ran that camp with the same mentality. God forbid you were perceived as weak or effeminate in any way, you were almost guaranteed a miserable 2 weeks. Needless to say, there were some guys there that I felt really, really sorry for. At the end of my first session, when I deplaned at Tampa International Airport, my mom didn’t recognize me. I walked up to her and she was still looking at the gate, waiting for me to come up. She was totally startled when I waved in her face. I’d lost so much weight and was several shades darker so she literally didn’t even think it was me and said as much. Take from that what you will.
I could go on and on, but I’ll leave it there. It wasn’t all bad, I learned a thing or two about public speaking and most definitely about overcoming fear (on the biking trail) but if I had it to do over again, I’d have been better off not going. Live and learn, eh?