Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Summer's Coming! So, A Fireside Chat about SEP Decades ago

I have always said that if there is one thing the Church did right - it was the Summer Educational Program.

Now many may have different opinions on this based on where they were in the Church Timeline. The 1960s and 1970s were particularly rough, with SEP operating more as a boot camp then a Summer Camp for many - spankings and all. My time, however, was an escape from fundamentalist realities and other issues in family life, personal life, and in the Church, and the SEP experience for me was downright liberal to me - based on exactly how much that the teens got away with. I was shocked when I caught two high school workers making out on the anchor desk of the TV/Radio Studio, was even more shocked when on a voyageur canoe trip the Counselors had us go up a hill for our bathroom - which was in clear view of the girl's bathroom in the valley! (I did my best not to look!!) Yet despite these and other contradictions to the Faith I invested every ounce of my time and effort into - SEP was an amazing event for a kid. 

Every moment of my day was filled to the brim with activity. From basketball to volleyball, from windsurfing (or trying to) to television and radio, to softball - from morning to evening it was constant go, go, and go again. The team, led by Dr. Kermit Nelson, would constantly play music meant to "build us up" in teamwork - such as "The Olympic Spirit" by John Williams when we walked into Orientation, to "One Moment in Time" by Whitney Houston. We'd spend our time learning to dance with Rex De Le Pena (a college student) with the song "I Never Walk Alone" by Huey Lewis and the News. And we'd hear "Sail Away" by Enya more times than we could count. This isn't to say it was always Armstrong-Land at SEP. Boyz II Men's "Motown Philly" was always playing on the Camp Radio Station KSEP. (It WAS the Early 90s, after all!) And I will NEVER forget when I woke up one morning staring directly into a counselor's open fly where a flacid Johnson was accidentally exposed. (I am positive this was a complete accident. I turned away fast as we turned away from Christmas at the time!) (No, I'm not saying who this person was!)

We had Christian living classes. We were constantly told that God's Way Works. We'd go into the Gymnasium every Friday Night for hymn sings, or to the Fellowship area for Fireside Chats, or chat with a Dorm Parent. I got to meet people at SEP we all hear about now... Gerald Weston (I have some stories about this dude), Bernie Schnippert, Curtis May, among many others. But if there was one thing we NEVER discussed at SEP was Jesus. 

Sure, we'd hear from Carl McNair about respect and using the names Mr. and Mrs. frequently. We'd hear from Dr. Nelson about this thing about Negative Ions and if there is one place in all the world we would want to be it was "RIGHT HERE" - we'd all yell in unison. We'd hear from other leading pastors (such as Greg Sargeant) about many teen issues. But we were never taught at SEP about Jesus. 

When Gary talks about Jesus Christ as the "Inconvenient Dude" who was hardly ever mentioned - either then, or now, in the Church - he was exactly right, at least in my experience. And at SEP, there was so much going on that Jesus seemed completely irrelevant. We'd certainly know it if we did something wrong - like no side hugs for greater than 3 seconds with a member of the opposite sex, or accidentally held hands (!) - or called a college kid by their first name (!!!) - or did something innocuously wrong on the Sabbath. But never was a "Christian Living" class about the One who was supposedly the center of our Joy - Jesus Christ. Not even once. Jesus may have been mentioned 'in passing" in a Sabbath Service, or in an opening or closing prayer. The truth of it is, none of us kids even cared about Jesus because we had never been introduced to Him. We simply were there to have fun. And for that, the Church did a phenomenal job of providing that. 

SEP holds a dear place in my heart to this day. It's a conflicted heart, knowing what I know now about the Church, it's origins, and it's background and especially it's founder. Looking at Google Earth at the former Campus - abandoned and desolate save a dorm or two left over and the Gymnasium - must give ex-church members the same feelings when they look at the Pasadena Campus (or what is left of it). Yet, it comprises a moment in time when a kid could be a kid. I met my first real crush and first love there (that did not unfortunately work out years later), made some decent buddies, and had some bad memories too for various reasons. But it was a place that constantly invades my dreams to this day - because they succeeded in making me feel welcomed and accepted for the most part.

How much better it would have been if they had introduced Jesus, that inconvenient dude, to us kids at SEP that year. But we were far too busy judging each other on how we were supposed to keep the Sabbath. That was an argument I won't forget, nor shall I ever forget SEP. I breathe a deep sigh of fond memories thinking about those summers in Orr, Minnesota, and occasionally, even drip a tear or two. 

And I'm sure I am not alone in this retrospect. It is difficult to imagine, however, all those kids and where they are now considering everything that has happened in the last 25 to 30 years in our common heritage. I just wonder what that "Inconvenient Dude" Mr. Christ would have thought if He had even been mentioned there or had been focused on, instead of whether or not Chess or Cards were acceptable to play between the "Gentiles" and the "Converted" youth of the Church. 

I guess 2000 years later, some things never changed.

submitted by SHT


Anonymous said...

LCG's childless Gerald Weston has always had problems dealing appropriately with young people. He has carried into LCG those same problems. Notice what LCG is now teaching its young people:

Be Creative, Not Original

Teaching kids to fear originality is a sure way to keep them vulnerable and filled with self-doubt. It might even be healthy to teach kids that they don't need to be "original" in order to express themselves. The article though, with its very title, goes straight for the jugular in typical ACOG fashion: Be Not Original.

That's what it's like to grow up in an ACOG. "Express your individuality by conforming like everyone else!"

Anonymous said...

You remember what I remember, I’ve heard the disgust from others. To me it was sanctuary. Walking down the dirt road to do laundry with my bunk mate I breathed the first sigh I genuine relief in my life. I can still smell the dust and army worms, and biscuits, I dream about those biscuits. The end of session was a frantic scramble as our young coed counselors worked with the adults to find a spot for a camper in my dorm to keep her safe for a summer. No one told authorities or did the right legal thing, but they cared, it was the only love I remember seeing in church, any church.

Byker Bob said...

SEP was a great seminar! Lots of kids who suffered abuse at home, able to get together and have meaningful discussions on how to combat abusive parents.

Funny thing is? The parental units expected the church to do their jobs for them. At the end of camp, they expected to pick up saints at the bus station. Reality? We were worse and more secretive. Camp discipline was really lax. Six swats the entire summer vs about 40-60 belt lashes per day at home. No forced missing of meals at camp. Mostly activities rather than painting bedrooms and cleaning attics and garages. Could have done without the shocking holocaust films during the Tejas years, though.

The best thing I learned from summer camp was about the bogussness of authority, and how worthless it was to seek it. That did a really good job of setting me up for later life! Thank you, SEP!


NO2HWA said...

I did SEP, Orr, second session in 1971. It was a life saver for me. It got me out of a crazy church infested home. I was the only kid in y dorm that never got any swats. While there was discipline, it was much more relaxed than what most parents thought.

SHT said...

SEP wasn't SEP without Frogurts, or watching Dr. Nelson scoot around on his little moped deal. I don't really remember the smell of biscuits, but I do fondly recall grill-outs with the chef cooking for all of us outside of the Dining Hall. There were also pillow fights, mattresses with sleeping kids being overturned, dorm picnic tables filled to the brim with candy on "Orr Day" when we'd take our money and go crazy at the IGA store in town with candy, and a canoe trip where to this day I will never eat another peanut butter and honey sandwich. I guess I was fortunate to have such kind AC counselors in my dorm experience.

SL said...

So please SHT tell us about Weston.

nck said...

The difference between Judaism, Islam and (traditional) Christianity, is the focus on practical application of "a way of life", not persons!

This simple remark is a simplification of a huge and profound theological difference and application of tenets and the basis of SHT's misunderstanding of the Armstrongite premiss.


Anonymous said...

SHT said: "And I will NEVER forget when I woke up one morning staring directly into a counselor's open fly where a flacid Johnson was accidentally exposed. (I am positive this was a complete accident. I turned away fast as we turned away from Christmas at the time!) (No, I'm not saying who this person was!)"

LOL! I remember being 14 years old in high school one time and we were having PE and it was a practice of us guys to compete with each other to see who could get changed into our gym uniform and back into our school uniform first. So during the game I misheard my gym teacher thinking she said class was over and I darted to the change rooms. As I ran into the guys change rooms I saw the door inside the change rooms (which was ALWAYS locked and we ALWAYS wondered what was behind that door) was opened and there was a shower running and steam filling the air. I started to get changed out of my sports uniform and then my PE teacher from the year before came out stark naked! "Hey! How are you?" he asked as I quickly turned away embarrassed. "Uh...good...yeah...you?" I replied. I was thinking what the hell have I gotten into? I kept changing out of my gym uniform and was thinking where the hell is everyone else? Why isn't anyone else coming in to get changed? It's going to be so funny when the other guys come in to see Mr --- getting changed too! But, no one came in and I was left in this awkward situation. I swear I couldn't get changed fast enough! But, when I did I walked into the gym to find everyone else in my class still playing sport. My gym teacher looked puzzled at me in my school uniform and I grinned explaining I thought she had said we could go get changed. She shook her head at me and I waited till several minutes later she dismissed the class and then waiting some more till all the rest of my friends got changed. By the time they got in, however, Mr --- was out and back into the gym office. I think I only told my close friends what happened as it was no big deal. I'm sure Mr --- told my gym teacher since the next time I saw her she looked at me with a twinkle in her eye as if she was about to laugh and greeted me like she knew something. It was pretty funny and at least one good thing from it was I could tell everyone what really lay behind the locked door inside the change rooms. LOL.

"I breathe a deep sigh of fond memories thinking about those summers..."
SHT I just want to say you wrote a sweet little memoir. Very "Stand By Me"-ish! It makes me fondly recall happier and healthier summer days of my youth (as the above awkward anecdote lol) when we did not know the answers! God bless!

Anonymous said...

At 12:49 AM, nck acknowledged

the Armstrongite premiss

He's right. The Armstrongite way of life had already missed, even before it was put into practice. It was built on faulty premises, ensuring that different people would interpret it differently, and that outside non-practitioners could even rationalize it away as benign, but that all who actually practiced it would become HWA's dumb sheep.

SHT said...


Thank you for your kind words and your humorous story! I had a similar "shower room" experience myself, in a Y.O.U. sports function, and I think I was about 14 at that time too. I think I had pretty much the same reaction (yours was a gym teacher - mine was a local elder).

I didn't know ministers wore thongs until that day, being my fundamental Armstrong family incessantly instructed their biased opinion that tighty whities were the only acceptable male undergarment. It may have been that moment when I realized that the extremist opinions I believed at that time were not necessarily "Church Normal" in the underground. (bad choice of word there?)

nck said...

I fondly remember the reaction of "the stupid american" students over the swim wear of that daughter of Issachar.

To me she looked like any of my high school friends at the pool. For the puritans she resembled Jezebel.

I remember Becky playing Beasty Boys and learned that "shit" was a word equaling blasphemy. I learned Miami Soundmachine only catered to a segment of a racist society and that a negro should be called, black or dark.

I learned many social skills and interacting, that profited me during my career.

I learned to cope with spoiled wimps from Houston being bored with camp and make them aware of other kids from warzones like Belfast.

I saw HWA search under the girls beds and the relief on the ministers faces that the girls had indeed stored their knickers in the suitcase.

The lessons learned cannot be topped by Fontaineblue.

We didnt get the Holocaust movies. But I have seen more wwII footage than 99.99 percent of humanity.

I did see high profile people naked. I didn't like that very much. I considered myself sophisticated. I am thankful to have met rugged people and have the crap beaten out of me by australians who just believed they were being playful.

Greay stuff.


Anonymous said...

Nck and his “stupid Americans”. What an ass you truly have become.

nck said...


No, that was the general feeling at the time amongst the workers. That the US students were not the smartest guys on the block. Downright puritan and cult like in their adoration of the leadership. Closedminded and behaving like entitled elites.

Only later did we know that this Dallas, Dynasty lifestyle had to do with the dollar currency peg with oil value against the Franc, Deutschmark,Lira etc and the power that gave to an entitled and dummified greedy ass, fat people that eventually nearly destroyed the world economy in 2008 because of their greed.

So 2:23. Thats what you called for.


Anonymous said...

All western democracies are in the same economic boat as America. They are all drowning in debt. This is even true of China. The reason Americans are called 'greedy ass, fat people' and similar is because they pursue their own hopes and dreams. They do not live for 'spiritual' gaols such as the state, motherland, fatherland, the common good, the party, the party line, destiny, etc. Your hero Herb, joined in with his 'nothing matters but the work.' 'Yep, Americans are 'greedy, money pursuing, materialists.'
Nck, you can practise what you preach by migrating to North Korea.