For a week this June, rising Seminary of the Southwest senior Andrew “Drew” Brislin and Southwest alumnus the Rev. Seth Olson (MDiv ’13) served together as chaplains for Sawyerville Summer Day Camp in rural Alabama. Sawyerville, a ministry of the Diocese of Alabama, seeks to “create opportunities for children and youth in Hale County” – one of the poorest in the nation, with a severe lack of educational resources – “through free summer programs, mentoring, and scholarships,” according to the program’s website. “All of our programs work to serve God, broaden the horizons of participants and staff, improve race relations in Alabama, and enrich the lives of those living in poverty.”
Brislin and Olson – both of whom were sent to Southwest from home parishes in the Diocese of Alabama – worked as chaplains for the middler and upper camps, respectively, for students ages 9–11 and 12–13. “We helped the staff chaplain to plan worship, created restorative spaces for daily chapel, and cared for our campers, counselors, and coordinators,” Olson said, “as we have shared the overwhelming love and good news of Christ. Additionally, it’s been a joy to bond with Drew over our Southwest connection.”
Sawyerville is held at Greensboro Elementary in Greensboro (pop. 2314), the Hale County seat, and each summer provides over 700 children and youth from throughout the county with a free week of enriching educational activities, including Bible lessons, art, journaling, science experiments, music, group games, basketball, swimming, as well as hot breakfast and lunch.
“This is not only a day camp but a ministry that seeks to improve race relations within our state,” Brislin said. “One way that it seeks to do this is by creating a diverse staff comprised of youth within the diocese working along side local youth from within the community.”
Serving at Sawyerville is as much an enrichment opportunity for the staff as for the students. The volunteers, aged 16 and up – numbering about 100 per session – arrive the Saturday prior to the camp session and spend the weekend bonding and preparing. For the duration of the week, they live in community at the school, eating breakfast and lunch with the campers, enjoying dinner as a staff, and ending each evening with worship.
“The week has been full of making new friends and serving God’s children,” Brislin said. “I was asked what my most spiritual moment was earlier. On reflection, it was watching these kids who were shy and timid at first come out of their shells. To see them laugh and play. To go from shy and soft-spoken to outgoing and vocal participants. It has been a moving and spiritual experience. I will definitely be coming back!”