Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of participating in Wheatstone Ministries’ annual summer conference, The Academy.
The Academy is the most unusual of Summer Camps. High-schoolers of all ages, shapes, and sizes descend upon a chosen college campus, filling a dorm and increasing the general volume of the area by increments not easily measured by human machinery.
At first, The Academy looks much like any other camp. The kids spend the first evening meeting new people, getting to know their roommates, and playing foosball. The next morning we wake them up bright and early for Epic Monday, a full day of outdoor games, sports, and challenges designed to stretch their capacities, instill team work, and just plain wear them out (though, admittedly, the staff end up much more worn out than the rest of them). By the time Monday night comes around, the students eat dinner exhausted but excited by the days work, and that’s when The Academy really takes off. Instead of a night of worship music (though we will sing together often), or a sermon (though they will be taught many new things), they will here a lecture on engaging in life to the fullest, preparing them for what’s to come.
Before The Academy starts we ask the attendees to read some Plato (this year Plato’s Phaedo) and a book of the Bible (1st Peter), and be prepared to discuss it. They will spend the week listening to the likes of John Mark Reynolds asking them to learn what it means to be truly them and truly godly, or Gary Hartenberg asking them to consider what’s “really real,” or Eric Yang helping them figure out how they know what they know, and the director of Wheatstone Ministries, Peter Gross, exhorting them to take everything they learn here and turn it into ways to love God and their neighbor better.
During Wheatstone we will take them to art museums and present them with some of the most beautiful things we humans have yet managed to create, asking them to tell us what they think about it. We will take them to a Shakespeare play in Griffith Park (this year we got rained out and had to stage the last act by ourselves back in the dorm). They will spend at least a dozen hours during the week with a small cohort of students and a mentor, in discussion about Plato, truth, love, nobility, death, and virtue. They will experience a deeply beautiful operatic performance (this year designed to help them explore the idea of taking noble risks), and we will finish the performance by singing together.
I came to Wheatstone this year as a staff member, but it hardly mattered. I cannot imagine being more deeply touched or impacted by a week such as this, even if I were a guest and it was designed for my twenty-eight year old self instead of our mostly fifteen – seventeen year old target demographic. It didn’t matter because the point of Wheatstone, the pedagogy from which it works, is that teachers and students aren’t actually all that different. Ultimately what matters is that we all want to become more actively alive, more fully human, more truly Christ-like. That will look different in each of us, teenager or adult, man or woman, one person to another. And so, though it is right that some of us are staff and teachers and the others are students, ultimately, Wheatstone is about engaging in life together; truly, deeply, fully together.
And you should come next year.
Next Sumer we will be hosting two Wheatstone conferences, one in Southern California, and one in Houston, Texas (woop!). The directors have recently opened up two new tracks at The Academy, one for university students, and one for educators of all shapes and sizes. I could not recommend it more highly. If you’re looking for inspiration, refreshment, engagement, and growth in your particular stage of life, save your pennies, get registered early, and come to Wheatstone.
All photos by Aaron Young Smith for Wheatstone.