From Camp Fire Girl to Earth-Relating UU Minister

Greenwood Fire Circle at Camp Kilowan
Greenwood Fire Circle at Camp Kilowan

My earth-relating/gods-relating spirituality is rooted in my experience as a “Camp Fire Girl.” From grade 2 through high school I met weekly with a group of girls obsessed with the outdoors. We learned from the Camp Fire lore and our experiences together as “Earth Maidens in a Circle.” We sang together, we canoed and hiked together, we learned together and we fell in love with the Camp Fire camp in the Oregon rain forest.

Sacred Fire Circles and Sacred Singing!

WoHeLo badge
WoHeLo badge

Our watch-word was “Wo-He-Lo” – which stands for work-health-love. Our law was a sung pledge “Seek beauty, give service, and knowledge pursue. Be trustworthy ever in all that you do. Hold fast onto truth and your work glorify. You will be happy in the law of Camp Fire.” You can hear the Camp Fire Law here.

At our annual grand council fire we processed in with song, processed out with song, and sang many times during the ceremony. As a high school senior, at my final grand council fire, I was proud to receive the WoHeLo medallion: an award for completing a year of work, equivalent to the Eagle Scout rank. Listen, for instance, to the grand council fire processional (which mentions “Great Wokanda.)”

Camp Fire’s link with Native American lore

Much of Camp Fire’s lore was written by a Sioux man (Ohiyesa/Dr. Charles Eastman) for his friends Luther and Charlotte Gulick, philanthropists involved with the YMCA and other authors, artists, and visionaries. (For more context on the history see Alice Beard’s page)  They were interested in creating a character-building club for girls in America, based on relationship with the natural world, to complement the emerging group for boys: Boy Scouts.

Camp Fire logo circa 1975
Camp Fire logo circa 1975

I don’t know what inspired Ohiyesa to share parts of his language, culture and spiritual practices with the girl children of the well-to-do. I do know I am grateful for the gift, even as my adult self recognizes the colonizing, marginalization, oppression and cultural appropriation interwoven in that process. I have received so many gifts from that heritage that I am still learning how to give back and be properly thankful. Here is one person’s take on the complexity of Native American girls who had lost their heritage in boarding schools, learning fragments from participation in Camp Fire Girls.

From Camp Fire Roots to Earth-Relating Branches

Through Camp Fire, years before I encountered Greek Gods, I learned that there are other ways to experience God. I also learned that worship, ritual, and spiritual practice could look different from what I was taught at my childhood church. Circling around a campfire, processions with pageantry and song, communing with nature, collaboratively created rites and storytelling are still a part of my spiritual practice.

Camp Fire beads photo: Kathy Groner
Camp Fire beads
photo: Kathy Groner

Through Camp Fire’s reward system (earn a bead for each new skill, experience, or lesson accomplished) I was motivated to learn about ecological diversity, the civic process, orienteering, solar cooking, conservation and I gained a lifelong thirst for learning.

Through My Camp Fire group I learned that I could be friends with people who were not like me – who I might not ever talk to at school – and that the relationships we formed from showing up together each week allowed us to have each other’s backs in the rest of our lives. I recognized this lesson when I heard the Unitarian Universalist phrase “we need not think alike to love alike”need not think alike to love alike

Unitarian Universalist Blossoms

For me, I think that my early training in ritual, spiritual connection, learning, and community still are my preferred default styles. Now I don’t dress up in pseudo-Native American costume, nor do I call on “great Wokanda.” I grew up and learned some things about cultural appropriation, building your own spirituality, cultural roots, and respectful learning, and I’m still learning. I do continue to find campfires and singing sacred. I go to the rainforest and coast, and my own backyard garden to renew. I seek community with people who are different from me. For me, these are some of the earth-relating/gods-relating branches that bloom as my UU Ministry.

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