An Interview With Justin Baker
“It wasn’t until maybe my second interview that I realized that chaplaincy at a summer camp was a role I was suited for,” said Justin Baker, senior MDiv student at the North American Lutheran Seminary. This past summer, Baker worked at Camp Agape, a Lutheran camp in Hickory, Pennsylvania. While he hadn’t originally considered working as a chaplain, as the summer progressed it became clear to him that his prior experiences had been preparing him for this kind of work all along. Before coming to the NALS, Baker worked as a math teacher and soccer coach for several years. “There were a lot of vignettes of ministry that happened in my time as a teacher and coach,” he said. “But it wasn’t until camp was over and I was reflecting on the summer that I realized that there’s a whole list of things that had prepared me thus far to do this work.”
When he first started, Baker used his skills as a teacher and coach to adapt the lesson plans that the camp had already set in place, matching keywords like “generosity” and “community” to various Bible stories and passages. Soon afterward, however, Baker realized he needed to draft new curriculum, as many of the campers were staying at Camp Agape throughout the summer. “So I went straight for the classic,” he said. “The storyline of creation, fall, redemption, and eschaton. Then the next week we moved to asking questions like ‘What is love?’ and ‘Who is Jesus?’ We also had a week where we looked at everything eschatologically and asked ‘what is the point of everything?’ It was a blast.” Given his experience as a teacher and coach, Baker knew that repetition is the key to remembering what is being taught—so he designed each service to return to the week’s theme in different ways. “Consistency of message is what’s important to me,” he said. “If you hear something one time, you’re not going to remember it.” But if you learn about Christ’s triumph over evil and then re-enact it as characters from The Avengers, you will.
“I tried to draw on everything that I ever learned,” Baker said. “I relied pretty heavily on my Lutheran liturgy and theology classes, which were paramount for me, but also my classes at Trinity that focused on developing a framework to read the Bible.”
That framework was essential for his ministry at Camp Agape. “Whether you call it redemptive history or the flow of the biblical story or the Rule of Faith, you cannot just go in and start speaking about Scripture untethered to Christ, which is to say untethered from the whole of what he’s revealed to us. And that’s why each week was a particular theme that echoed the others before it.”
Having finished his time at Camp Agape, Baker sees his work there as both a challenge and a gift. “It can’t really be seen as any other thing,” he said. “It was kind of a tall order to walk in and try to fill shoes when you don’t even know what those shoes look like. It was intimidating, but good. And, in the end, it pulled together all these things that I’ve done that are so disparate and helped me realize that they are not only oriented toward this thing I did this summer but also to my future ministry.”