Seeking God in a 'thin place'

Faith Story

June 28, 2024 | Faith Story | Volume 28 Issue 9
Ainsley Dunn |
Photo: Ainsley Dunn

I grew up attending a relatively small Mennonite church—Foothills Mennonite in Calgary—with my family. My family was fairly involved in my church, and I grew up with a typical Mennonite faith. However, as I got older my church experience began to shift.


Our pastoral team underwent many changes, and because our congregation was fairly small, my youth group was also small. This meant it was somewhat inconsistent, although I did make fantastic friends through youth. My church has definitely played a large role in shaping my faith, and the group consists of some of the most kind, thoughtful and intentional people I know. I am so grateful to have grown up with or have met those people through my church.


As I grew up, I became less involved with my church, as many people experience through their teenage years and early adulthood. I became busy with school and extracurriculars. I did not prioritize being at church or even thinking about my faith. Overall, I was spending less and less time involved with my church, making very little effort to explore my faith on my own, and this left me feeling quite isolated.


My faith journey began to grow again when I started to spend more time at Camp Valaqua, the Mennonite Church Alberta camp northwest of Calgary. I have been out at camp for church retreats and workdays my entire life, and I attended as a camper throughout my childhood. Camp has always been quite a magical place for me. My mother consistently tells me how much more outgoing and confident I was after a week at camp.


I joined the staff team as a counselor in training (CIT) a few years ago and am now going into my third summer working at Valaqua.


Working with campers, pouring my energy into ensuring they have a safe and fun week, as well as building the contagious camp energy with my coworkers is so incredibly rewarding. Valaqua’s director, Jon Olfert, often talks about camp being a “thin place” for people, a space where God’s presence can be felt deeply. I feel that applies beautifully to my relationship with Valaqua. I have had many different conversations with my friends/coworkers and campers about faith. This has been incredibly valuable in broadening my perspective.


However, something I have begun to notice quite a bit is how much I feel and experience God in simple things. Things like the way the sun reflects off of the river, singing at chapel and the feeling you get when sitting in silence with friends. And how, when I need a little extra support, suddenly the world looks a little bit more beautiful, there are birds, a family of deer, or the sun is warm on my skin. Which doesn’t necessarily erase whatever problem I am facing, but it helps to know that God is there.


The favourite way I have noticed God’s presence is in the relationships I have formed through working and living with the other staff as we challenge and support each other. I see God often in these people—how they treat others, how they look out for me, how they pour their time and energy into creating a safe and fun space, encouraging the other staff to take breaks, and genuinely demonstrating God’s love.


Due to the support and encouragement of these people, I have noticed myself becoming more confident, trusting myself to do hard things, trusting God’s timing and deepening my understanding of what it means to show God’s love. Camp has been incredibly formative in my understanding of my relationship with my faith, and I am immensely grateful to be a part of this community and place.


Ainsley Dunn is working at Camp Valaqua this summer as gardener and PIT crew director, guiding the discipleship program for older kids. She still attends Foothills Mennonite Church.

Photo: Ainsley Dunn

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