Camping with Mormons

Summer time in our family means camping and the beach. Each year we get out the tents and other essential paraphernalia, load the surfboards and sunscreen, and head north. We are what some call ‘rough campers’ – preferring the relative peace of an isolated paddock, enjoying the blessed absence of electricity, and tolerating long-drop toilets. The thought of cuddling up in some campground with a host of others doesn’t appeal. This year we were invited to pitch our tents on land belonging to a local Maori family, and inevitably we got to know them and their whanau. They were Mormons.

Now I must confess that I’m not too knowledgeable about the Church of the Latter Day Saints. I’d heard of Joseph Smith, his exclusive interview with an unknown angel, and his ability to write America into the Bible. I’ve read an article or two and shooed a few clean-cut Utah lads off my doorstep, but I’d never really sat down, talked, and eaten with them. Generally I try to avoid those of a fundamentalist bent.

Over the two weeks of our camping holiday as our kids played and swam through lazy days there were lots of opportunities to talk and eat. The grandfather was the paramount chief of the area. I meet three of his children. They all worked in helping professions – one a teacher in a bilingual unit, one running therapy groups in prisons, and one with Drug and Alcohol education. There were lots of aunties and cousins who came by. The Maori sovereignty flag flew above the campsite.

Three things impressed me. Firstly their spirituality was integrated with all they did. It seemed that their culture and how they appropriated their religion affirmed the best in each other. It was no surprise that the family were heavily involved in helping people both in their work environment and at home. Given that spirituality is also integral to all I do we shared a rapport that in many ways transcended our theological differences.

Secondly, the absence of alcohol was refreshing. I am increasingly conscious of the negative effects of alcohol in our culture and the rapid rise of alcohol abuse among young people. I would love New Zealanders, including churches, to voluntarily abstain from alcohol consumption for a year in order to experience life without it. In many places new forms of socialising would have to be tried. This family we met are proving it can be done and life can still be very enjoyable.

Lastly, as we talked about politics, culture, and religion there was a refreshing lack of defensiveness and little determination to convert me. They were interested in my perspective. They certainly didn’t have a fundamentalist rigidity about them. When I chided them about the absence of female clergy and their views about gay couples, they would smile but not avoid the issues.

Later one auntie confessed, “We’ve never met anyone like you.” I thought I’d never met anyone like them.