You may not be surprised to learn that the deacon and I have spent the past week camping at a nudist club campground. This is our second venture into the world of nudism. Our first similar experience was at a clothing optional resort in Jamaica this past spring.
When we were in Jamaica, we were struck by the non-judgmental, accepting attitudes of the people at the resort. The people at the resort came in all ages, shapes and sizes. Some could have been featured on magazine covers, but most did not come anywhere close to that ideal. It didn’t matter. We quickly discovered that, when everyone is naked, people soon stop paying attention to bodies. Another thing we noticed was that nobody at the resort cared whether people were straight, lesbian, gay, bi- or whatever. We simply ate, drank, swam, chatted and enjoyed life without judging each other. Many of us were thrown together by happenstance. Odds are, none of us will ever meet again, unless we happen to return to the same place at the same time next year. A good number of others traveled together as members of formal clubs. They deliberately planned their trips to coincide, and even arranged to have adjoining rooms for their members. They were explicit communities within the looser short-term community of the resort.
During our week in Jamaica, the deacon and I became friends with a couple who had been to several nudist resorts and campgrounds in the Caribbean, Mexico and the United States. They shared stories of their experiences and piqued our interest in exploring the world of nudism some more. Shortly after we returned home from that trip, the deacon began looking online for places where we could enjoy similar experiences this summer. After deciding how far we wanted to travel, we decided to try out a nudist club campground in a neighboring state.
As we’ve met people throughout this past week, I couldn’t help making mental comparisons between this club and churches I experienced throughout my life. I think it’s fair to say that most churches want to see themselves as close-knit communities that are
a) composed of people who are committed to the group’s ideals and members, and
b) open to welcoming new members into their midst.
The people at this campground share those two similarities with church members. The campground is a private facility owned and operated by a member-owned non-profit organization. Consequently, many of the people we’ve met this week have been camping here for many years. Several of them serve on the club’s board of directors, and many of them share in the campground’s operation and upkeep. The club members are committed to providing a place where members and guests (the deacon and I are visiting as guests this week) can enjoy the nudist lifestyle. In addition to being committed to the ideal of providing a safe, secure place for nudists, the members of the club are committed to each other as friends.
On criterion (a), I’ll give both churches and nudists equal points, even though I could discuss, at length if I wanted to do so, church cliques, hierarchies and politics. I’ve enjoyed wonderful friendships with church people, and I’ve witnessed the way some church people support each other in times of trouble and grief. I’ve been both the recipient and the giver of such support, so I know how deep those bonds can be. I’ve seen similar dynamics at play among the members of the nudist club this past week. These people are watching or have watched each others’ families grow up. They know each others’ dogs by name (and there are nearly as many dogs here as people). They eat dinner, cut grass, walk their dogs, do water aerobics, and play tennis, paddle ball and petanque together. They are a community.
The place where nudists seem to out-perform churches is criterion (b). I’ve already described our Jamaican experience, which differs from both the club and church experiences in important ways. But a comparison between clubs and churches is not unreasonable. What I’ve experienced this week is an abundance of warmth and welcome that far exceeds anything I’ve ever experienced in churches. Bear in mind, I’ve attended churches in 9 Canadian provinces and at least 20 US states as either a member or visitor. Now, I realize that the nudist club has a pecuniary interest in welcoming the deacon and me into their midst. I’m pretty sure our membership fees would not be refused if we asked to join. So, some of what we’ve experienced is undoubtedly tied to a sales pitch. But churches also have pecuniary interests have in attracting and keeping new members. That being the case, it’s amazing how often visitors can slip in and out of church meetings without saying a word to anyone in the congregation. I’ll go one farther. It’s amazing how often church members can slip in and out of church meetings without saying a word to anyone in the congregation.
Having vast experience of churches, and admittedly limited experience of nudist communities, I have to say that I’m more impressed with nudists than churches. Nudists aren’t perfect. Individual nudists are undoubtedly as capable of backstabbing, cheating and other nasty behaviors as individual religionists or anyone else. Nevertheless, my impression of the nudists I’ve met here and in Jamaica is that they basically just want to enjoy life and allow others to do the same. In contrast, most religionists I’ve known, either personally or by reputation and media, thrive on depriving themselves and others of life’s pleasures. Given those premises, if you had to choose between these two options, which community would you join?
– the chaplain