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Monday, June 2, 2008

Can You See the Campers for the Trees?

The Sunday afternoon and evening following annual conference, I went out to Kingswood camp to teach the "theology" session for our camp counselors. It's great fun, partly because most of them are young adults and I enjoy listening to and interacting with them. Although, two of our camp counselors are retirees (think about that!).

I shared my presuppositions about camp:
1) Parents send kids to camp for spiritual formation.
2) Church camp provides in its 24/7 format the opportunity for more than 1 year of Sunday School impact.
3) Over 80% of adults in church today became Christians by or during their teen years.
4) 60-85% of those adults made their first commitment to Christ at camp.

So, the week of camp is an important one in the life of campers, counselors, our annual conference, and the mission of our church which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ! These camp counselors have a big job--please pray for them.

I share the United Methodist understanding of grace and how it relates to the various ages and stages of young people as they come to camp. Some campers need to be made aware or reminded of God's grace and unconditional love (prevenient grace); some need to be invited to make a commitment to Christ (justifying grace); and some need to grow in their relationship with God (sanctifying grace). In fact, all campers need all three!

I ended by saying that I expect each counselor to make it his or her goal that each camper:

1) will connect to the Creator and creation;
2) experience God's unconditional love through him or her and their peers;
3) will witness an example of faith and find it compelling in the life of the counselor;
4) will have the opportunity to draw closer to God;
5) will have daily Bible study and prayer that connects with their lives;
6) will experience Christian community; and
7) will have fun!

Our camping program is going through a year of continued assessment and reorganization. I would appreciate it if you would share something about the following:

1) What difference has camping made in your spiritual journey? Or your child's?
2) What's the most important aspect of camping and how can we do it more faithfully and fruitfully?
3) What input would you give the camping program about camp overall?



songbird said...

My first church camping experience was just plain awful. It was in another state and two campers died-one from a bat being thrown during a softball game and the other swimming outside the prescribed swimming area. We were scared into making "decisions for Christ." Much of the campground was standing in 4-6 inches of water all week. I was never going back.

I did go to another church camp the following year and I loved it and nothing bad happened. Church camps became a favorite summer activity until I was a junior in high school. There is something very special about being in nature and by a lake. Reading scripture and praying in that setting seems to be more real to me and refreshes my soul.

I think that I loved the campfires the most, although having fun with friends and learning how to canoe were high on my list.

I think that the longer I am in ministry, the more I realize that spiritual formation isn't taught as much as it is caught. Good counselors and that 24/7 modeling are super important. Relationships and acceptance so important.

Having said that, I think that the camping industry has really boomed and now kids have so many more options for camping experiences. Many of them revolve around sports. If a camp appeals to youth and their friends are going, they will have a great time.

Jerad said...

I had walked the first baby-steps of my Christian journey held up by the community of Decision Hills. It was accepting, fun, and thought-provoking. My experiences as a junior and senior counselor there were essential to my faith formation.

Through that camping ministry, I learned about the challenges of modeling Jesus 24/7 and molded the majority of relationships I maintain today. Though many friends who were similarly formed in that environment now eschew church, we remain intimate companions. Again, community and relationship-building were real strengths of that experience, which makes them important assets.

Because my Minnesota UM camping experience contrasts with that of a friend, who recalls being at another MN UM camp where counselors frighteningly tried to "exorcise" my friend of a mental illness (didn't work), it seems that well-trained, Spirit-filled counselors who can be sources of love and tolerance make a real difference. Finding, training and retaining those counselors could be a priority for the faith formation of our youth. (As could making camps more affordable. The LYFE camp was regularly the year's peak experience for many of my friends, but some others never did share it due to the cost.)

Having said all that, and having experienced church camp as the source of my strongest relationships 11 years later, I will say that I did not leave with very clear understandings of some Christian formation basics--What is the Bible, exactly? Why is Jesus important? (Yes, I know now.) Many peers would leave camp, keep meeting, and sometimes introduce others (or be introduced) to drugs and alcohol. And, though the majority of us continue to share strong relationships, a minority of us have maintained a faith affiliation.

Camp did a great job of developing relationships, but I guess we could have used more education on how to keep Christ at the center of our relationships with each other, and with God, when we returned home.

(That said, I'd totally go again.)

Ron Cottone said...

1) What difference has camping made in your spiritual journey? Or your child's?
Every spring, I speak with scores of parents of children with disabilities about their children's experiences at camp. Living with a disability that singles children out from their peer group only adds to their existing challenge of finding acceptance and belonging among their friends. At camp, kids with disabilities experience what it's like to be part of a community that does not single them out but welcomes their full participation among all the other kids. They benefit from being around typical kids, and typical kids benefit from being around them. Their spiritual journey takes a turn toward a positive self-image and being a contributing member of their group.

2) What's the most important aspect of camping and how can we do it more faithfully and fruitfully? The most important aspect for kids with disabilities is the connection they make with others and the meaning that connection gives to their lives. We can make this connecting happen more faithfully and fruitfully by continuing to train staff about inclusion and to raise awareness among camp supporters and congregations that resources are needed every year to ensure this work of inclusion continues.

3) What input would you give the camping program about camp overall?
Keep sustaining the vision that camping is transformational for EVERY camper. Continue to make sure that every kid who wants to go to camp is included and is accommodated to participate fully in camp programs.

Ron Cottone, Exec. Dir.
Disability Awareness Ministries, Inc.

james said...

I have spent many years in camping ministry and now am not part of MN and see the results of a conf which takes camp as "not real ministry, just a place to do stuff" MN has one of the best bishops I have ever worked with and its great to see her directly supporting camp and understanding the impact that it has on people.
Personally growing up church camp was nothing but a place to meet up with girls, more of my formative outdoor relationship was though Scouting. I have seen such an increase in the quality of UM camping over the years both spiritually and the professionalism of the staff. As a professional called into camping ministry I appreciate the support of Bishop Dyck and wish it was not so rare from some of the other Bishops. Maybe someday we can work together again.

M. Sipe said...

1) What difference has camping made in your spiritual journey? Or your child's?

I have had positive and negative camp experiences, but camping (and retreats) continue to be formational to my faith. Even when I’ve had a poor experience, they have helped to deepen my relationship with Christ.

2) What's the most important aspect of camping and how can we do it more faithfully and fruitfully?

This is the million dollar question. The way that I’ve seen other denomination’s camping programs succeed is through centralized programming and staffing (at each camp). I don’t know if that is the answer in Minnesota, and I can imagine many people would buck that idea because there are some beloved camps with rich histories, but it seems to work well for other Christians.

We United Methodists (in Minnesota) have so many camps with so many different camp deans and camp counselors, there is very little continuity between any of the weeks of camp. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel with each camp. Programming and staffing could be streamlined to offer a more efficient and quality camping experience to people who attend.

Think of the possibilities: Ski Camp, Confirmation Camp, Horse Camp, Bible Camp, and many more. All programming designed and lead by competent camp staff who you know will be teaching Wesleyan Faith at the Methodist Campgrounds. Youth groups could go together, and youth leaders would want to take them because they don’t have to do programming, all they have to do is show up and have fun. It takes the hassle of programming out of the youth leader’s hands and makes it an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. Problems are easily corrected and programming is honed to make it the best experience possible.

I will admit, I bet there is strong resistance to this idea in Minnesota.

3) What input would you give the camping program about camp overall?

One thing that I've noticed is that churches tend to take their youth on mission trips instead of going to camp. Mission trips are increasing, and that is a positive thing for church youth. It's not that kids are discouraged from going to camp (most churches still promote camping), but it's more likely that families, most of which are strapped for cash, choose to send their children on one church outing for the summer. If the church goes on a mission trip, that will most likely be the church outing for the summer. Generations of kids are growing up not going to camp, but going on mission trips. Is there a way we can emphasize both without any detriment to the other?

Bruce Buller said...

I want to report a helpful Summer Theology Workshop. Nine persons worked at worship, sharing with Dr Ron Anderson and Pastor Peter Milloy. Helpful phrasing of our theological affirmations and shared questions were part of our growing.

I noted Camp Koronis counselors alone at meals: this week's camp had two registrants and was cancelled. We need to do better at our stewardship than this.

1)Each church needs a Camping Committee with a committed chairperson.
2)Every clergy person need to be involved in camping in some way.

Thanks for your prayers.

Bruce Buller

Kurt and CheriAnne Johnson - Normandale Hylands UMC said...

1) What difference has camping made in your spiritual journey? Or your child's?

This would be a small novel. My wife grew up in UMC camping, and 13 years ago we became deans of Family Camp at Decision Hills. Our oldest boy is on staff there for his third year (Robert). All our kids consider DHC a second home. Much of it is the undistracted ability to sense God's power and grace, not just in nature, but among a group of believers.

When you attend to families experiencing trauma, and find out that things have worked out well, and that the time at camp was just what was needed - time to talk - you just have to believe it was God's time in God's place.

2) What's the most important aspect of camping and how can we do it more faithfully and fruitfully?

This may sound like the "feel good" sort of thing - but the fact that, when camping, you are immersed in a small community that, without pressure, preaching - but lots of fellowship, praise, and time to think about what faith means, it strengthens and really "renews your soul". It's better than Sunday morning - how many people are already thinking about Sunday afternoon tasks during the sermon?

3) What input would you give the camping program about camp overall?

There has been steady evolution to really help the deans be more effective, and, at least in our experience, the last several years at DHC has been the best, where the staff have been very engaged with our families and very much the servants in this ministry.

What I think would be interesting would be a forum to discuss ideas - what works well, what did not work well. Along with the Campfire program in the spring, perhaps having district-oriented forums in the fall, when the past summer is still fresh, to discuss among camp deans things and share ideas.

I've told my wife we should author a book about doing family camps - with the uplifting stories, humorous stories, along with craft and program ideas.