Some of us take the beauty of nature for granted. We have forested backyards or go camping each spring when the weather turns warmer. We go skiing. We grew up spending a week at camp and in nature. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the natural beauty of the world, quite the opposite – we adore it. However, we can take for granted that it is available for us to go to enjoy any time we want.
Not everyone has the opportunity to grow up with trees in their backyard, clean parks with grass to run around in, or hiking trails in their vicinity. This is where camping ministry is so powerful. When we support church camps like our own Johnsonburg, we are able to provide an accessible ministry to both those who already have a love and comfort in nature and those for whom the natural world is an unexplored frontier. Many of us have a story of encountering God in new ways in nature. Simply having a change of scenery can be powerful in helping us let go of everyday worries and encounter the divine.
It is not just a love of nature and creation that we can promote, but many other benefits of church camp. When children and youth participate in camping and retreat ministries, it is one of their first tastes of real independence and autonomy. Yes, there are loving adults who watch out for our campers as cabin counselors, small group leaders, activity leaders, and program staff, but they also make space for children and youth to explore their independence. These adults make space for campers to share their own faith understandings and questions. Campers also have a chance to make some decisions for themselves – even if they are as simple as whether to make one’s bed or to do archery or canoeing at activity time.
Church camps encourage a unique kind of faith exploration. How often do we spend an entire week (or more) in an environment centered around Jesus Christ? We may not be talking about Jesus 24-7, but the ways in which adults and other campers model Christian love and life, and encourage us to do the same, are transformational when we are immersed in them.
At Presbyterian church camps, we find all this and a deep commitment to encouraging curiosity and asking hard questions about God and faith life. We spend time exploring them together, and don’t get scared by doubt or lack of experience with faith. We know that God does the saving, and it is our job to live out that salvation. We don’t get anxious about how many souls come to Jesus each week. Rather, we hope that we can simply immerse ourselves in God’s goodness throughout the camp experience.
So, why are we talking about this in October? Summer camp doesn’t start until June, right?
It’s never too early to start thinking about summer camp. The 2019 program and registration will be out later (we’ll let you know when it’s ready), but you can check out the 2018 summer program schedule to have an idea of what will be offered next summer. For families that have not participated in camp ministries before, start talking about camp now, and share your camp stories and memories long before registration opens. This can help set them young people for success. Think about how you discovered camp the first time – it was probably a family member, friend or maybe even a Sunday School teacher or pastor who told you how amazing camp is and encouraged you to go. You can do that for someone else.
Did you know camps like Johnsonburg have amazing programs throughout the year? Youth and young adult retreats, adult events and trainings, pastoral sabbath opportunities, all-ages events where people can get to know the camp in fellowship and service, short-term mission opportunities, and more are available for people of all ages to participate in Johnsonburg programming outside of the summer schedule. These activities are great opportunities for you and your members to get a taste of camp, and see if you want more.
Taking it Home
Everything gained through camp ministry doesn’t stay there. Learning how to ask and explore faith questions, learning how to participate fully in community, learning how to lead worship – these are wonderful things that your children, youth and adults participating in camp ministry will bring back into your local faith communities.
Supporting Camp Ministry
We cannot do this wonderful ministry without support. There is never a bad time to encourage your members to support camp and conference ministry through their donationsof money and volunteer time. Camps need our support so they can remain affordable to a wide range of participants, and provide additional financial assistance to those who cannot afford camp at all.
A great way to approach this conversation at your church is have any current participants in one of the many camp and retreat programs tell their camp stories. Why does camp matter to them? How has going to camp helped them grow in their faith? Why do they think other people should go to camp? When you support camp ministry, you are directly supporting the faith journeys of your own fellow church members, from the youngest to the oldest.
It may be October, but it is the perfect time to start talking about camp and all the wonderful joys that come with it, and encouraging your church to dive in!