Many thanks to Andrew Michaels, Ex. Director at Camp Luz and President of Mennonite Camping Association for talking with The Gathering Place community about the important role that camp can play in faith formation of our children and youth.
“Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
Mark 4:20 (NIV)
Through many years of camping ministry, I am especially humbled for the abundance of stories and fond memories campers and staff share about the joy and impact camping experiences have in their life (and life direction). The experience might be as recent as the previous summer or as powerful as fifty summers ago! For so many, a camping experience offered an environment for individuals to nurture “good soil” for an abundant Kingdom harvest in the following ways:
A SAFE SPACE/PLACE FOR FAITH AND GIFT DEVELOPMENT
Camps invite and facilitate a safe space/place for campers, staff and guests to a relationship with God. Regardless of age, while some are building the first blocks of their faith, others might be adding and arranging those blocks (making them their own) as part of their faith development. Camp Pastors and staff join in to be present, a listening ear and supportive word of encouragement while maturing and working with their own blocks of faith.
Developing gifts and talents is a natural part of the camping experience through a variety of activities and leadership opportunities. Individuals can discover a passion or gift they have in serving God’s Kingdom through careers in music, foodservice, teacher or even seminary (It only takes a spark: Camping ministry is common thread in AMBS students’ experiences) to name a few.
EXPERIENCING GOD IN A CHRIST LIKE COMMUNITY
Good relationships and shared experiences at camp are part of creating an atmosphere of acceptance and love. Campers gain insight and camaraderie from staff role models they look up to and are influenced by. For everyone, the 24/7 nature (and intensity) of a week(s) at camp, offers transparency in who they are. Everyone is simply themselves; taking advantage of a space/place away from normal pressures, routines or expectations.
In place of judgment and agenda is a spirit of curiosity and genuine care when exploring and better understanding a variety of faith and life questions. The fruits of the Spirit (Galations 5:22-23) offers additional ingredients in community building. What better way to teach/remember the fruits of the Spirit then to joyfully sing the words as part of inspirational times of campfire singing and worship.
EXPERIENCING THE CREATOR THROUGH CREATION
The opportunity to be in and explore new and unique parts of creation offers a unique environment away from the routines, busyness and noise that life has to offer. A star filled sky, a hike in the forest, the waters edge of a lake are but a few examples of experiencing the peace and presence God offers us through creation. Here at Rocky Mountain, getting to the top of Raspberry Mountain or Old Baldy and enjoying the panoramic view is indeed a mountaintop experience!
If not already, an encouragement to consider being part of a camping ministry where the opportunity to nurture and witness “good soil” in our youth, young adults and people of all ages has the potential to “. . . produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
Corbin Graber serves as executive director of Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp (Divide, CO) beginning in 2001 by way of Camp Friedenswald (Cassopolis, MI) where he served as program director from 1997-2001. Corbin lives at RMMC with his wife Tony and their three children.
I grew up camping with my family, attending summer camp as a kid, and going on many camping trips with my youth group, either as a youth or pastor. There is a lesser-known hit song from the band REO Speedwagon, “Keep The Fire Burning,” which was released when I was in high school. The song always makes me think of camping. The chorus goes like this: “Keep the fire burning, let it keep us warm. The world will keep on turning, let it turn you on. Let us not stop learning; we can help one another be strong. Let us never lose our yearning, to keep the fire burning…” I’d like to draw some connections with this pop song of the ‘80’s to what God can do in our lives and in the lives of young people when we experience the amazing effects of camping.
Keep the fire burning… a campfire can only be useful when there is actually burning wood or embers. If the heat completely dissipates, there is nothing left but cold, nasty ashes of what once was. Faith can be the same way… without the embers and flames, our faith walk can be cold and lifeless. What we really desire is vibrant faith which impacts us, and those around us.
Let it keep us warm… It’s hard to beat sitting around a campfire on a cool summer evening, soaking up the warmth of flames and the joy of conversation with people you care about. In the same way, we are also drawn to the warmth of those whose faith is alive and burning. We enjoy simply being in their presence, as they reflect the presence of Christ.
The world will keep on turning; let it turn you on… When we intentionally take time away from the craziness of the world we live in, and spend time in God’s creation we can focus on the important areas of life, and allow God to stoke the fires of our faith! The busy, crazy schedules we all keep will still be there when we return, but perhaps we can face them with renewed energy after some time at camp.
Let us not stop learning… Learning is always a two way street. Teaching and learning. Camping together with youth provides an opportunity to teach skills; hone leadership development in young people; instill confidence; and create memorable ‘God moments’ for them to carry the rest of their lives.
We can help one another be strong… Camping together provides a space to be interdependent. Various tasks like cooking, clean-up, setting up the tents or stoking the fire need to be done. This type of life experience can model the way we are to be interdependent in the nurturing of faith, within the community of believers.
Let us never lose our yearning… It takes work to go camping; to feed the group; plan all the logistics; and to make sure there is enough wood for the fire. It would be easier to plan something inside in our youth rooms, with spaces we are all comfortable with, however, the teachable moments that can effectively alter the course of a young person’s life, is more than worth the effort. May we never lose that desire to go the extra mile with the young people we’re connected to, in order to keep the fire burning… in our lives and in theirs.
Kent Miller is a pastor; worship leader; contributing author; occasional blogger; and networker of people. More importantly, he is a husband, father, and grandfather doing his best to follow Jesus. He has served the church in a variety of ways as youth pastor; a recruiter for MMN; Executive Director of Amigo Centre; Denominational Minister of Youth; and currently serves as pastoral team leader at First Mennonite (Middlebury, IN) focused on care, worship and preaching. He enjoys reading, movies and songwriting, but he most enjoys hanging out with family! He and his youngest daughter are huge Dr. Who fans!
We had a great time talking with Kendra Martin, Program Director at Camp Hebron, about the value of our Mennonite camps in faith formation and leadership development. There is just something about camp. Some magical, something holy happens there. Listen to hear about how Kendra makes sense of it, and consider encouraging someone in your life to attend a Mennonite camp this summer.
To find a Mennonite Camp near you, visit Mennonite Camping Association.
I often hear accounts of young adults who, upon choosing to be baptized into membership in their home church, name Camp Friedenswald as a formative part of their faith journey leading to their decision and commitment. As these baptism testimonies reveal, when it comes to faith formation, experiences at camp play an instrumental role. From my experience as camper and now staff at Camp Friedenswald, here are four ways that camp shapes and forms faith:
- Camp provides space for embodied experiences that help us identify more fully with faith and our faith communities. At camp, faith is literally formed to the movement of bodies in play and worship, in sleeping on the ground in a tent, in walking through old growth forests, in getting muddied on the swamp hike, in singing around the campfire at night under the stars and in savoring delectable Grasshopper Pie.
The embodied routines and rituals throughout the day help model and teach a way of living in which lives are centered in faith and the gathered community. From Morning Watch, where we’re encouraged to wake up and keep expectant watch for where God might show up throughout the course of the day, to evening cabin devotions, where we reflect on where God did show up, life at camp provides experiences to connect the things of daily life with our faith.
- Each summer, camp is home to an authentic intergenerational community made up of campers, summer staff, year-round staff, and camp pastors who commit to spending anywhere from one week to an entire summer learning and growing together. Throughout the course of a week, a cabin of campers and their counselor live together, sharing meals and the necessary clean-up afterwards, praying and playing together, and supporting one another in their questions of life and faith. In this genuine (although temporary) community, each person is welcomed and accepted for who they are, creating a space for authentic relationships to form.
- Camp is a place for young adults to test out their God-given gifts in an encouraging, honest, and supportive environment. Summer staff are required to articulate and share their own faith stories and experiences, tend to teachable moments, and help campers connect their own story to God’s story. I recall the summer I served on the Worship Team and was challenged to plan and lead others in worship, a stretching experience! Now I find great joy in seeing some of the people who were young campers then, stepping into the leadership roles that I found myself in a number of years ago. At camp, the next generation of leaders are being nurtured.
- And all of this happens against the backdrop of forest and fen. At a time when so many of us are increasingly removed from nature and the outdoors, camp provides space to explore, delight and care for the natural world as an expression of God’s spirit. Faith is formed within an environment where we cannot be separated from the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. Camp is a place set-apart from the rush and routines of daily-living, a place to retreat, renew and reconnect.
Camp is a place where faith is formed.
Jenna Liechty Martin experienced first-hand the faith forming effect of camp as a young camper and then as summer staff at Camp Friedenswald (Cassopolis, MI). Her favorite camp activities included swimming across the lake, hiking to the spring, singing around the campfire, and cabin clean up time. She currently serves as Executive Director at Camp Friedenswald and finds joy in watching others have formative faith experiences at Camp. She enjoys living in the peaceful woods with her husband, Peter Martin, and one-year-old son, Henry.
Originally posted on Odyessy online, I saw this article and wanted to pass it along in light of our theme for the month…
13 Reasons Why Working At A Christian Summer Camp
Is The Best Job You’ll Ever Have
Because what better way to spend your summer than as a camp counselor?
Victoria Harrington in The List on Mar 21, 2016
Nothing will ever mentally prepare you to be fully in charge of 10, 8-year-old girls until you’ve actually done it. And trying to put 15 day-campers in canoes can be challenging. While being a camp counselor is challenging and, at times, stressful, it will be the most rewarding job that you’ve ever had as well as one of the best summers of your life. So, here are just a few of the main reasons why working as a camp counselor will make camp your forever home.
1. You get to work with kids.
Kids of all ages can sign up for camp–from the precious little 5-year-olds to teenagers in high school that will look up to you as a role model. Nothing beats that moment at the end of the week when a camper drags his or her parents up to meet you at closing program to show them her “favorite counselor ever.” Or when a first-time camper, who wasn’t sure about coming to camp, tells you that this was the best week he or she has ever had. Not only is this a job that makes an impact on you, but you know you’ve made an impact on other people as well.
Read the rest of this post here…
Engage is a column based on The Gathering Place monthly theme, written from the perspective of a youth.
I am a self-proclaimed “camp girl.” Ever since I was 7 years old I have loved all things camp (except for the mosquitoes). And even now, as an 18 year old, I still sing camp songs with total enthusiasm (to the dismay of everyone around me).
Camp has been such an important part of my life. Many of my friends knew me as “that camp girl” before we met, and to be honest, I am not at all ashamed of that. Every year up until this past summer, I spent at least a week at camp making friendship bracelets, getting horrendous Chaco tans and drawing closer to my Creator.
Camp is where I first accepted God as my savior. I was twelve and had finally grasped what Jesus did when He died on the cross. I remember sitting around a huge campfire, my cabin mates on either side of me and deciding that I wanted to dedicate my life to God. I felt God in that moment, and I wanted to know Him more than anything.
There was something about camp that always made me want to get closer to God and I’m not exactly sure what it was. Was it being surrounded by nature that caused me to notice how incredible my God was? Or was it the rawness of being stripped of all electronics, all outside distractions, and being able to focus on who Jesus really was? Whatever it was, it changed my life for the better. I don’t know if I would strive for a relationship with God if I hadn’t of gone to camp.
Another reason why camp has impacted me is the young women who quickly became my role models. I remember each and every one of my eleven counselors and can look back and acknowledge what they did to help me strengthen my relationship with God. For example, Bryn introduced me to a God who was full of surprises and wonder; Malinda taught me that joy is a fruit of the Spirit that should not be ignored; Christi showed me what true unconditional love is. The list goes on and on.
Camp has the ability to change lives. I would be a totally different person if I hadn’t gone to camp. If you have the opportunity to go to camp, or to send your child to camp,
I highly suggest you do so.
Abigail King is a senior at Lancaster Mennonite High School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She serves on the Atlantic Coast Conference Youth Committee, as well as the Youth Worship Planning Committee for Mennonite Convention 2017. Abigail attends Ridgeview Mennonite Church and is looking forward to attending Goshen College in the fall, majoring in Journalism and minoring in Bible and Religion.
In order for faith formation to happen, there has to be a space for it to happen, a space in the mind or heart or soul. You can’t just cram faith and God in with homework and sports and family tensions. This is not to say that God and faith are not part of these things, but rather, introducing youth to God and faith in the midst of these things can be difficult. There is no room for growth if your head or heart is already full of everything else.
Camp is a physical place where that other space for faith formation can be found. At camp, there is a change in your environment, there’s a new schedule, different expectations, and maybe new people, too. You’ve got canoeing, singing, skits, cabin Olympics, lanyard making, and team building games. Your day is filled with infinite opportunities for play, silliness, and creativity.
I’m not likely to immediately use the words “creativity” or “imagination,” and possibly not even “play” when generally talking about camp. “Fun” is more probable. I’d probably describe camp as fun. All these concepts, however, are an inherent part of camp and vital to a camp experience.
Creativity, imagination, play, and fun create liminal space, which is that threshold or transitional place where something can happen. It’s that place where all things are on the verge of becoming something new. Jesus loved his liminal spaces. Ask me to walk on water or challenge my understanding of religious law and society with a miracle? You better believe I’m on the threshold of a new understanding.
We, as camp people, use all sorts of play and silliness to create liminal space and to push the mind to open up to new things and to grow. Consider the activities named earlier and more—hiking in creation, s’mores, and late night counselor hunts. Then think of your favorite teachers (including Jesus). Learning is fun. It is a challenge and meaningful and sometimes unexpected. Once you’ve pulled youth out of their everyday ruts and stirred around their understandings, faith formation becomes a possibility. You take that newly made spot in their mind or heart and start filling it with the building blocks of faith.
Camps are places of new and not-usual things, and can create the space for faith to explode. You as youth leaders have the difficult and hopefully rewarding opportunity to keep the youth growing in their faith once they’re back in the real world. This is whether they are returning from your own youth group retreat at a camp or a week of summer youth camp with youth from many different churches and backgrounds.
There’s no question that camp is an intense experience, but re-creating that liminal space that the youth found at camp does not have to be extreme. There’s value in doing fun activities for the sake of fun and to remind youth of what they discovered at camp. Do something ridiculously silly. Sing a camp song. Tell camp stories. These all point us back to the liminal space where we saw faith in new ways.
We can talk endlessly about the connections between faith formation and camp. There are a good number of them. But the real benefit will only come about with a trip to camp. Find the time, I say, and give your youth a boost of faith.
Olivia Bartel is the camp director at Camp Mennoscah in Murdock, KS. She thinks kids of all ages are a hoot and that Brussel sprouts should never be seen or eaten. Books and bad pirate jokes are some of her favorite things.
Just today I was sitting with my summer calendar, desk spread with local magazines, and flyers of various swim lessons, sports and drama camps. It can often feel like an organizational feat to prepare for the summer. However, as I tentatively mapped out my family’s summer schedule, there was one week that I worked everything else around,
Now, I know that there are camp loyalties, and this post is not to tout one Mennonite camp over another…but this summer my incoming fourth grader will be ripe to attend summer camp for the first time. As I reflected on my own camp experience growing up (both as a summer camper, a family camper, and eventually summer staff), camp was huge, HUGE in my own faith development. And I desire the same for him.
What is it about camp?
I’m not the only one. More so than not, when I talk with youth and young adults about their faith journey and what has been meaningful for them, camp is named as a significant place where they felt close to God. It is often named as a place where commitments were made, and lives were changed.
What is it about camp?
Research shows that having a ‘disruptive’ experience, meaning, a change from the status quo or norm, creates space within ourselves to consider new possibilities. Perhaps we feel closer to God at camp, because we leave our normal routines and rhythms behind. We awaken in new ways, and it is here in this liminal space, surrounded by creation, that we glimpse who we have also been created to be, fashioned in sheer love.
Whatever it is, there is something about camp. But it is not just for the campers.
The craziest part about it all…the part that completely blows my mind is that camp is more than not, run by 18-20 year olds. College students with high school diplomas, not theological degrees, gain invaluable leadership experiences, in many ways embody a priestly role of translating the love of Christ effectively to the campers they meet. In the end, they not only create spaces where campers lives are changed, so are theirs.
Camp was where I first was tapped to consider a vocation of ministry. I was hired at Camp Friendenswald for two summers during college to be a lifeguard. But both summers, I also ended up leading worship. When asked by a camp pastor one week to consider going to seminary, I am pretty sure I laughed in his face. Not me. No way. But I couldn’t quite ever shake loose that shoulder tap.Over the years, it grew and grew and grew. And guess where I am today?
And it all started at camp.
This month on The Gathering Place, we will be exploring “The Camping Effect.” Why does attending a Mennonite camp matter? How does camp form young people to grow in their faith and equip them for leadership? And perhaps equally important, how am I encouraging my own youth (and children) to make camp a priority this summer?
Each week TGP will be hosting a series of blog posts (new each Tuesday) by a variety of current and former Mennonite camp directors. The Gathering Place is also pleased to connect with Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary as they are launching a series of interviews called, “It Only Takes A Spark,” in regards to the vital role camp plays in faith formation. This interview series was created as it was realized that one-third of the first year seminary class this year had served as staff rolls in Mennonite camps and retreat centers!
Sign up now for other ways to connect this month:
“The Camping Effect: A Place to Go to Grow”
Going to a Christian Camp has played an important role in the faith development of many of today’s church leaders (and members). Why is the “Camping Effect” so helpful in faith formation and leadership development in today’s culture and how can I encourage my youth to go to camp?
In this interview, Rachel will talk with Kendra about how camp influenced her own life and spiritual journey in ways that she never expected. You will be invited to reflect on your own spiritual journey.
In anticipation for the summer season, consider attending a Mennonite summer camp. If you need a list, check out the Mennonite Camping Association page to find one close to you!