When I look back on my church life, perhaps the part I have enjoyed most was church camp. As either a camper, a counselor, or a member of the staff, I have spent part of 34 summers attending one or more church camps. For me, there is nothing like it.
In junior high, it was at Camp YoCoMo near Purdy, Missouri. It was the most primitive of camps. It had simple wooden cabins with screenless windows that allowed all sorts of wildlife to wander in uninvited. The restroom and shower house was down the dirt lane that separated the boys' cabins from the girls' cabins. There was no such thing as hot water, and a bratty girl named Ellen could throw Daddy Long Legs spiders over the top onto you while you were showering. (If there is any justice in the world, she has received her comeuppance by now.)
Vienna sausages drenched in BBQ sauce was considered a delicacy, and you had to sing for your mail in front of God and EVERYBODY! The last night, after the dance and after everyone had fallen hopelessly in love, the boys were allowed to cross the DMZ and serenade the girls with the likes of "Tell Me Why" and "Goodnight Sweetheart." Oh, you never heard such wailing and gnashing of teeth! Everyone was boo-hooing!
New friendships were made and romances were launched with pledges of undying loyalty and faithfulness that probably lasted at least until everyone got back to their local swimming pools the next week.
Senior high camp took things up a notch. Romances were still a big thing, but the inclusion of mission projects gave the week a deeper meaning. We worked on Habitat for Humanity houses, held a Bible School for neighborhood kids, and got involved in a local oral history project. Guys let girls dye their hair bright red for the week, and we learned the maximum distance a canoe can travel before dumping over. (It's not very far, but no one was trying very hard to keep it from happening.)
The memories I made as a young camper and as an adult counselor are very precious to me. They shaped my faith, and in large part made me who I am today. Attending church every Sunday teaches us about corporate worship, and that is very important. But attending church camp made it all very personal.
There is something very special about being away from the normal routine, being in nature, being with strangers, being inconvenienced in many ways, that opens the mind and soul up for just BEING.
I experienced it myself and saw it happen to so many kids. Every day at camp, a time was set apart for quiet, personal time alone with your Bible and the day's lesson on which to reflect. Kids and counselors would scatter to find the perfect spot to meditate in silence. God speaks in those moments to these young, anxious minds. They are able to hear His voice -- maybe for the first time -- over the cacophony of life around them. For some, it was life changing. Many made their confessions of faith and commitments to follow Christ because of their experience at church camp.
We are blessed to have a wonderful church camp that many of our kids and adults have attended and are still attending each year. Camp Mitchell is the epitome of what a church camp should be. It's a five-star luxury resort compared to the one I attended as a youth, but it shares many similar features. The dining hall lends itself to raucous laughter, singing, and new culinary experiences like most church camps do. The swimming pool is cold but refreshing. The counselors are young, energetic, and fun. The music is entertaining and inspirational.
The one main feature that connects all the church camps I've attended is the place of worship. At Camp Mitchell, the Chapel of the Transfiguration sits atop a huge bluff overlooking the Arkansas River and the surrounding valley. It is truly breathtaking. I spent an evening watching a distant lightning storm roll through the valley, and was reminded of the many "mountaintop" experiences I've had at church camp over the years.
Camps -- like so many other things -- had to be cancelled this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The word from the diocesan office is that it may be closed an additional year due to financial difficulties and the need for a long-range plan to determine the future viability of the camp facility. For those of us who have experienced the transformative power of church camp, this is devastating. For many campers, especially those attending the Robert R. Brown Camp for developmentally disabled adults and the Dick Johnston Camp for children of incarcerated parents, those weeks at camp are the highlight of their year. To never have church camp available for future generations is unthinkable.
The Episcopal Church is strong on tradition. Attending church camp is one of the most valuable ones. Camp Mitchell needs your prayers and your support to continue its mission of providing an unforgettable experience to future campers. Please contact Bishop Benfield and let him know that you recognize the importance of church camp in faith formation of all ages and are interested in learning more about how you can partner with the diocese to ensure Camp Mitchell's future success.
CONTACT BISHOP BENFIELD:
(501) 372-2168 ext. 1