Amazing things happen at church camp.
I remember a meeting once in which a colleague said, “All I ever hear about church camp is sort of emotional, sentimental reactions to it. But what actual good is it doing? What does the church get out of it? Why is it worth putting so many resources into?” I think I understand where he is coming from, and I honestly do not believe he was trying to make my stomach turn over and my jaw drop open with shock, even though that was my reaction.
He’s coming from a place where bigger, slicker programs with well-known presenters giving workshops in air-conditioned meeting rooms are more important, more effective, or more meaningful than spending a week in a hot, dirty, tick-ridden forest slathering sunscreen on top of bug spray. I get it. I’ve even been there.
But I’ll tell you, if you have experiences like my family and I had this week, you just don’t even think to ask questions like that. You don’t need to, because you know.
You know as you watch fifty-plus people from 10 families grow closer to God and one another as they stroll through a series of spiritual stations set up in the woods.
You know as you listen to a second grader singing softly to herself, “God is amazing!” as she colors a picture of a joyful moment.
You know as you catch the energy of a dining hall filled with more than sixty 3rd and 4th graders who are learning that God loves them no matter what, and having a great time doing it.
You know as you see the love of grandparents who desire to share their faith with their grandchildren so deeply, wanting the kids to grow and learn and feel God’s grace like they have.
I knew this week as I watched my wife Erin lead the singing for worship and saw the unmitigated joy on her face as she did so, knowing others were sensing that joy, too.
I knew as I embraced people whom I had not even met three days prior, feeling the connection of the Holy Spirit among and around and within us, strangers who had become friends.
These experiences and a thousand-thousand others, this week, all summer long, and all year-round, no way to account for each of them, no tally sheet that could ever possibly convey what they all mean, all of them happening because the United Methodist Church in Missouri believes that amazing things happen at church camp.
Sentimental? Emotional? Yes! No doubt about it.
“Worth” it? Absolutely! Every penny.
It was a great week at church camp – I experienced growth personally, Erin and I grew as a couple, we grew as a family, and as a larger community of faith. If what the Missouri Annual Conference is supposed to be doing is “leading congregations to lead people to actively follow Jesus Christ,” then supporting church camp is one of the most powerful and effective ways to do that. People come home from church camp with energy, focus, momentum, renewal, and they bring life and joy into their congregations in powerful ways, in addition to energizing their own active discipleship.
It sometimes feels like church camp is in the ongoing position of having to stick up for itself, and I can’t figure out exactly why that is. Here in Missouri, our United Methodist campgrounds are Camp Galilee, Camp Jo-Ota, Blue Mountain Center, and Wilderness Retreat & Development Center. At each of these four wonderful places, hundreds and hundreds of lives are changed, relationships deepened, spirits lifted, disciples formed, and commitments to Christ strengthened every year.
Church camp is truly an amazing time, where transformation is happening on a regular basis, and the church of Jesus Christ is strengthened in deep and abiding ways. I thank God for church camp, and for the people who make it happen. And I wish everyone would go so they might have the kind of experience we have every single time we’re there!