Teenager Caeli Connolly, of St. Paul’s UMC in Elizabethtown, has been coming to Gretna Glen’s summer camp for 12 years but finds it new and exciting every time.
“No two experiences are ever the same, whether you’re boating, hiking, making friends, playing games or whatever,” she says. “We have lots of great conversations here, and it’s easy to make friends at camp because everyone is more open and free to be themselves. Counselors and staff are so loving and comforting, so accepting. You don’t have to be afraid of anyone here.”
Sounds about as close to a perfect world as one can get. The children and youth who come to enjoy weeks of summer at the Eastern PA Conference’s four camps often find that openness, love and acceptance in others and, more importantly, in themselves.
The Rev. William Brawner (left) found such fruit of the spirit at two of our camps this summer: Pocono Plateau and Carson-Simpson Farm Christian Center. He and youth from his church, Haven-Peniel UMC, joined up with Janelle Mungro and youth from her church, Midtown Parish UMC—both African American, inner-city Philadelphia churches—to visit the two camps.
It was the first time for Brawner and his youth, but it won’t be the last.
“I directed a YMCA camp years ago, but this Christian camp experience was new to me,” said the local pastor. “There was a different spirit and attitude there—from starting the day in prayer, to the way kids enjoyed themselves and behaved, and the reverence they had for the camp and for one another. Also, just getting out of the city and experiencing the diversity there was so rare for them.”
Brawner was not idle either. “I did everything the camps had to offer—canoeing, challenge courses, hiking, everything.” He got inspired when he heard Mungro, a Conference Camp & Retreat Ministries Board member, promoting summer camp to their Mission Connexion. The board is trying to persuade more inner city churches to visit and send their children to all our camps.
“It’s a must” said Brawner. “You’re doing your church and community a disservice if you don’t allow youth to have this experience, to be in a shaping environment like this where they can grow, learn about people and learn about themselves. My kids won’t be the same after this experience. Now they know there’s more out there for them.”
Indeed, there is more for children and youth to do and learn at camp than probably anywhere else. There’s music, savory meals and merriment, wilderness adventures, arts and crafts, evening campfires, and the vibrant colors and textures of nature with all its living wonders—from the tallest trees to the tiniest bugs. Each camp has distinctive features that celebrate Creation—mountains, lakes, creeks, meadows, forests and more.
But manmade wonders offer enjoyment also: Stingrays (those incredible, sturdy, multi-level hammocks at Greta Glen), fire pits, outdoor worship sanctuaries, high ropes courses, and the one venue at each camp that seems the most fun, inspiring playful fellowship and unbridled joy: the swimming pool.
Moreover, each day’s hilarity and adventures find balance in times of quiet contemplation, teaching and candid dialogue about life lessons and Bible wisdom.
There are camps devoted to baseball, archery, fishing and other sports, musical theater, science experiments, costumed superheroes, Native American life, and diverse cultures around the world. There’s even night camp, where youth and counselors camp in the woods and enjoy games, fellowship and other activities allnight. Then they retire to bed in the morning and sleep into the afternoon.
Meanwhile, Camp Innabah, our oldest jewel in the crown at 88 years, is celebrating 50 years of hosting popular Challenge Camps where persons of all ages with intellectual disabilities can enjoy tender, loving care and loads of fun and adventure together.
The Rev. Cynthia Skripak, pastor of Yardley UMC, enjoyed her first Challenge Camp as a counselor during her vacation in August. She finally was able to accept a standing invitation from Jenny Hyde, her former church member at Willow Grove UMC, who has led Challenge Camps for 23 years.
“This has been a wonderful experience,” said Skripak, who administered Holy Communion to the grateful campers, a service more camps would love to provide if they had clergy volunteers onsite. Indeed, Skripak echoes the Innabah Site Committee’s concern that more clergy need to visit and help out at summer camps, as many did in earlier years before their participation waned.
More funding is also needed for camp scholarships to make summer camp more widely affordable and for construction, upgrading and furnishing of camp facilities. Gretna Glen, for example, hopes to complete construction of its much-needed new bath house later this year, but it is still about $90,000 away from paying it off.
As another successful summer camp season ends in mid-August, camp directors and staff will tally up their attendance and revenue, pore over myriad photos, listen to the lingering echoes of children’s laughter, and begin planning their fall and winter retreat season. Enjoy these photos and many more on our Flickr page and on the camp centers’ own websites.
And when your church receives an invitation to send children and youth to any of our four summer camps next year, consider it “a must,” in Brawner’s words. View it as God’s undeniable call for you to help shape young lives that may in turn help shape the life of your church and community.
Visit our Flickr page to see more photos from our Camps. 2017 photos to be released through the end of August.