“God’s Place Apart, Transforming Lives.” At the Eastern PA Conference’s four Camp & Retreat Centers the truth of that motto is most abundantly clear during the 7 of 9 weeks of summer camp.
Diane Deemer shared her life-transformation story with us, responding to our July appeal for summer camp memories. She attended Pocono Plateau’s summer camp in 1967.
“I grew up in the church, loved Jesus, attended Billy Graham meetings; but I just couldn’t connect. It didn’t feel real,” she recalled. “Then came the week of summer camp in ‘67. We were having a vesper service behind the brick dormitory. The pastor who was speaking was telling us how to ‘know’ Jesus.
“Then he said, ‘It’s a relationship.’ Suddenly, it was as if fireworks were exploding! A RELATIONSHIP! Jesus loves me! I can love Him! Not the idea of Him, but the real, living Jesus! As the old hymn says, ‘joy flooded my soul.’
“That was over 50 years ago, and the joy is as exciting today as it was then. I’m so grateful for the camping ministry. I know I’m not the only camper who found the Lord there!”
Sleeping in tents and cabins. Swimming and boating in lakes. Playing zany, creative games. Zip lining. Rock climbing. Getting up close and personal with animals and critters. Roasting marshmallows at dusk. Singing and laughing. Discovering new talents and abilities. Meeting new friends.
The amazing fun and fellowship our summer camps offer to thousands of young people yearly, surrounded by the sheer beauty of Creation in full bloom, is simply indescribable. But the faith formation many of them undergo is unforgettable.
Served and guided by hundreds of staff, counselors and volunteers, many campers are still discovering and deepening their relationship with Jesus Christ and finding their lives transformed in that perfect retreat setting known as “God’s Place Apart.”
Carson Simpson Farm Christian Camp (CSF) celebrated 100 years this summer of being that special place apart for generations of campers. With nearly 1,300 campers, their highlights included a visit from the Peaceable Kingdom traveling zoo, a July 4th parade, learning sign language with the Sign Out Loud troupe, the Ultimate Human Game Show, Puppets Pizzazz and their closing Super Hero Farewell Carnival.
Their first Jr. Chef Class, taught by the camp’s cooks, was a huge hit, said Meg Neitz, who has managed CSF with her husband Ray Neitz for over two decades. They celebrated the camp’s centennial with a Family Night of fun activities, including Belgian horse and wagon rides, just like those offered back in 1919.
Meanwhile, their daily Bible studies and Disciple devotions evoked their theme, “Faithful: Celebrating 100 Years of God’s Faithfulness.” And young campers raised $700 for the annual “CSF Kids Give Back” project—this year to aid Willow Grove UMC’s participation in the Appalachian Service Project.
Gretna Glen increased its attendance this year, welcoming 1,135 campers— including 371 first-timer—to its 60th season of hosting summer adventures. Those adventures included trips to the Ninja Warrior Gym, tubing behind a motorboat on a lake, paddling a canoe down the Swatara Creek, and learning archery, yoga, animal care and other healthy skills.
The 43 overnight and daytime programs, each with its own thematic “twist,” gathered campers spanning in age from 4 to 76, including the Grandparents and Me Camp that several sites offer. Apryl Miller, director, is grateful for “the support of our community, participating churches and campers’ families.”
Campers and staff also enjoyed Hillside Haven, the new Bible Discovery site. And with “Peace Works” as this year’s theme for daily study and discussion, campers learned about the nature and nurture of peace in today’s multicultural but conflict-ridden world, including practical ways to make it a part of our lives.
Innabah hosted 27 overnight camps and over 540 campers, including over 175 newbies. Volunteers helped install a new ADA (American Disabilities Act)-friendly playground and also a new, comfy Hammock Village for rest and relaxation.
“Our Experiments and Explosions Camp was a blast,” reports Michael Hyde, director, offering one of several painful puns in his report. Also popular were Children’s Hilltop and Youth Hilltop camps, Archery Camp, the inaugural Dance Camp and several Family Camps. The several Challenge Camps, a longtime staple, offer participants with intellectual disabilities rich opportunities to experience camp activities and learn more about God. Some have attended this favorite camp for decades.
The camp celebrated Christ daily, but especially on Sunday evenings with guest preachers to share weekly messages of faith. Worship after supper featured preaching by Bishop Peggy Johnson, the Revs. Diana Esposito (Deacon), Sue Ketterer, Jim McIntire, Mark Moore, Dawn Taylor-Storm, and Jason Perkowski.
Pocono Plateau drew 590 campers to 23 camps, offering several new fun features. Mystery Quest an escape-room style camp, delighted and challenged campers to use their minds to complete puzzles, open locks and solve mysteries.
The Human Foosball Court, built by volunteers, offered a life-size version of the popular table game. And Garbage Graveyard, a Creation Care teaching tool, helped campers understand the need to reduce, reuse and recycle waste to decrease the amount discarded daily.
“In today’s culture, summer camp still provides children and youth with opportunities to experience an authentic Christian community surrounded by God’s creation,” said the Rev. Ron Schane, director. “Campers can be themselves while enjoying fun activities, making new friends and creating memories that can last a lifetime.
“Removed from the noise and distractions of their everyday life, they can reflect on the Word of God and grow in their relationship with Jesus. God’s still small voice can impact them in mighty ways.”
NEWSpirit Communications thanks all four Camp & Retreat Center directors and staffs for providing information and comments about their summer camps and for their hospitality during staff visits.