Church Camp

I tried to love church camp like my colleagues claimed to, but I couldn’t. Being away from my family for a week or two, exposed to nature’s bugs, skunks, and snakes, plus sleeping in an unairconditioned cabin with a bunch of preadolescent boys was never my idea of a good time.

Call me a poor sport. Call me a sissy. Just don’t call me to be a camp counselor ever again.

But more importantly than my discomfort, I have some real concerns for the kids that attend.

First, let me say I’ve hesitated to speak about this because I have dear friends who have invested themselves in giving kids good experiences in camp. They have no intention of engineering a manipulative atmosphere as revealed in the documentary, Jesus Camp.  I’ll even agree that many camp leaders, especially in United Methodist camps, are diligent in showing respect for the campers.  Furthermore, many people tell me they have great memories of attending church camp.

I believe them but I’m still concerned. I say that even with the best intentions, there’s a great deal of manipulation happening in church camps.

Tell me I’m wrong… that these elements are not in church camps:

Isolation where young ones are away from home and family.

Sleep deprivation where they wake up early and stay up late.

Exhaustion from physical activities including long hikes.

Indoctrination from the small group sharing sessions, exciting music, emotional storytelling, using scripture like incantations, and pressuring the children to give their hearts to Jesus.

Of course the kids respond to the invitation… sobbing as they stumble up the aisles, offering themselves to God, mistaking their fatigue for spirituality.

I actually helped at these camps, thinking it was good for the kids. But I’ve changed my mind and I’m sorry I was ever a part of them. Again, I don’t think those who led these camps meant to hurt anyone. They were trying to help, to give kids a good experience.

But I still think it’s wrong.

7 thoughts on “Church Camp

  1. Man oh man David, y’all were doing it wrong. The camps my kids went to were fantastic. They couldn’t wait to go back. There wasn’t any indoctrination, no forcing kids to do stuff they didn’t want to do. My daughter went to young life camps. In antelope Oregon. And seventh day Adventist camp at Tamarak. My son went to camp with the baptist church in Lebanon Oregon. He went off on his own to find snakes. He did get scolded for that . For safety reasons. But still, it was nothing like Jesus Camp. That stuff is Malarkey. Camp is supposed to be fun . They get enough indoctrination at school.

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  2. I grew up Presbyterian USA, and having nothing but fond memories of camp. I worked a couple of summers there, when I was becoming, despite my Presbyterian education, more evangelical. The more evangelical counselors, only a handful of us, were upset that we didn’t have altar calls. Sure, we sang songs about Jesus, but the focus was love and loving others, not sin focused at all.As an atheist now, if I had children, I would have no problem sending my kids to the camp I went to.

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  3. Yes, that is a tumultuous time of life!!!!! and I think you’re right to worry about manipulation. Coming from one of the “frozen chosen” branches, my major memory is sitting under a tree with my bible during individual time… and in groups, the feeling that I wasn’t one of the in-crowd, One thing I think might have been good for me was connecting god with nature… I’ve always felt more “at home” outdoors than in a group of fellow humans : ) Thanks a lot for reflecting on this custom… very thought-provoking — as usual!

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  4. As you know, I’m a recovering Southern Baptist. I went to church camp for 4 or 5 summers where we sang, played, renewed old friendships and made new ones, swam (boys & girls at separate times) and cried when someone “walked down the aisle” to be “saved” or “re-saved”…I think it was called re-dedicating. It’s also where many of my friends lost their virginity (not me) 😎 I also was a camp counselor while in college and worked one summer for the Southern Baptist Convention as a Summer Missionary in California, helping with Bible School and “witnessing” to poor souls on the beach. And I must say that other than the singing and playing and hanging out with friends, the bottom line was fear…fear of God, fear of sin, fear of not being good enough, fear of what must I do to keep this going when I return home, fear, fear, fear. Now this was my experience, not bashing other’s experiences. All through these years a little voice in my head kept telling me this was not my truth…and eventually I found my Unitarian church here in Tulsa. And you know what? I’ve found that I can believe in the teachings of Jesus plus those of many through the ages who, I believe, are speaking truth. But it took many years to let go of the fears of my youth that were strongly nurtured in bible schools and summer camps. By the way…it wasn’t people who told me I was wrong that changed my thinking…it was meeting people of all faiths (or no faith) all over the world that opened my eyes to what I was, and still am, searching for. (sorry…I got on a roll)

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  5. big time manipulation-wish I did not relate but I do. camp was just a big free for all w/the tears and fear at the nighttime chapel services. in the 80s they were hiring Christian rock bands and speakers who tried way to hard to be cool-but the end game was still the same. add in pentacostalism, and you get even more craziness-crying, screaming, running, rolling around etc. I was often accused of not loving jesus because I refused to participate in this. thanks for exposing this mess.

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