Though I had grown up in the church and was very close to it, I met the Lord in a personal way at a Montreat Youth Conference in the summer of 1972. A faith that had been borrowed suddenly became owned. A Christ that I knew about suddenly became known. My encounter was less about what was said up front, but was caught from the contagious witness of other youth in the small group in which I was placed. Right in the back of Anderson Auditorium I prayed a prayer with members of that group that has changed my life.
— Jim Singleton, pastor, First Church, Colorado Springs
My very first camp experience focused around producing “conversion experiences” on schedule by the Thursday evening worship service. That meant all of us needed to be manipulated–by a lot of fear about the devil, demons, and hell–into answering the altar call. Needless to say, this was not a camp sponsored by the Presbyterian Church! More positive were the years in which I attended Camp Manitoqua–a camp of the Reformed Church in America. I have happy memories of serious discussions about faith and the Christian life that I had with fellow campers and with many wonderful counselors, who showed me that you could be a “cool” person and still be very serious about living a life of piety. I learned that there was nothing in life–including sports, silly games, eating and drinking, annoying bugs, crushes on boys, the works!–that could not be combined with an awareness of oneself as living before God. That lesson has served me well long after my camping days were over.
— Dawn DeVries, John Newton Thomas Professor of Systematic Theology, Union Theological Seminary-PSCE, Richmond, Va.
I received two wonderful gifts in Presbyterian camps and conference centers that have been the best gifts of my life – my wife and my sense of the global church! It was at a family camp at Nacome, a camp sponsored by three presbyteries in Tennessee, that I came to know Diane, whom I would later marry. In fact, my mother wouldn’t quit encouraging me to call up Diane and ask her out for a date – and it went from there!
A year later, our church took our youth group to the World Mission Conference in Montreat. The delegates were reporting to those gathered on the recent assembly of the World Council of Churches in New Delhi, India. They gave me a vision of the global church and the impact of the gospel on so many cultures that reshaped my sense of call and my future ministry.
—Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
It was at the Forest Home Christian Conference Center in Southern California, which I attended every year from the fourth grade through my junior year in college, that I experienced important steps in my call to ministry. It started with a nine-year-old’s strong sense of calling to foreign mission, which matured into an openness to whatever God’s call might be and finally, during my high school years, was clarified as a call to educational ministry. Many speakers at those camps challenged and shaped my understanding of both faith and vocation, and the experience of community confirmed what I sensed was God’s leading. Surprisingly, the early call to mission finally merged with the call to educational ministry when I discovered in my early 50’s that I had always been becoming a missiologist!
— Darrell Guder, dean, Princeton Theological Seminary
My initial exposure to my lifelong journey in Christ began with an invitation from a youth leader to attend a summer camp sponsored by The Navigators. While it took several years for the commitment to Christ I made there to become central in my life, I have always regarded that week as an eighth grader as the beginning of my journey as a follower of Jesus.
— Gary Dermarest, H.R., Pasadena, Calif.
A very young Jim Speed was the keynoter as I joined others from the Buntyn Church youth group at Camp NaCoMe one summer in the mid-1950s. I saw Jim running by himself one morning, and I asked if I could run with him. He graciously consented, and we had a good talk about the Christian faith and trying to live it. I still remember his cogent expressions of faith, his humility in not wanting to usurp God’s business or second-guess God’s plan, and his good sense of humor– all of which are indispensable perspectives for Christians of any persuasion.
— Louis Weeks, president, Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education
Some years ago, while cleaning our in-law’s attic, my husband pulled out a letter that was more than 40 years old. It was written by a camp counselor to my husband’s parents telling them that their son had made a decision for Christ while he was at church camp. Today my husband is a man of strong faith, strong enough to question and leave room for the opinions of others. He is a Presbyterian elder serving in his congregation and our presbytery. What really happened all those years ago around that campfire? Was it a well-reasoned, theologically nuanced decision? Probably not. But in that church camp setting that little boy said yes to the hand of God that was laid upon his life. I’m so glad he did and that someone thought to take note of it and write that letter.
— Joan Gray, moderator, 217th General Assembly
Fundamentalists ran the camps of my childhood and youth, and I later came to reject much of what they tried to impose upon me. But the experience was nonetheless a spiritually formative one. A week at camp always culminated in that campfire meeting on the last evening. There we were challenged to commit our lives to Jesus Christ. Sitting there in the dark in those silent moments, staring at the fire, even though I was surrounded by fellow campers, I always felt like I was alone in the presence of God in a special way–and in a way that required a response of commitment in the depths of my being. I often have to remind myself that there was a time in my life when singing “Kumbaya” was a means of grace!
— Richard Mouw, president, Fuller Theological Seminary
At age nine, with my cousins Sonny and Johnny, my parents sent me from our home in Detroit to the weeklong boys camp in central Michigan sponsored by our Assemblies of God congregation. The center of the Camp was a revival tent with wooden benches and sawdust flooring. It was the Tent of Meeting in our intense Pentecostal world, because all who entered there needed to be prepared to meet God. I did. Responding to an altar call passionately offered by a chalk artist evangelist, I stepped forward, walked the sawdust trail, knelt praying for an hour or so, confessing my sins, begging God for mercy to lead a holy life beginning now and be saved from the consequences of my sins in the life to come. I truly got saved.
Riding home in the back seat of my parents’ car I answered their question about the week’s happenings by stating that my cousins and I got KP more than anyone else, that one of my cabin mates got poison ivy, and that I got saved. Mom looked at Dad, joy filled the front seat, the Rambler pulled to the side of the road and Dad asked how I felt. “Itchy,” I replied. It wouldn’t be until my late teens that I gained the assurance of these things while listening to Presbyterian preaching, but these things happened at a camp. It is still the most holy place of my youth.
— Jerry Andrews, pastor, First Church, Glen Ellyn, Ill.
My spiritual high at church camp came in my late twenties when, as a young pastor, I designed and led a week for junior highs at Camp Brainerd in Lehigh Presbytery. Weaving woods, Scripture, campfires, and s’mores into the mystery of creation was transforming for me – and for my young charges. And I watched awkward adolescents melt into the mystery of spiritual community. In a high tech, competitive world, the simple gift of church camp is not only counter-cultural. It is an invitation to encounter a Living God who never lets us go.
— Susan R. Andrews, executive presbyter, Presbytery of Hudson River
I began attending church camp during elementary school, continued as a youth, and worked at Mo Ranch as a college student. Through the encouragement of lifetime friendships made at camp and through the mentoring of adult leaders in those camps, I began to believe that God might use the offering of my life in Christ’s ministry. As a seminary president, I hear story after story of God’s first whispers that result in a call to ministry being heard at a church camp or conference. Where did my daughter, the child of a pastor with several church homes, who is now serving in Southern Sudan as a Child Protection Officer, select for the site of her wedding? The church camp where she attended as a child and worked as a young adult–John Knox Ranch in Fischer, Texas. I give thanks to God for the ministry of Presbyterian camp and conference centers.
— Laura Mendenhall, president, Columbia Theological Seminary
It was at Camp Shekinah in Pennsylvania that I, in my childhood and adolescence, first encountered clergypersons outside their traditional roles and attire. Camp directors, counselors, were Presbyterian ministers. They were lively, bright, and great fun. They were models and mentors; in them I saw a whole new picture of ministry, and experienced a life-long tug at my heart that is still very much there.
It also was at Camp Shekinah that I first wore a Celtic cross. One of the counselors, a Princeton Seminary student, wore a Celtic cross around his neck. He told me people who wanted to be Presbyterian ministers wear them. I purchased a cross at the camp store and put it on. I cannot imagine how my life would have turned out without Camp Shekinah.
— John Buchanan, pastor, Fourth Church, Chicago, Ill.