While camp settings are unique and designed especially well for community building, there are lots of ways to bring the connection that happens at camp to the local congregation.
Healthy, vibrant faith formation occurs when several components work together, like an ecosystem. Trees do not exist in a vacuum: they need water and air to survive; and humans cannot exist without food and love. As such, Christian education is best when messages are heard and practiced at church, in the home, at regional or national events, and last but not least, at summer camp.
Integrating Camp into the Ecosystem of your Congregation
Ask questions of your children, youth, and young adults! Some of these require time to think and reflect. As always, be aware that not all families have the resources to send their children to camp. Did they attend camp? If so, where? Was it a Christian camp? What did they like best? Least? What did they learn? What do they wish will be different next year? Did anything resemble or sound familiar from church?
Regardless of where they went, what did they learn about God through experiences with peers, from counselors or chaplains, or by being in nature?
Call or email your diocesan or regional denominational camp. Ask the program director what the faith formation mission and components were for the summer (camps use different language for this, so be ready to clarify). If the camp has chaplains, find out who was chaplain when kids from your congregation attended and follow up with that person. Learn as much as you can and bring these lessons into the Sunday school or youth group setting.
Research shows that one of the most important elements of faith formation at camp is life in community (VTS Camp Formation Project, 2019). While camp settings are unique and designed especially well for community building, there are lots of ways to bring the connection that happens at camp to the local congregation. (Dr. Rodger Nishioka’s groupness theory is a good place to start: Google “Rodger Nishioka groupness” to view three 2-3 minute videos about groupness in youth ministry.) And again, ask your kids! Find out what community at camp (or other places they’ve experienced it) felt like, sounded like, and looked like. And then invite them to brainstorm how to bring those elements into congregational life.
Plan for next year. Talk to your camp and congregation about a family weekend, day-long retreat, or overnight youth program. Do the ropes course, walk the trails, have worship around a campfire, stay up late and look at stars … and make sure children and youth are planning and leading alongside you every step of the way.
Beth Bojarski lives in Cincinnati with her husband and two boys, their family dog, and her oldest’s reptilian zoo. She spent 10 years in Episcopal camp leadership in Kentucky and California before moving to the Midwest in the spring of 2018. Since the move she’s been focused on faith formation in camp and retreat ministry, learning how to be anti-racist, running, and keeping her family alive while waiting to see where she lands next in job-land.