Camping Ministry: Taking it to the Next Level

Date Posted: 2/26/2015

Amidst a conference-wide review of the camping ministry, leaders are working in tandem to build momentum to” Invest in the Young” in bigger and better ways.
Since 1975, Rev. Jonathan Bynam, Bear Creek UMC, Houston has been involved in District Camp, MidWinter, and Choir Camp as a camper, counselor, dean, director, registrar, and coordinator. “In that time,” he shares, “I have made life-changing decisions, experienced heart-renewing moments, shared in amazing works of the Holy Spirit, made new friends, and felt pure joy and laughter. I can’t think of a year I haven’t witnessed God working in some way. And every year I see it improving.”
As a longtime supporter of the TAC Camping Ministry, Rev. Bynum is excited about the recent work being done by district and conference volunteers alike to take the ministry to a new level by more tightly coordinating and sharing ideas and resources.
He was part of the conversation almost three years ago that started the TAC Camping Ministry asking each other, and experts if there were better ways to do camp.  Rev. Christie Hale, associate pastor of Mission Bend UMC, who now chairs the Conference Camping Ministry says the renewed focus “all started when we created a task force to enable us to focus specifically on how to better identify and leverage adult counselors and that lead to bringing Lakeview’s Matt Idom into the conversation to see what Lakeview might be able to do.” She adds, “Lakeview was then motivated to start looking at the bigger picture, so recent modifications have been a long time coming and have grown in scope.” 

Aha moments
Christie shares that, during that initial conversation, the planners also realized that the primary leadership for District camp resided in clergy. “With itinerant ministry we get moved around a lot, so we began to brainstorm and realized that if we brought them all together, we would have an incredible resource pool in which to draw from - much stronger than we were as independent entities.  We realized that we if followed the teachings of the Apostle Paul, working in tandem to the body of Christ, we were a better witness for the kingdom.  It was this realization that prompted us to begin to make a plan for improving the entire ministry.” 
Christie is proud of the recent improvements that are underway. “We are researching best practices via a review that’s being conducted by the Kalaidescope camping experts, and we are learning to be better stewards of our resources to put forward the best possible camps for conference youth,” she says. For example, in the earlier days of planning, various camps might have different themes, which would mean extra time, and money would be spent writing several versions of curriculum and getting several different t-shirt designs made.  “We will begin with baby steps this summer by creating a conference-wide theme of Living in the Spirit through all weeks of camp and getting the discount that happens when you buy 5,000 t-shirts at the same time.”
Lakeview's Master plan prompted additional opportunities to determine how to develop the strongest camp program and to grow.  Adds Christie,“The Kaleidoscope Consultation will help us adopt best practices from national United Methodist camping ministries so we are excited to get their results in May.”
There are nine members working within the TAC Camping Ministry, including representatives serving as district camp coordinators, at-large members and representatives from choir camp. Beginning this year, Christie is an ex-officio member of the Lakeview Conference Board to help facilitate camping ministry conversations.
Most importantly, Christie adds, “Sometimes it is easier to see God at work when you get outside of your home church. We want to make sure to create the best environment for our young campers and adult volunteers to hear the call to lay or ordained ministry.” Once the youth camp evaluation process is complete, the team will take a look at adult camp to ensure there are effective spiritual growth retreats for adults as well.
Rev. Daniel Irving, Memorial Drive UMC Houston believes strongly in the power of camp. Shares Daniel, “Growing up as a youth in the Texas Annual Conference, my life and my faith were shaped by the camping ministries at Lakeview. It was at Lakeview where I first realized God’s calling in my life. It was at MidWinters where, as a youth, I first served communion and took the first steps toward living into God’s call toward ministry. It was at camp where I met life-long friends from across the connection, many of whom serve as my colleagues in ministry today. Without camping ministries, I would not be who I am today. With camping ministries, it is my prayer that the future of the church is called, shaped, equipped and empowered for generations to come.”
Adds Jonathan, “This is our biggest Conference ministry and probably our most cost effective, with the emphasis on “effective.” How do we not fill up every week of camp? This is one of our best methods to build a connectional church -- through camp.”