So... I am excited for the future of United Methodist camps in Missouri. Yes, it won't be anything like what we are used to, but it will be good, even great. Already, our new "Ignite" mobile camps have 1500 registrations of students ages 6-12. Camp properties may have closed, but camping ministry is strong. Our "Impact" Mission Camps continue with similar participation. The one piece that is yet to take shape for 2016 are the "Infuse" Camps for spiritual formation of teens ages 13-18.
One of the planned locations for these camps is Central Methodist University in Fayette, MO. Most of the feedback I've heard from people who have participated in our previous United Methodist camping ministry in Missouri, both parents and youth, is that this is "not" camp. In fact, they are pretty certain that this just "won't work." They may be right. But, I think it's worth trying before we write it off. Why? Because others are doing it well, and I think we United Methodists of Missouri could do it just as good or better. Who is doing church camp on a college campus? Well, here's the ones I found in Missouri:
The baptists seem to have been using college campuses for a while now. Granted, they also use Windermere and other Baptist Association camps across the state of Missouri. But check out this page with two camps listed: www.sbuniv.edu/ConferenceCenter/YouthCamps/. One of the camps, Centrifuge, is for teenagers, 7th-12th grades, and is focused on Youth Groups. The other, CentriKid is for older elementary students, 3rd-6th grades. I've never been to Centrifuge, but I've heard about it, and only good things. The description seems to be very similar to what I have planned for Metamorphosis at CMU. Centrifuge is put on by Lifeway (the Baptist bookstore/publisher). They have these camps all across the USA some at retreat centers, and some on college campuses. I think we should learn from them, and do our best to build new United Methodist Christ-followers (aren't there enough baptists already? j/k LOL).
Here's another Baptist camp: Super Summer. This year it's at Hannibal-LaGrange University. According to their website, this is the Missouri Baptist Convention's time to develop leadership among the next generation. It is also focused on Youth Groups. They have time for equipping adult leaders as well as teenagers. We should probably talk to these guys and learn from them too. A lot of my Baptist Youth Pastor friends take their groups to this, and I've heard good things. These are not just large-church youth pastors, but small town rural groups where Youth Pastor is an un-paid volunteer. Again, I haven't been, but still, this is another example of a camp at a college campus that works.
Christ In Youth puts on this camp for middle schoolers. There's one right here in my town, St. Joseph, MO, on the campus of Missouri Western State University. You can check the camp out here: www.ciy.com/mix. This is also a ministry that happens nationwide at various locations, including college campuses as well as retreat/conference centers like Windermere. I don't know much about Christ In Youth as an organization, but they seem to have a good reputation. They are based in Joplin, MO, and don't appear to be affiliated with a denomination. They've been doing events for almost 50 years now. I think we should learn from them.
So, can there be a great church camp on a college campus? Yes. I think these three are examples that are happening right here in Missouri. There are probably many others if you look for them. Some of you may say these are "conferences" not camps. Ok...that's a difference in words/terms, but they are still much the same. I would say about the only difference is location. The main activities and focus are virtually the same. The focus is Jesus Christ, and the activities are Prayer, Worship, Bible study, shared community, fun. It will be different, but I'm not sure that it can't do those things excellently just like we have done at our traditional camp sites.
Another important thing we see is that all of these camps are focused on Youth Groups. So local churches register their group to go together and bring volunteers with the students as chaperones. Our camps, no matter where they take place should be similar. This is a paradigm shift for us. Typically, individuals could go to whichever camp piqued their interest. Even if you have a small group of two campers and two adults, I think it's better than going alone. Those four people will now have a shared spiritual experience to build upon and share with others when they get back. This can happen with individuals, but the strength of Christianity is "together is better". I think churches attending events as groups is better. It's the way I remember first going to church camp, as part of my youth group. When I was the main youth leader (as well as pastor), taking a group of students to church camp together helped us build our small youth group in our small church in our small town of less than 1500. I attribute this partly to attending camp together and having that shared experience of Jesus Christ. In my mind, this shift in paradigm, (focusing on church groups instead of individuals) will greatly enhance our camp participation and enhance our local churches. [I have some more thoughts on some paradigm shifts to think about as camping ministry changes, but I'll have to work up a different blog post for those.]
Finally, if Baptists are ok with it, then why can't we? Surely we United Methodists can do it even better, right? I know when the announcement of closing the four camp sites in Missouri was first made, the idea seemed to be only CMU camps; but I think we can see that's not the case going forward. It is CMU and other locations, one of which might be our own Camp Jo-Ota. CMU has great facilities and the capability to provide experiences that our traditional camp sites couldn't (unless you got really creative and transformed a barn into a worship center). I imagine the future of camp at CMU as similar to a week-long WOW (Missouri's Annual United Methodist Youth Weekend), but with more depth and spread out over a week. We should take a look at the examples above and learn from them. I'm sure Centrifuge and CIY MIX don't focus on just one denomination either. We could open up to others in our Christian family...if we offer something of excellence that other youth groups would bring their students to.
So please, don't write off a camp just because it's on a college campus. God can and will move on a college campus. God can even move among United Methodists, not just Baptists. ;-)
I am a United Methodist Pastor, but I'm trying to re-define that as a Missionary sent to my corner of the USA. What would it look like for you to envision your life as a Christian more like a Missionary than a Church-goer?