Summer camps see record attendance
‘People are looking at ways to improve the spiritual life of their children’
By Holly McCray
Sit with me beside an imaginary evening campfire, and I’ll tell you a story or two from the 2010 summer camping season. Each one emits a ray of God’s light.
One account is a story of numbers. "This is the largest attendance we’ve ever had at district and Conference summer camps," said Camps Director Randy McGuire.
"We had 5,765 campers," from about 250 Oklahoma United Methodist churches.
The total surpasses the attendance record set in 1999, and it tops last year’s total by 270 people. The events for elementary students reported the most attendance growth: 140 more campers.
And Camp Cavett "had a huge increase," Rev. McGuire said. Last year, attendance was 214 at this specialty camp for children and youth with debilitating diseases. This year, total was 270. Participation overflowed the housing available at Cross Point campground, beside Lake Texoma. Some adults have to sleep off-site, McGuire said.
Record attendance might seem surprising amid ongoing U.S. economic uncertainty. McGuire offered a perspective.
"People are looking at ways to improve the spiritual life of their children," he said. "When they have to choose," they place higher value on church camp than other summer experiences.
The record-setting summer could have been even better. But lack of adult leaders forced the Camps ministry to close registration for some events.
"It’s time now to plan to volunteer for the 2011 camps. Help us not to have to turn campers away because of a lack of volunteers," McGuire pleaded.
Adam Brinson just completed his fifth year as dean of CLEW, the junior- and senior-high camps for youths from Clinton, Lawton, Enid, and Woodward Districts.
"One thing we (leaders) are humbled about the most is the amount of calls to ministry we see at camp," Brinson said.
"One night, at one of the prayer stations in worship at senior-high camp, we had nine youths come forward." They met and prayed with ministers.
Adult leaders encourage these young people by turning to them to lead morning devotions and in other ways. As they grow in leadership, "they develop a sense of belonging and ownership" in church camping, Brinson said, "and feel we’ve confirmed their call."
He first attended camp as a newly graduated senior, then returned as an adult volunteer. Brinson and his wife met at church camp, he added. He is youth director at First UMC in Fairview.
The events for elementary students are treasured by Kathy Coit, often a dean for those programs. Water games and camp songs fill her stories.
She remembered "Get the dean!" was the youngsters’ goal on an afternoon of water balloon battles. On an Oklahoma summer day, "that was a good thing!" their target declared.
"The fun the children have let them know that God laughs with them and is with them in their joy," Rev. Coit said. "The camp experience enhances what they’re getting at home and at church."
Camp songs accompanied by motions and singing meal blessings are fond memories. "Imagine 100 kids giving a blessing like that," she said.
Coit was a sixth grader when she first went to church camp. She attends Edmond-First UMC and is part of the Conference Camps staff.
Andre Stravlo described an "ah-ha!" moment with her children, months after they all took part in Single-Parent Family Gathering camp. The youngsters chose to sing "the Superman grace," with motions, for the meal blessing on Thanksgiving Day. They’d learned the song at camp.
"They get it!" was Stravlo’s reaction.
She said the Christian education, the friendships formed, experiencing God in an outdoor worship setting—"all that happens at camp from the moment they arrive" impacts children.
(If you don’t know "the Superman grace," ask a camper.)
In 2011, all three UM campgrounds will host Single-Parent Family Gatherings.
United Methodist Men and other church groups provided vital support for the Gatherings this summer, said Stravlo, Camps administrative assistant. They delivered food and cooked meals. "Angels" were especially valued by parents with several children; juggling multiple activities can be challenging for a parent alone, Stravlo noted.
She spoke about some Angels at Camp Egan who were especially perceptive.
"Opal had a 1-year-old and 3-year-old. Everybody was in the pool. The Angels watched her children so Opal could play keep-away with the adults. On her face, I saw the look of I’m finally getting a chance to play. I’ll never forget that," Stravlo said.
The most memorable moments this summer for Director McGuire occurred during Camp Cavett. Recreation opportunities at Cross Point campground include a six-story tower for rappelling and, new this summer, swinging. Safety is key.
Because of the physical limitations of children and youths at this event, a facilitator and youngster are harnessed to double-rappel for safety, McGuire explained. He watched two girls, whose illness typically confines them to wheelchairs, preparing for that experience. "They were so ready to go" this year, he said.
The swing provides a solo experience. "As soon as they were on their own, you could see their arms go out," McGuire described two campers.
"They were free. I just cried."
This year, manager Ken Long of Cross Point made possible another first for Camp Cavett. He secured dedicated electric lines to the property so that eight dialysis units could operate on site. In prior years, Cavett campers who need those treatments had to travel to Durant, etc., during the week.
"Celebrate" was the summer camping theme. The Prodigal Son and Exodus stories were part of the curriculum. In September, the staff began planning for summer 2011.
United Methodist camping should enrich home and church life all year, McGuire said. He wants the children and youths to share their experiences, not leave their stories among the ashes of the campfire.
"It’s my hope campers go home with a new understanding of what it means to be a Christian, to make a difference," McGuire said.