Steadfast at Camp

A recent edition of Rock Center with Brian Williams featured hilarious selections from the book, “P.S. I Hate It Here!: Kids’ Letters from Camp” by Diane Falanga. In this book, kids are brutally honest about their summer camp experience. You may read excerpts here.

Similarly, the sainted Gerhard Forde once wrote of his childhood experience at Bible Camp, “I recall vividly once in my young life going to a Bible Camp with its campfire meetings at which there were all sorts of ‘goings-on’ which were strange to the son of an Old Synod parish- emotional songs which I had never heard, testimonies, tears, and what not. I didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t believe it! I never went back.” (Gerhard O. Forde, “The Old Synod: A Search for Objectivity,” Striving for ministry: Centennial Essays Interpreting the Heritage of Luther Theological Seminary, Augsburg, 1977)

Forde’s experience sounds more like a scene out of the documentary Jesus Camp than confessional Lutheranism. Is it possible to have a fun, outdoorsy, exciting Bible camp while maintaining our confessional Lutheran moorings?

For twelve years, I have been blessed as a pastor to teach and preach at Camp Indianhead MN (ELS). Sure the name is not politically correct, but somehow Native American Head sounds even worse! At this camp, the kids enjoy all kinds of summer camp activities- swimming, sports, canoeing, evening campfires etc. But, by God’s grace, we’ve been able to maintain a distinctive confessional Lutheran flavor. How?

  1. At campfires, we let the silly songs be silly songs and Christian songs be hymns. Crazy campfire songs about cannibals, ostriches, and dead worms are followed by learning a solid Lutheran hymn. Counselors and/or pastors lead the children in memorizing several verses during the week of hymns such as “God’s Own Child I’ll Gladly Say It, I Am Baptized Into Christ” and “Salvation Unto Us is Come”.
  2. Bible studies are based on the parts of Luther’s Small Catechism. Bible studies for youth are far too often centered on teaching only morality and focused on behavior rather than inculcating trust in God’s grace in Christ. There is plenty of material in the Small Catechism- the six chief parts, the Table of Duties, etc., that can be expanded upon in an engaging way, with a law and gospel focus.
  3. Our daily chapel services are liturgical and hymn based. Psalms are sung responsively with a choir and hymns are sung which teach of Christ. As my 10-year-old son has said during our chapel services, our hymns are not “baptisty.”
  4. Pastors lead evening devotions in each cabin, which usually include Luther’s evening prayer, Scripture reading, law and gospel application, and answering questions.

By offering these examples, my intent is not to brag or to say that our camp has cornered the market on a confessional camp experience. Instead, I offer these thoughts as an encouragement to others and seeking other’s input and ideas. We can offer our Lutheran youth a high quality camp without checking our confessionalism at the door.

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