It only takes a spark to get a fire going. So it was with the first ‘International’ Disciples Camp Summit. Camp people from across the continent were invited by Regional Minister Bill Spangler-Dunning to come to Newton, Iowa to the regional camp facility, Christian Conference Center, to come to camp to discuss issues relevant to our DOC Outdoor Ministries. In other words, talk about camp at camp.
While this ‘camp ground’ has components of what we know as the Disciples Conference Grounds in Ontario, it has fully embodied the concept of a Conference Centre. They have the capacity to host weddings in more than one area, hotel style rooms, in house laundry facilities, Wi-Fi, their regional office, dormitory style ‘cabins’ with kitchen/kitchenette and incorporated f4 rated tornado shelter, not one but 6 different fire pits, 2 onsite staff persons and their families, swimming pool, mini-golf plus the original rustic cabins that are more synonymous with camp. They are a facility model to aspire to. At any given time the Christian Conference Center can host multiple family groups, different camper age groups and community groups. One of their newer buildings has also been designed to be the local community shelter in a crisis. This year round facility is a success due to the excellent staff who promote and maintain the site. The philosophy of the development of this site includes the regional members in planning and to only build when money is available for the whole project. The regional members have stepped up and made the funds available to be able to continually rejuvenate this facility with new, modern buildings which are fully accessible. The old is intermingled with the new as special pieces of closed churches grace the new chapel facility. It was a joy to have the opportunity to visit this awesome place. It still feels like camp with that warm, welcoming embrace of a lush canopy, manicured lawns, starry skies and the essential glow of a communal campfire. The CCC has the capacity to create community where everyone is welcome, a fundamental DOC principle.
As amazing as the facilities are, the reason for the Summit was more inspiring. The opportunity to come together with other passionate ‘professional’ campers to discuss program, facility, funding, policy, challenges, successes and to network. Here in Canada with our expansive region it is challenging to find that sense of community for ourselves that we aspire to provide for all of the summer campers that pass through our holy grounds. The Summit provided that community opportunity for the DOC Outdoor Ministry professionals such as Board and Committee Members, Camp Managers, Directors, Regional and Associate Ministers, Youth Ministers, a Camp Curriculum Editor and a lone Presbyterian Camp Guy (Executive Director for Presbyterian Camps and Conference Centers in US and Canada). Remember we are Disciples and everyone is welcome! Bill, our host, and Michael Davison, Associate Regional Minister in Oklahoma, provided our mid-week event the balance of organized discussion disguised as a game of Jeopardy and informal discussion before, during and after meals, morning watch, evening campfires, and the ever popular ‘after hours’. All these moments served to foster the sense of community and renew our passion for camp.
Positive energy is infectious. Our networking allowed us face to face time to discover that geography and facility may create unique identities for our camps, but fundamentally we all deal with the same successes and challenges on the frontlines.
During a casual conversation, I was lamenting that my little camp in Canada was only welcoming a small number of campers. An observation was made by a fellow ‘Summit’ camper that, based on the number of congregations in our area, we are a great success. While our camp has a long way to go, upon reflection I have to agree. Sometimes it takes a different perspective to fully appreciate our circumstance. In Canada, we cannot boast the large numbers of supporting congregations for our campgrounds, but looking at percentage participation we are holding our own in Ontario. This Summit has left me eager to explore other DOC facilities virtually as well as in person to ‘see how they do it’ and apply ideas suitable to DCG that have been successful at other campgrounds.
At the inaugural Camp Summit, those present found it so helpful to discuss camp issues with other DOC and to create relationships between our different regions that the event has been penciled in for next fall. The hope is that more camp people, from the frontline staff to those responsible for planning programs and maintaining our sites, will be drawn to the glow of the gathering to join in the conversation and merriment.
We all strive to create a camp community with diversity, but that can only happen when the doors are open to all.
The more voices that participate in the conversations about camp only serve to enrich the experience for everyone. So if camp is your passion, plan to come to the second Camp Summit to be held September 2017 in Newton, Iowa. Come warm up to its glowing….Pass it on.
OACC Disciples Conference Grounds Camp Manager, Sweets Corners, Ontario